Letting go of the guilt, and the stuff

Last week, I met with a woman who was sorting through the items in her mother’s townhome.  Her mother has recently moved to a retirement community and is battling a progressive disease which makes it difficult for her to walk.  The daughter lives in Omaha and works full time, so she tries to get to Lincoln on the weekends to visit her mother, check that she is receiving proper care, run errands, and begin to go through items in the townhome, one closet/drawer/cupboard at a time.  It’s taking forever, and she is getting worn out.

The woman expressed frustration to me, saying that she feels that she should be keeping a lot of her mother’s things, but she is currently living in a small apartment without a lot of storage.  Furthermore, she doesn’t know if she will stay in Omaha long term or move to another state.  For now, her life is in a bit of a holding pattern as she serves as caregiver to her mother.

I could tell that this woman didn’t really want many of the leftover items in her mom’s townhome (her mother had already moved the most important items with her to the apartment at the retirement community), but she felt badly  for giving them up.  This is a very commonplace emotion that I experience in my line of work as a senior move manager.  It’s commonplace because our society has conflated STUFF with LOVE and with MEMORIES.  If we let go of the stuff, we fear that we will lose our memories of our loved one, or that it will somehow represent that our relationship with that loved one didn’t mean as much as if we had kept a whole lot of STUFF.

I think the following quote from writer Judi Culbertson is apt in these situations:  “You need to distinguish between what honestly moves you and what the world is telling you should melt your heart. If something doesn’t reach you on a personal level, let it go. It’s hard enough dealing with everything that does.” (The Clutter Cure: Three Steps to Letting Go of Stuff, Organizing Your Space & Creating the Home of Your Dreams by Judi Culbertson)

The advice that I ended my meeting with this woman was this:  When sorting through your mom’s things, be picky.  If it’s not a “Heck YES!” then it’s a “No.”  Don’t keep something because you think you “should.”  Keep only what you absolutely, definitely, without question want.  You are the only one who can decide what is worth keeping to you – others’ opinions don’t matter.