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Clutter and Grief: Are They Connected?

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Wonder why you’re overwhelmed and can’t get control of your home? The connection between clutter and grief may be your missing answer. If you’ve experienced loss and feel stuck there is hope!

A group of items on a table

My husband and I were arguing that night at the dinner table.

I remember it well. 

We had recently adopted a sibling group of three children and gone from a family of four to seven.

It was a radical leap and one that still had us reeling three months after they moved in.

The phone rang and my mom was on the other end, informing me my sister was being rushed to the hospital.

That’s all she could tell me. 

Five children and one stunned husband stared at me from the dinner table as I barely formed the words to tell Tim where I was going.

As I rushed outside I realized his newest (albeit old but hopefully reliable) work vehicle was at the end of the driveway.

My panicked mind could hardly figure out where the lights and ignition were as the sun was going down that warm October evening.

With no time to trade cars in our single wide driveway, I had to corral my racing heart and head to the hospital five minutes away.

Please get me there safely. Please don’t let me wreck, I prayed over and over.

My brother-in-law was smoking a cigarette aimlessly outside the emergency room doors and said they were working on my sister.

Working on my sister? What does that even mean? 

I rushed in to the waiting room to the news that the doctors were indeed trying to revive my sister but it didn’t look good.

Strangers I didn’t know told me no one could get ahold of her daughter, my 20-year-old niece Jennifer. 

I frantically raced to the nearby shopping center where she worked, not even knowing exactly where to find her.

Somehow finally locating the retail store, she had to find someone to cover her shift before we raced back to the hospital.

We were too late.

My precious sister Brenda was gone, dead of a massive heart attack at the age of 53.

A couple of people posing for the camera

To this day I can’t recall the subject of the argument between my husband and me.

After life crashes so quickly in one breath the insignificant details just don’t matter.

Graphical user interface, text, email

I do remember him bringing all our children to the hospital ER, with one toddler hanging on to me for dear life.

Or was I hanging on to her?

As if somehow her one beating heart could bring back to life another. 

I couldn’t hold on tight enough.

 

Because I write openly about my journey through grief and loss I connect personally with so many of you.

You tell me your stories of love lost and hearts broken.

When my sister died I was overwhelmed by the demands of my life and wouldn’t process the loss of my best friend until many years later.

Grief can teach you many lessons yet keep you stuck repeating the same patterns over and over.

Yeah, grief is funny that way. One of the coping mechanisms is to throw yourself into life, taking care of everyone else but yourself.

I became the strong one in my family who didn’t ask for help.

Did I mention my mom passed away from hypothermia outside the locked doors of her nursing home on Christmas Eve 2010?

Or the tragic fact that my husband’s brother also died from a massive heart event at the age of 52 in 2015?

A man sitting on a table

Add to that my marriage also hit bottom last year because of the trauma of my own husband’s childhood and losses. We had become two prize fighters, beaten and bruised by the life we had been given.

Hard stuff, right? I know I’m not alone.

Clutter and Grief: Are They Connected?

Here’s what I’ve learned through my walk through grief these last almost 20 years.

It’s painful. It’s not fair. It feels like you will never EVER be the same again.

Life may be shattered beyond recognition.

Hope feels like something that belongs to everyone else and completely unattainable for you.

I KNOW someone reading this knows exactly how I felt. Alone. Fractured. Overwhelmed.

And the problem as I see it is no one wants to talk about it.

Home and Grief

It’s just too difficult. Uncomfortable. Socially unacceptable.

I believe getting stuck in grief affects more than just our emotions and our relationships.

It affects our physical home.

When we get stuck with our stuff, our life becomes cluttered as well.

Graphical user interface, text, email

We don’t know what to do with those things that have memories attached to them.

But there’s a problem.

We end up with too much stuff, clutter, baggage.

A desk with a laptop computer sitting on top of a book shelf

Clutter is not just the stuff on your floor – it’s anything that stands between you and the life you want to be living. Peter Walsh

We are imprisoned by the weight of our grief and the clutter we can’t seem to part with.

What do we do with things that hold an emotional attachment while keeping the cherished memories?

Here’s what I believe.

[clickToTweet tweet=”You have to let go of the past to move forward, both in your life and in your home.” quote=”You have to let go of the past to move forward, both in your life and in your home.”]

We can choose the memories that fill us with joy, choose to celebrate little moments with those we love.

We are still alive for a reason and sifting through the baggage of our emotions will help us deal with the clutter in our home.

Grief has no timetable.

My sister has been gone for over 17 years and I still have a box of pictures and letters that I’ve never sorted through. 

Text, letter

I’ve written the story of her death as I recall it which has led to much healing. I created a few scrapbook pages years ago but that box of memorabilia still collects dust under a spare bed.

There will be a moment in time, or a girls craft retreat, when I feel ready to tackle that box and both enjoy my memories and grieve my losses.

I believe I will know when it’s the right time.

Graphical user interface, text, email

I have so much more to say about this topic, my friends, but for now, just know you are loved and treasured.

You are not alone as you struggle, whether it’s with your home, clutter and grief, or emotional overwhelm.

 

If you want more one-one personal attention you can find out more about my coaching services here.

As you think about your life, what is one item you have held on to that you know you need to part with? Why can’t you let it go? Do you struggle with clutter and grief?

 

(I’ve included some affiliate links for your convenience.  Click here to read my full disclosure policy.)

My husband and I both worked with a grief therapist through the book The Grief Recovery Handbook and it was life changing for us. I highly recommend it as a resource if you’ve experienced loss of any kind. You can also find more information and/or connect with a grief special in your area here.

If you want to read more about my journey through grief these posts will get you started:

When Should You See a Therapist?
Living with Grief and Heartbreak
Clutter and Grief: Are They Connected and are You Stuck? (you’re here)
How to Declutter After a Death or Loss
What No One Wants to Talk About at Christmas
How to Overcome Stress and Anxiety When You’re Stuck

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Grief and Home

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39 Comments

  1. Thank you for your honesty and your heart wounds. Means so much to know that I am not alone.

    I am in Celebrate Recovery working on my own hurts, habits and hangups- Emotional Shopping Addiction, Codependecy, People Pleasing to avoid Confrontation.

    I am to be starting my Trauma Therapy sessions for my Complex PTSD .

    You are so correct in that no one else wants to talk about our heart wounds. Most of the time it is simply because they do not know what to say or do that can make it better. My advice to those who feel like this is I–” Simply be present with us and to pray for and with us. Do for us what we cannot do for ourselves”.

    I have found that Art and Music helps me.

    Right now I’m battling for my own life medically. I have found what is causing this chronic inflammation daily for the past four years, but rheum is not wanting to talk about anything until I get the MRI of my SI Joints. She thinks that it is just my Fibromyalgia, but it is not. It is because I am getting too much Oxalates in my diet. My insurance will not cover the holistic approach that I am requiring and I have no money.

    My problem is that I have not been allowed to grieve properly and now it is taking a toll on my body.

    My husband needs prayer for a change of heart and the ability to carry out what he needs to do to get well himself.

    So I am getting attacked from every angle.

    But with God’s help I am going to get well mentally, emotionally,spiritually and I am hoping for physical and financial healing as well. Still waiting for the marital healing,too.

    I have taken the steps and now it is one second at a time.

    I read the other morning that God gives His best warriors the hardest tests. To trim off what is in us that is not of Him. But that He brings us out more strong and capable on the other side in order to fill the position He has for us.

    If this is true, I have to wonder what mine will be?

    1. Hi, Karen. Thank you so much for your courage in sharing your story. I completely agree that grief takes its toil on our physical bodies. I pray that as you work with doctors and others with your medical needs that your emotional and spiritual healing will also continue. As far as marital healing, I know from experience that most often we just need to work on ourselves and allow our husbands the freedom to work on their own wounds if they choose. It’s hard but as my marriage has been restored, it has been so worth it. But it took me facing my brokenness first. Today I’m praying for your healing and that the Lord will be near to you. Blessings to you.

    2. Karen, you are not alone in your being barraged with many trials. Marty surely has been, and me, too. My doc put me on the Dr. Weil Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Just a quick Google search should bring you to his Diet Pyramid. It’s free and easy to understand. Not easy to do, but if it’s what you need to do……just know I am out here struggling with you.

  2. Wow, what a powerful message you share. And kudos to those who comment with open hearts and honesty.

    Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape. A customer shared this with my boss, who passed it on. It’s God’s strength that get’s us where we need to be. Our free will can sometimes be our obstacle. I have to always pray for guidance and the will to follow.

    Thank you so much Marty for following God’s call.

    Terri
    Hoschton, GA

    1. Hi, Terri. I love this. “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.” As one who has often felt like Gumby I have to remember God is molding me into His image through the trials and brokenness of my life. I appreciate so much your words of encouragement, Terri.

  3. Wow Marty…no words. I can so identify with much of this. When a much beloved Grandma died 14 years ago, my sister,2 1st cousins and I sat in stunned disbelief when everything was left to the 4 of us…not our parents. It was a monumental task to go through her house. Especially since my Mom, sister , and I had just helped her “ clean out”. 4 months prior to her death. 55 huge black garbage bags worth of cleaning. Fortunately our Mom and Uncle were aware of our grandparents choice in leaving their worldly goods to us. ( A blessing indeed!)!After all of the sentimental and family heirlooms had been lovingly chosen and distributed them came thengut wrenching grueling tasks of ALL that was left. The one thing I walked away with from that entire experience was this : I will NEVER put our son ( who is an only child) through sorting through old Tupperware, useless items,etc. And I’ve never regretted making that choice to “ hold all things loosely. “ I was raised by Depression era kids so the mindset of “ its better to have it and not need it , than need it and not have it “ is a hard one to break. Thanks for sharing so eloquently as usual, dear friend!’n

    1. Hi, Rochelle. Your experience is so familiar to me as I was tasked with taking care of all my parents worldly belongings when they went into a nursing home. So overwhelming and emotional and unprepared! But I love your words to “hold all things loosely.” Such truth, my friend! We don’t need to burden our children with our “stuff.” Our legacy is in our relationships. Thanks so much for reading and encouraging me!

  4. Beautifully written my Friend….you are a blessing to so many. As a Grief Recovery Specialist with The Grief Recovery Method, I want to say second the book, “The Grief Recovery Handbook”. If you want to walk through this with a trained Specialist, go the thegriefrecoverymethod.com and click on the link, find a specialist. We are all over the world and in every country. Grieving individuals will find a heart with ears to personally be by your side.

    1. Hi, friend! Thank you for your encouraging words and for sharing the link to the Grief Recovery website. I added it into the post as a great resource. Love you, girl!

  5. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. My mom passed away a year and a half ago. It took us a long time to go through her house and to get it ready to sell. There are four of us kids and three in-laws, and there were almost as many ideas on how to handle everything. For some, almost everything could be pitched or donated immediately. I grieved again as we tackled her possessions, as I knew that many of these things were mom’s treasures, items that held dear memories for her and of her, and family members were eager to just get rid of it all. I see now that they were just not as sentimental as I was, but it was hurtful at the time. Many of the things that I couldn’t part with then, I have been able to part with now as the healing is taking place. Like others, it has also made me very aware of what I have in my home that my children will one day have to dispose of.

    1. Hi, Tami. Thanks so much for sharing your story. I think we all do handle grief differently and often in a different time frame. That makes it so hard when there’s more than one person, or several in your case, to figure out what to do with all of the possessions. I’m so glad that you are healing. Be kind to yourself! Big hugs from me!

  6. Thank you for sharing. My husband suffered Sudden Cardiac Death in January 2015. He was revived but now suffers a significant anoxic brain injury. I still physically have my husband but his essence is gone. Some days I don’t know how I can keep going. I am putting my faith in God and praying for a miracle. God bless!

    1. Hi, Lisa. I am so very sorry for your husband’s tragic brain injury. I can’t imagine living every day with the struggle and grief. I hope you have a good support system around you to lift you up. The book I recommended is so good for losses of many kinds, not just a death. I pray for God’s strength and presence for you today. Thank you for sharing your story.

  7. Powerful!!! No one knows the heartache until you have gone through. My first thought as I was rushing to hospital was Lord, please don’t let me become bitter.
    I had bitterness from my past and it nearly overwhelmed me and destroyed my family a few years before. It wasn’t until I finally surrended the bittrrness and got counselling . I could let go of it. One of the blessing that came out of my grief was the experience was walking with a young woman, step by srep with on her grief journey. As much as it was helpful uo her, it also, helped me.

    1. What a good word, Sally. Such truth about bitterness and I have experienced the same relief that counseling provides and the freedom from letting go. What a blessing you are to your young friend and how precious God brought the two of you together. When you’re walking through grief it’s hard to believe there can ever be anything else but pain but it IS possible. Thank you for sharing your story.

  8. What a powerful message. My husband lost both of his parents suddenly in the span of two years. He’s been dealing with PTSD. I struggle with his tendancy to keep clutter and in my heart I know he’s still struggling with grief. This post helps me to have compassion. I’m visiting from Hope Writers and I look forward to more posts on this topic. Blessings to you!

    1. Hi, Valerie. Thank you so much for sharing your struggle. My desire is to develop some resources that I can offer to help families deal with both the loss and the possessions that are left behind. I know I was unprepared when both my parents went into nursing care. Thank you for reminding me that in addition to the person grieving there’s the spouse to think of as well. Blessings!

  9. This is me…this is me. My baby brother, who I was so very close to, who had lived in our home for two years died of a massive heart attack at the age of 48. I was 52. I was and still am a mess. His home was in foreclosure and we had less than 30 days to move all his belongings. I was the closest one to him and was tasked with his affairs by his will. I took on the whole responsibility in my grief. My mother was in denial, my Dad was ill. My other siblings walked away…we still don’t speak. It was horrific. Thank God for my children, my husband and his daughter. The my father in law came to live with us. He died a year later. Two years after that my Dad, then 18 months later my Mom. Then I fell and ended up with RSD, an autoimmune disease. It took 8 months of serious doctor visits and physical therapy, but I am much better. I took a job 1500 miles away from my family because I didn’t want them to see how bad I was. Luckily I found a doctor here that has helped me rebuild my health. I get it ……..grief and the aftermath totally will slay you….I get it.

    1. Oh, sweet Cindy. My heart just breaks for you. I believe there is such a connection between grief and our health and having to be strong because that’s just the position we’re given. I know what it’s like to have to fight to reclaim health and to set boundaries. It’s all so complicated and unfair but I know I’m stronger and have been given a purpose because of it. I hope you’ll look at the grief book and website I recommended. We were not meant to carry it all alone. It’s a lesson that’s taken me decades too long to learn. My prayers are with you and I thank you for your vulnerability in sharing.

  10. I am glad I left this email in my box to read on a different day. Thank you for sharing your story and I really needed this post today. Grief and chaos is shattering my life and there are days I just don’t know how to put one foot in front of the other without becoming more overwhelmed. Just knowing I am not alone and that yes I too can work through this mess of a life I am living makes me feel much better.

    1. Thank you for commenting, Natalie. You are definitely not alone. I’m going to respond to the email you sent and we can talk more. Hang on to hope!

  11. I was not expecting reality here. I was just looking at your de-cluttering information and not expecting more than a list and some cheerful encouragement. I almost didn’t continue with your site, because I’m bogged down with challenges that cause anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Another happy DIY guide seemed like too much, so I was just about to delete your email. I don’t know why I pushed the confirmation box instead. I’m sure glad I did. Thank you, thank so much for honestly sharing.
    This weekend we moved from a lovely home to a lovelier home, and I’ve been so overwhelmed and unhappy with all our stuff piled so deep we can’t get through the house or garage. Add up 43 years of marriage, children — we made 3, bought 2, rented 7, imported 3, and inherited 1 — which includes raising the compromised daughter (got her at age 1, now 9 years old) of one of our compromised adopted children, sudden Achilles tendon surgery a month ago, husband’s shoulder surgery in 3 weeks… and that’s just this month. I also lost my dad when I was a teenager, our third baby in our 20’s, and on and on. I’ve spent my life in rescue mode (kids, pets, and stuff), so there’s been overload and crashing disappointment all along the way.
    Underlying all of that, my husband and I are “Depression Era Boomerangs.” Our parents taught us well that the bottom could fall out at any moment, so hang onto everything. But, we’ve had to deal with estates, and all that crap becomes miserable. I can see that I may do the same thing to our children and grandchildren in no time at all.
    So here I am. Unbelievably, I’m feeling more relaxed from your heartfelt sharing and all the supporting comments. You’ve given permission and a place to say we’re struggling, that some things are really hard, and maybe I can find a way through.
    I’ve already made up my mind that Savers and Re-Store will happily take our good stuff and redistribute to others who need or want it. And, if we really need something in the future, then they will likely have something similar we can buy back. Plus, a great deal of paperwork and records just need to hit the trash. Looking forward to more information and some steps forward in order to let sense prevail over (and maybe help heal) emotions.
    Again, thank you so much.

    1. Hi, Lauren. I’m so honored that you shared your story with me. You’re the reason I share my own personal journey. My heart is to help others who struggle and after so many of my own losses, I’ve learned that most everyone has their own grief story. But what I’m also discovering is that it also impacts our home, which keeps us from living our most peaceful life.

      I’ve just begun offering one on one coaching, which allows me to walk beside women who want help developing a plan and a cheerleader to encourage them as they deal with these hard emotions and tasks. You can find out more information on my page here: https://www.martysmusings.net/coaching Please feel free to contact me if you’d like more information. I’m so glad you found my site!

  12. Just this weekend a dear friend’s Mother died at 98 years. She is in heaven but I grieve for us, and my friend. Eleanor was like a second Mom to me. We will miss her but some day we will be reunited in heaven. My own Mom died 10 years ago and I am still dealing with her stuff. Thank you Marty for your beautiful words of encouragement and love. I am so blessed by you and your blog.

    1. Hi, Kathie. I’m so sorry for your losses. I’m glad you found encouragement and understanding here. I hope with time and help your wounds will heal and you will be able to deal with the possessions and things that might be holding you back. Please let me know if I can help further. Blessings, Marty.

  13. WOW, I’m gonna like you and your blog. I just signed up, YAY! I too have suffered a lot of loss, mostly in Nov and Dec…then they throw those ‘family holidays’ on top of all the other ‘stuff’ my mind is working so hard to suppress. And Yes, I am Just like you, putting on the big girl panties and handling everyone else problems…no one even notices how much I really need help. I am good at pretending to be fine.
    I am looking forward to reading and exploring your blog, even if it makes the tears roll down my cheeks as this article did. It’s time I quit pretending. I want to be the happy, bubbly person I used to be. I got stuck in anger and heartache. Then when I realized how far away I was from the person I used to be and want to be, it was too much work for me to do all alone with no support system. I don’t like being unhappy, so I’m gonna give it a go, with the help or your blog, and maybe some other things you offer.
    Thank you for putting this out there for people like me to find. I happened across your blog because I was checking out chalk paint tips or some DIY thing.

    1. Hi, Tess. Your comment touched me deeply and I’m so proud of you for having the courage to share vulnerably and openly. I can feel your pain and desire to move forward from grief. It IS easy to take care of everyone else but ourselves, especially when we suffer losses. It’s actually a way of coping but someday down the road it catches up with us, like it have with my health. The best thing we can do is take an honest look at our life and decide it’s not a selfish thing to seek help and healing. We don’t have to pretend with those who truly love us, and for those who expect a “show” they’re not going to be part of our healing. For me, counseling has been the best thing I’ve ever done for me.

      I’m so glad you found me through my projects, but my heart is always to encourage and inspire by sharing my journey. Thank you for sharing yours. Blessings!

  14. Marty,
    I have written to you on a few occasions. I am ‘still’ trying to deal and handle the loss of Michael. His suicide in November is still so raw! It amazes me how many people ‘think’ I should be OK. I wish they knew that grief was not something that you get over, but more of a process. I certainly have NOT gotten over it and I am certainly NOT OK. My heart aches….my tears are still flowing and I still do not have answers to the questions that are swirling around in my head. Now if you put all of that aside; take into account that I have NO ONE in my life to go through this with….meaning NO friends….AT ALL that I can share…talk to…confide with…etc….. I am TOTALLY alone. Now, YES I am in counselling……but that is only every couple of weeks…and won’t last much longer. Then what do I do? AND; again….PUT that aside…and with all of my health issues! I struggle to “Live Each Day” myself…. I have No Purpose…I struggle with my every day living…being disabled….serious gastro issues….heart condition…I mean I could keep listing. BUT HOW MUCH MORE CAN ONE WOMAN TAKE ??? (and you know what; I can NOT type anymore…or I would…sorry…TOO many tears)

    1. Hi, Laura. I’m glad you shared your trials with me. I do know that change is possible but most of the time it starts with what we believe. It may take every moment of the day but learning that you DO have purpose regardless of your circumstances can be freeing. It’s up to you to figure out what that looks like. I believe community is key, whether that’s girlfriends, church, volunteering or family. There’s ALWAYS someone else who is struggling just like you are. I’m praying for you tonight.

    1. Thank you, Rosemary. I’m so grateful for those who’ve shared our story and prayed for us. Grief is a process for sure but there’s always hope!

  15. I’m so sorry for all the tragedies you have faced. Thank you for sharing your story and resources. There likely isn’t a single person who reads this that your post won’t help!

    My past and most recent losses have definitely got me caught up in a state of clutter, procrastination and emotional overwhelm. It’s very timely and helpful to have your posts to refer back to 🙂

  16. Thank you Marty for sharing your experiences. ‘managing” loss is so hard we often tend to ignore it. Decluttering through inherited pieces, photos and emotions isn’t easy. For us, we take it sloly nd I often recall my uncle’ s words to me after my mom dies. …be ready for the unexpected overwhelming grief that will wash over yo at random times and jsut embrce it.

  17. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, that is really special. We all have so much loss in our lives and some of us don’t deal with it very well. I still miss and take to my Mom who was taken way too young through the negligence of her doctors and recently lost my Dad in that same way. Grieve takes time to heal but never goes away.

    1. Oh, Anita. I’m so sorry for your losses. I certainly understand grieving through negligence but I hold onto hope that God loves my loved ones even more than I do. Praying for you today.

  18. I have a dear friend that can not let go of her grief. I know I don’t understand it. I try to support her. But it is hard knowing that she is missing out on so much of life. Thank you for sharing this. It helps me understand better.

    1. I’m so glad this helped, Nancy. It’s debilitating to watch other grieve and feel helpless but often it’s just our presence they need. For those of us who are “doers” this is hard!

  19. Thank you for your raw and emotional feeling and life experiences, Marty. You have shared it in a way that everyone can relate on some level. Grief is a hard emotion to express and walk through. It is also hard to watch someone work through it. Thanks so much for this blog post.
    I hope today finds you in a healthy, safe place.

    1. Thanks, Meegan. I write about loss so others may find hope and be encouraged. It isn’t always easy, but it gives purpose to the pain. Thank you for your kind words!

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