When a loved one passes…what to keep

“The past beats inside me like a second heart.”
― John Banville, The Sea

Something I see often is the anguish of a relative who feels burdened by the volume of things left to them by a loved one, and yet they belabor over the decision whether to part with them. The feeling is a sort of longing, but it seems to be mixed with guilt, as if getting rid of something is somehow an act of betrayal. Or losing the person even more, if that was possible.

To begin with, if this is you, you can turn the tide right now by taking a good look at your belongings and getting rid of anything that doesn’t mean much to you. This will help anyone who inherits your world.

And to those trying to decide what to keep, let me offer this guide:

Can you use it?
Really, if you keep something but it stays in a box for the next 30 years, you really don’t have it. Try to keep things that can be used, displayed and enjoyed to keep your loved one’s memory alive and in front of you.

Some examples of things I’ve kept:
-an old avocado green GE clock that hung on grandma’s kitchen wall for years. It finds a place in my every home, and it’s currently telling time in my laundry room.
-a sewing box from my other grandma. It too was a green color, but a yucky one. I painted it white and display it, and use it. I kept her tomato pincushion in there, some lace, and some other findings that remind me of her, always sewing something.
-jewelry pieces that have been passed down from various family members. Not only do I keep them, but I wear them, and feel close to my loved ones.

Next up: was it quintessentially “them”?
There’s no need to keep the kleenex cozy from the back bedroom just because it was in their house. Think of the things that really defined them. A favorite book from their collection with their notes in it, maybe. Grandpa’s gardening spade. Poetry they wrote.

What about pictures?
If you don’t know who the people are, find a relative who might and ask them to explain the pictures or write names and maybe approximate dates on the backs. If they don’t know either, there’s no use in keeping them.

A final word, your relatives would not want to be a burden. Keep a few things that add to your life, and let go of the guilt of letting go of everything else. Additionally, sometimes it’s hard at first. Give yourself permission to hold onto things for a little while, but also give yourself permission to pass them on later.

Coffee + Client= LOVE

This isn’t just any cup of coffee. See that tag? My client made it for me and it’s one item we don’t get rid of. In many ways, they’re family, and after every organizing session, my coffee tag goes back in the cupboard for next time.

This is the second time I’m organizing this entire home, as the floors are being replaced and everything shuffled. I know every inch of it after working here over time, but more importantly I know the hearts inside and they know mine. You see, the work I do isn’t about “the stuff.” That’s just what leads people to call me. But it’s the souls I enjoy working with.

Clients often admit that they’re worried at first that they’ll be judged for their dirt. But as today’s client mentioned, I don’t judge as I’m there to help them make their own decisions.

Oftentimes, I’m a sounding board for issues. Many times I’m asked for advice on topics totally unrelated to organizing. Sometimes, people just need someone…there. There while they let go of an ex or a family member. There when they get excited about a system. There to help them organize for a new job, a new school, a new adventure.

And so to my clients: I love you! Thanks for the deep talks, the new viewpoints of the world, the laughs–for sharing yourselves. Thanks for the coffee ❤

What My Clients Teach Me

I’m very fortunate to have worked with and become close to many of my extraordinary clients. Along the way, as I teach them about organizing, they school me as well. I’ve gotten everything from reading recommendations to medical information.


Often I work with senior citizens, and I’m blessed to be able to tap into their wealth of knowledge.

Recently, I’ve been working with a couple that’s been married so long that the wife couldn’t remember how many years when I asked her. It seems as if, basically, they’ve always been together and she can’t remember what life was like without him. I asked her what the secret was and she smiled and looked thoughtful.

“You need someone who respects who you are and what you do. That you are your own person. My husband was always very good at doing that.” Of course, she said this even as she sat at her usual station at the table, with his space that was almost always occupied right across from her, book open on a stand where he had been reading it. I knew although they knew how to be their own people, they were also one. Interdependence, I thought.

She continued, “and you need to be able to feel free to talk about it when something is bothering you. BUT you don’t yell. You sit next to each other and work it out. That’s it.”

Soon he came in and took his space with a bowl of soup he had poured. He started slurping and carried on a lovely conversation with me himself. I could see why she likes him.

Sometimes, with my clients, I wonder which of us is reaping the greater benefit. Although I went there to organize this couples’ belongings, they taught me to organize heart matters. They certainly seem to have that together.