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Letting Go of Memories

posted Oct 28, 2010, 9:29 AM by Unknown user
My husband died 3 years ago and I have had a difficult time letting go of his things.  I don’t want to give up the memories, but I feel it is time to begin to clear some space and help myself move forward.  How do I begin this process?

Carolyn Bruce, North Branford, CT

Parting with the memories of a loved one is both emotionally challenging and important in the process of healing.  Whether it is a death, a break-up or a relocation of a loved-one, there is a point where you must make the choice to begin life without them.

Working with clients dealing with the emotional attachment to items in their home can be the most challenging and sensitive work that I do as a professional organizer.  It is important to cherish important memories and keep the objects that have important meaning to you.  However, you also do not want you home to become a shrine to another person, rather than your personal sanctuary.

Our homes are a sacred place for us to relax, regroup and entertain.  When the house is filled with emotional clutter, we lose our capacity to enjoy these activities within it.  I have seen emotional clutter take over in homes where people have experienced a divorce or a break-up.  Holding on to every object that your ex ever gave you will not bring them back and it will not help you move forward to a happier time in your life.  It is important to choose to keep what will make you think of a happy memory when you look at it, not a sad one.

I have also encountered many clients taking boxes of possessions from a deceased relative’s home, which eventually fill their basements, attics, spare bedrooms and closets.  Much of the items are older duplicates of what they already have, but they feel guilty about throwing the items out.  Sometimes they want to hold on to the memories so badly they keep everything.  I have even heard of people shipping the contents of a relative’s home straight into a storage unit so they don’t have to let go.  At this point, it is time to evaluate whether saving all the memories is worth the large monthly bills you will be paying to store them away or the precious space in your home. 

In saving too many inherited items, you must also think about what you will be passing on to your children to deal with.  The more that continues to accumulate the harder it will be to really value the important pieces of family history.  Instead of enjoying what they have inherited and respecting the stories behind each family heirloom, your family will be facing a lengthy and difficult purging job where many of those treasures could get lost.

Carolyn, at this time, you are making the effort to make your home your own again.  It is important to continue honoring your husband’s memory, and that’s why I suggest creating a memory box to keep your most prized possessions of your husbands.  Keep a favorite article of clothing, personal notes, music that reminds you of him, or gifts he bought you.  Keep the pictures around your home and in this box that induce happy thoughts.  Give away items of his to his close friends and family that will have meaning to them so they can share in the positive memories of him.  As you begin to treasure what is important, you will also allow yourself to heal and remove the emotional weight that has been looming over you for the past three years.

Kristin Mastromarino is a professional organizer at Livable Solutions, LLC (, owner of The Organized Lifestyle retail store and is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO).  You can email her your questions at