Organizing at a time of grief

When I give talks on organizational Zen, my focus is on helping people think about how they want to spend their time. Part is figuring out a long-distance focus, and part is figuring out how to get there.

When we talk about what gets in the way, I often get a question along these lines:

“I lost a parent last year and ended up with all of their stuff. I’m overwhelmed. How do I get through the boxes?”

As organized as I like to be, you know what my response is? If the boxes are too heavy to lift emotionally, leave them until they feel lighter.

I’m a big believer that if you aren’t healthy you’re asking too much of yourself to be organized. The same is true if you’re grieving. It’s hard enough to sort through your own stuff. How can you expect to sort through a loved one’s precious stuff until you’re ready?

I also think if you’re grieving it’s easy to just dump stuff that you may later regret.

As odd as it may sound, being messy can be healing. Think about when you’re sick and want to curl up in bed under a pile of blankets. Or when you’re around stressful people and come home and want to make a mess of food in the kitchen. Or when you have a tough day at work and running in the mud seems like the right thing to do.

Sometimes messy is healing. Along with time. And a nap.

When you feel like you can lift your head again, that’s the time to take on that kitchen drawer. Or to pull apart your drawers or closet. Or to sort through your loved one’s boxes. Then it’s fun. Then it can be joyous.

Next time you’re stressed out, or you’re grieving, or it’s a mix of both, will you be as kind to yourself as you would be to your best friend? You’d never ask her to do the hardest work until she’s ready. Right?

Picnic tables on ice. Spring is still a distant concept here in Maine 🙂


3 thoughts on “Organizing at a time of grief

  1. I heard a great thing this week in an audio book on helpful things to do with someone who is dying. This isn’t about grieving – but reminded me of this post.

    1. Sit with them and be patient with the process.
    2. Tidy up the room.
    3. Don’t compare what they have to anything.
    4. Don’t minimize what they are going through or try to be overly optimistic.

    The bottom line was to be present with “a realistic heart”.

    Loved that.


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