“Here’s how I define ‘stuff’: anything you have allowed into your psychological or physical world that doesn’t belong where it is, but for which you haven’t yet determined the desired outcome and the next action step.”
Stuff. Things. Possessions. Here you are living with it. It was his/her stuff. Clothes, papers, toiletries, books, etc. In the midst of everything you’ve dealt with in grieving the loss of your partner, it’s another everyday reminder that they are gone. The books they will not be finishing, shoes they won’t wear anymore, the subscription to the magazine related to their hobby or career, woodworking tools they will never hold again. You trip over it every time you walk through the garage to take out the garbage, paw around it to find what you need when you open the closet. It sits there, sometimes comforting you, sometimes chastising you, often overwhelming you. You close the door, turn a blind eye to it. “I’ll deal with this stuff when I’m ready,” you tell yourself.
Stuff. I’m using that word deliberately. It’s those things in your psychological and physical world that are left behind by your partner, that doesn’t belong in your life any more, but you haven’t decided how/when/if to deal with it.
David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done and organizational guru, shares, “’Stuff’ is not a bad thing…But once ‘stuff’ comes into our lives, we have an inherent commitment to ourselves to define and clarify its meaning.” And until we do that, “stuff” pulls on our energy because it is an incomplete cycle of action.
What does this mean for you? It means that, until you do the psychological and emotional heaving lifting of deciding what your departed partner’s “stuff” means to you, you probably won’t have the energy to do anything with it.
There’s an important message I want to start with about this sensitive topic. You have the right to decide when you are ready to deal with the stuff. There is no rule, no right way, no right timing. Only what’s right for you. You, and only you, should be the one to decide what is done with your partner’s physical belongings. And you will know when the right time for that is. Even if others in your life are pressuring you about this saying, “It’s time…you need to let go of…” Just remember that you get to decide.
Waiting at least 3 or 4 months before making any major decisions about the stuff is advisable. Sometimes, in the heat of an emotional moment, or under pressure from family or friends, people make a decision to get rid of things or give them away that they later regret. So, I usually advise people to play it safe and not rush into anything they can’t undo later.
Also, there is shared stuff that you know you will keep and not need to process. What I am talking about processing here is the stuff that was clearly his/hers and not both of yours. If it’s something you know you need to use, you can just leave it where it is.
A word about papers – legal documents, bank account statements, insurance contracts, anything dealing with finances – most of these papers are not stuff. They are actionable items you’ll want to keep in a desk area as you will probably need immediate access to them. I don’t recommend you mixing important legal documents with other amorphous stuff and putting them in the collection space.
Collecting the Stuff
I recommend that you dedicate a room for collecting and storing the stuff until you are ready to begin the sorting process.
- Evaluate your storage situation. Find a room or a corner of a room that will serve as your collection center. If you don’t have space in your home, renting a storage space may be a way to go.
- Get some boxes – lots of them.
- Systematically go through each room in your home, the car, his/her office (if not located in your home), everywhere your partner’s stuff can be found and bring it to your collection area. While you are at it, put every bit of your partner’s uncompleted business in there. The unread books, the mysterious little parts to stuff you have no idea what they fell off of, the keys that open who knows what, etc.
- Put the belongings in boxes, making an attempt to group like things together. Label them in a way that will make sense to you (i.e. “Books,” “Shoes,” “Stamp collection”). You may want to number the boxes as well.
- Throw away the stuff that you have zero attachment to and know that it’s not likely to be wanted or needed by anyone else. Only do this for the really easy stuff. If you have any difficulty deciding about whether to toss something or not, just box it up to decide later.
- Stack the boxes in the room for later sorting.
Collecting everything in one place first is helpful because you get a sense of how much of it there is, it lets you know where the end of the project is, and it creates a “container” for the emotional energy that comes from dealing with the memories and feelings associated with all of the stuff.
While you are collecting stuff, I encourage you to be very gentle with yourself as you may be caught off guard by strong emotions and grief while you are doing this. It can be really helpful to have a friend or family member help you. Even their simply being with you while you do it can be incredibly supportive.
While you are involved in this work, I encourage you to ask yourself a couple very important questions:
What does it mean to let go of this stuff?
What is this stuff’s value to me?
You may want to spend some time journaling your responses to these questions as a way of getting yourself ready to move on to the next phase of the project - sorting through the boxes and deciding on what to do with the stuff. We’ll tackle this in the next blog.
Once you have completed the process of collecting, be sure to give yourself a high five for a job well done.
Love and Blessings on Your Journey,