How Decluttering Can Help You Process Grief
Coming to terms with our cluttered spaces could be one way for us to heal.
We all have drawers and cupboards that we avoid. Maybe they are bursting with paperwork or ‘stuff’ that we have shoved in there over the months and year. For many of us, those piles of untouched ‘stuff’ represents what we are unwilling, or unable to face. Coming to terms with these cluttered spaces could be one way for us to heal.
Life has a way of handing us a full platter. We get the best of the best, and we invariably experience the most painful experiences imaginable. One sign of unresolved experiences is clutter. According to Tisha Morris, a feng shui consultant, being unable to let go of possessions can be a sign of our inability to process our emotions. In her book Clutter Intervention: How your Stuff is Keeping you Stuck she explores the process of being willing to see and release emotional wounds through the lens of releasing the clutter in your life. She writes, “the only way to truly find peace and joy is by facing our demons, our shadows, in other words, our emotions, that we have buried for decades if not lifetimes.”
She describes clutter as being similar to a “prescription pill” to hide from the pain of loss. “It’s used to cover up the pain,” she explains, “this is why most people avoid decluttering. Or when you embarked upon it, you’re suddenly overwhelmed or stopped in your tracks. A certain item triggers the emotional body and confusion sets in.” She goes on to explain how often decluttering can ignite a battle between the emotional self and the mind. Instead, Morris explains, “when you approach decluttering through the lens of a healing method, you create the opportunity for real transformation.”
Elisabeth Kubler-ross, in her book Death and Dying describes five stages of grief, which Morris writes about, and overlays the five elements of feng shui that she uses in her work. At the heart of this exploration is the idea that when we fight against the flow of the process, when we get stuck with our resistance- to our emotions, to what is happening in our lives- we find ourselves stagnating somewhere in the process, without the benefit of getting to the acceptance of our loss. Morris explains, “this can be the underlying root of clutter issues as the past piles up without proper grieving.” Going through the belongings of someone we have lost can be a painful process, but, as Kubler-Ross writes, “the ritual of dealing with a loved one’s clothes and belongings facilitates the grieving process, partly by helping us accept the reality of the loss.”
Morris suggests attending to a loved one’s belongings with a great deal of compassion towards yourself and where you are in the grieving process. Ask for support from friends and family, and consider donating items to a cause that your loved one cared about. Note if there is a sense of obligation or guilt that is making you hold on to certain items. These items can be an entry point to unresolved emotions that you can heal when you are ready.
With any loss, there is often a trio of emotions that get stuck. Morris writes, “if you have a high volume of clutter, it’s likely a subconscious distraction tactic to cover up regret, resentment, or remorse.” Essentially, she explains, this clutter keeps those emotions buried. She writes “the key is to pry one finger off at a time and move slowly into a place of freedom and allowance.” She suggests working with a therapist while you are going through clutter that feels “loaded” or triggers big emotions. “Seeing the past through tangible objects while decluttering is a powerful way to uproot and work through unresolved wounds and grief once and for all.”