Clearing out my uncle's stuff has been appalling, funny, inspiring, and exhausting...but most often, it has just been heart-aching. Dumpstering the detritus of the dearly beloved, sifting through the remnants and deciding what to keep or toss--it's gotten more routine after several go-rounds with my now-extinct elders, but it's never easy.
Along the way, I've picked up some tips for Getting Rid of the Stuff of the Deceased Without Losing Your Sanity:
-- If possible, don't work alone. Otherwise, you will mope over old letters and photos, fondle knick-knacks remembered from childhood, and contemplate the Brevity and Irony of Life. Bring someone with you, preferably someone a little short on patience with a snarky sense of humor. And a strong back. And no allergy to dust. If you must work alone, turn on the radio. (An only child, I have had both the luxury and the burden of having no "help"--and no agita--from siblings. I therefore cannot speak to the internecine squabbling over the petty effects of the deceased that I have observed in other, larger families, a crap-wrangling insanity I have dubbed "Deathzilla.")
-- Start with the hardest stuff first--in most cases, the most intensely ordinary and personal items, like a night table or the contents of a medicine chest. Do it fast. For things that require planning as to their disposition, fire them into a box for safekeeping and get them the hell out of there.
-- My personal style is to start in the deepest, most remote pockets (closets, chests) and work my way out; that way, there are no shadowy surprises (why, look, Auntie saved all her old empty lipstick tubes!)*
* (I am not making that up.)
-- Be prepared for the weirdest damn things to knock you for a loop emotionally. I was bemused at my reflexive hurt and anger that several presents I'd bought for the departed were still here--they hadn't liked it enough to take it with them!
-- Especially for Collyer Brothers cases (known in the clean-out trade as "garbage houses"), acknowledge that part of your burden is mourning the fact that your beloved deceased was, effectively, nuts, and a sad prisoner of his or her stuff. They are free now; don't you start. As you pick up each piece, ask yourself three questions: Is it useful? Is it beautiful? And does it make me happy? If it fails on all three--or just on #3--move it on out of your life!
Clearing out so much collected junk (complicated by many buried treasures) has made me intensely conscious of my own struggles with the Crap Demon. (Hell, we have managed to fill every room of this house, and there are a lot of rooms.) I have sworn I won't leave an Augean Stable to my own kid, but it's an ongoing battle not to hoard, dump, and despair. Here are two of the resources I return to again and again when the Stuff Demon threatens to overwhelm the CrazyStable, and me:
Clutterbug.net, run by "professional organizing coach" Christie Best, has a trove of inspiring articles on everything from killing the garage to the connection between clutter and depression. (Unfortunately, one of her best--on clutter and grief--is currently unavailable on-line, but I hope she'll get the link working in the future.)
Clearing Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston was transformative for me--and I don't even buy most of the feng shui stuff (although there's something to it). Feel free to ignore her dippy digressions into colonic cleansing and Asian mysticism, and take away the basic wisdom: If your life choked full of stuff, there is no room for anything new, fresh or good to enter!
And tomorrow, I will tell you my own personal secret for Karmic De-Cluttering...