Handling Clutter from Trauma or Loss Written by Pam Holland
We all experience trauma in our lives. Trauma is defined as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience, emotional shock following a stressful event or a physical injury, which may be associated with physical shock and sometimes leads to long-term neurosis.” Trauma can come in many forms: loss of a job, loss through death, divorce, an empty nest, illness, change of house size, and more.
These experiences, particularly when they are unexpected, can lead to feelings of paralysis and overwhelm. It takes time to adjust to any change (even positive ones!), and changes that are emotionally and mentally draining are particularly challenging.
Change is challenging
In over 11 years of mindfully decluttering and organizing, we’ve supported many folks in moving through overwhelming clutter due to loss or trauma. Dramatic changes, whether planned (downsizing or moving) or unplanned (a sudden death in the family) often create a feeling of “stuckness” in your space and sap your motivation. You may find if difficult or impossible to tackle the paper piles that are accumulating, or experience an inability to find the things you need. Many of our clients express sheer overwhelm at the thought of going through certain items. After our time together, one client shared:
Getting through the “Dread Pile” was the best. It was akin to shoveling snow–seemed like it would take forever and perhaps if I just shoveled a little here or there and waited for it to melt I could get my car out. We drilled through it, opened the space and poof! it’s gone–no longer visually gnawing at my mind saying “Until I get that done, I can’t … (fill in the blank.)
When you’re taking care of a sick loved one or handling the management of someone’s estate, it’s hard to find extra energy to tidy your own home. When my mother-in-law was ill, my home became quite cluttered – despite me being a professional organizer! There are times when having an organized space becomes a low priority in our lives and we must draw on our resilience and buckle down through difficult situations. When we come up for air, we may see the physical evidence of our struggle in the form of clutter in our homes.
You’re not alone
If you’ve recently experienced a trauma, it’s important to be patient and kind with yourself. Give yourself time to process the experience, and don’t beat yourself up if there is extra clutter in your home.
Once you feel ready, there are resources to help you! Consider making a standing “date” on your calendar to work on your space. To make the experience more pleasant, you might light a candle, open a window or play some favorite music. You could also hire a professional organizer or therapist to help or ask a friend to “body double” and keep you on track.
When we work with clients, we often start with a centering exercise like the one in this funny short decluttering video. We are always here to help! We specialize in helping clients process their things, and the emotions associated with them.
As Robert Frost so aptly put it,
“The best way out is always through.”
When circumstances are tough, where does clutter appear in your life?