Grief, Loss and Cluttering

Wendy Sloneker, Grief Recovery Specialist® generously wrote this gentle, reassuring and informative essay for me after I remarked to her during a networking event that many of my clients are impacted by grief. I would never have known that so many variants of this emotion existed without Wendy sharing her expertise.


Thoughts on making peace, reclaiming or giving oneself space, taking action around loss, and getting organized from within to recover from grief.

We are going to start out with an assurance, and a definition.

Assurance: Feeling grief and experiencing a sense of loss are totally normal and natural. We are biologically wired for feelings of sadness, anger, sorrow, numbness and devastation when we experience many kinds of loss.

What is grief? It can be “conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern or behavior,” according to the Grief Recovery Handbook.


What else?

Did you know that there are more than 40 life events that can bring about feelings of grief or loss?

  • Divorce or separation, propelling loss: of identity; the future you’ve planned together with hopes, dreams, and wishes; routine; home or space, and of financial stability.
  • Arriving at “Empty Nester.” Kids leaving home to go out on their own can be startling and odd for parents or guardians. Your losses can include: familiar noises, routines, companionship, and other intangibles.
  • Getting sober: Making a healthy move toward reducing or eliminating substance intake can still bring about feelings of loss. Your identity, friendships, not to mention the familiar feelings brought about by old patterns and behaviors are all called into question by sobriety.
  • Death of a family member or partner: When a death occurs, it’s normal for survivors to feel tremendous sadness as well as anger, loss of identity, and uncertainty. Memories may arise of sweet times, as well as of challenging or heartbreaking times, which are further sharpened by your knowledge that your future won’t include life events you were looking forward to sharing and experiencing. Your loss of home or financial stability can also be part of this grief.


Sometimes we hold on to things past the time that those possessions serve us. This can relate to loss. When we sustain a loss, we may want to stop time, wish it would go back to being the way it was, or something similar… and, as creative, coping humans, we have some skill in making things represent what we wish would have happened, not what has happened… and sometimes we hold on to the things as a way to hold on to something that has passed.


Our accumulation of things before, during, and after these events can impact our living spaces. And we can acquire and/or retain any type of possession(s) without really seeing or acknowledging our actions.

What’s in our home or environment may simply not register. It’s possible to have items, either functional or ornamental or both, that, when we really consider it, don’t feel good in our space.


If you are holding on to items in your home, storage space, office, etc. that don’t feel good and you’re not sure why, you could have more than one reason.

  • Is there a connection to a loved one regarding an item?
  • Do you feel like you owe it to a loved one, an event or relationship to keep or hold certain things?
  • Is there a connection to a sweeter time, say, before a trauma, accident, injury, or other loss occurred that is related to some of your possessions?


Guilt, disloyalty, betrayal

When I moved an ex-partner’s photo out of my bedroom after we broke up, part of me felt heartbreak and hurt… almost like I was moving that person physically out of that intimate space.

I was definitely hurting, and I recall feeling significant pain and heartache for “moving my ex out” and into a “more public space” in my home. I was further cementing the breakup, admitting that this significant other wasn’t any longer in that space in my life.

While the feelings were strong inside of me, moving a photo to a different room didn’t harm or hurt my former partner at all. Of course, my brain knew this was true. And my heart hurt so much to take this action in physically moving a photo.

Cane over chair

No. It was not logical.

It was emotional.

This action had to do with the realm of the heart… not the brain.

It was my heart (not my brain) that was broken by the change in relationship.

So, it’s normal and natural to feel loss in moving physical items around in our homes, and even out of our homes, when relationships change. Possessions we keep are often filled with meaning.

And it could be that the words don’t come easily if someone asks “why do you still have this thing?” You may not know right away. This is okay. It’s a work of heart to really see what you have around you in your home.

Take it easy on yourself if you’re tidying up, moving possessions around in, or completely out of, your home. The heart and feelings of unresolved grief may be more involved than you know.

About Lauren Williams

Lauren Williams, Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Virtual Professional Organizer®

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