I cried when I sold my wedding ring. I wasn’t ready to get rid of it but I did it anyway. It felt drastic, final and gut-wrenching but ultimately satisfying. I had been through the worst of the grief and reached acceptance that my husband wasn’t coming back. I had removed the wedding photos from display, along with anything else which caused me daily pain, but most things weren’t truly “gone”; they were still kept somewhere waiting for……what?
Holding onto the things which remind us of the past is an absolutely normal part of the grieving process. It’s in our nature to infuse special items with emotional meaning, but they then become more deeply poignant after the loss of the person attached to them. We keep these things because they invoke a range of different feelings; hope, comfort, security or an acknowledgment that however the relationship has turned out, it wasn’t always bad.
Items which have sentiment attached to them are the hardest to declutter but are the most significant ones to deal with in order to move forward. What does it feel like for you to imagine letting them go?
Why Is Decluttering Important?
The emotions we have attached to things tell a story which may no longer be helpful. My wedding ring told me that I was joined to my husband for life but every time I saw it I was reminded of the reality. The ring just reinforced how “wrong” my life was. The letters from student days (back when we wrote real pen and paper correspondence to each other!) fed another story. They told me that somewhere, somehow this long-past love was still alive. They allowed hope that maybe he would come back once he realised the good thing he had thrown away.
Keeping these things was stalling the grieving process. I found that the denial and depression stages were easily triggered with a glimpse of a happy photo or by finding his CDs on the shelf. My wedding ring could ignite a sense of anger whenever I took it out “just to look at how pretty it was”. Holding on was holding me back. When I sold my wedding ring and burned my old letters I felt lighter.
There is a tangible heaviness to emotional and physical clutter. When we release it, we open up space to consider new opportunities. Remember what it feels like to give your kitchen cupboards or office a really good clear out. Think of the energy which comes from being able to create something fresh without the old junk in the way. Removing wedding possessions from my life didn’t mean I was denying those emotions. Decluttering just gave me more space to breathe and think about something different, without being confronted daily by the energy stored in the things in my house.
Where Do I Start?
Start simple. I know I said the things with the biggest emotional charge were the most important ones to go, but sometimes we need to build up to it, so start with the things that don’t seem too daunting. Having said that, don’t be surprised if a stick of deodorant sets you off in tears; small things can take on big significance when we lose someone.
Next, take note of the things you feel are impossible to get rid of. What’s coming up for you when you think about them? What story might those items be telling you? Check in with yourself about where you are in the grief process when you see these possessions; are you angry, sad, regretful? Remember that the letter, photo or anniversary gift is simply bringing up something unhealed; work through the emotion, then say goodbye to it. It can also help to ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen if you let that thing go.
Saying Goodbye To Stuff
It’s important to note that dealing with your possessions does not necessarily mean permanently getting rid of them. Decluttering can also mean removing your emotional charge to particular items – allowing them to become neutral. Because I have children and we remained in our family home, it was important to me not to erase “daddy” in my decluttering, so I moved some family photos into the children’s rooms. I found that somehow they just didn’t have the same emotional impact for me there.
I was also comfortable keeping hold of a few gifts and pieces of jewellery that my ex had bought; as time went on I realised I liked them for their own value and not because he had bought them for me. Don’t use this as a way to simply hang on to things though! When you’re not sure about something, put it away for a couple of months and come back to it. If it’s still bringing up emotional charge for you it’s best to allow those feelings to be expressed and let the item go.
If you do want to get rid of things permanently there are various ways, from the emotionally considered to the utterly ruthless! Here are some ideas for saying goodbye:
Burn baby burn!
Burning stuff can have a very powerful releasing effect; it’s great for small easily combustible items like letters, cards and pictures. Or if you have the space and inclination for a bonfire that could be very satisfying. If you have woo woo tendencies, as I do, you can create your own ceremony around the burning of items, perhaps offering thanks or forgiveness before letting them go forever.
Make some cash
There is something quite symbolic about using the money raised from the sale of your previous life to put towards a new life. Selling off items and putting the money (however little or much) towards something just for you, whether frivolous or meaningful, can feel healing. Whatever you spend it on, let it represent your needs or your new direction.
Give it away
If items aren’t worth much or eBay feels too much like hard work, then you can give stuff away. Your family or friends might want things which you don’t, but make sure you’re not likely to see them and get triggered. I kept my old wedding photos stored so that the children could see them in the future. If they wish to own them one day, they will be welcome to have them. Clearing out and taking bags or boxes to charity shops also has a lovely cleansing effect.
Whichever way you decide to declutter your break-up, it will take a little courage; but you can do it! You may not feel ready but if you wait until the “right time” you may still be sitting with a wedding dress in your loft 20 years from now. If you are wavering, remember to ask yourself “what’s the worst that can happen if I get rid of this?”.
The most important reason to declutter is that holding onto the past stops us being in the present. You cannot step fully forward into your new life while part of your mind is still living in your old life. Letting go of the old helps to free up more physical and emotional space to establish what you need now and prepare you for your next chapter.
Sending cleansing vibes,