Jesica Hernandez, of Simplified Sanctuary, reached out to us at Organizers Connect hoping to shed some light on organizing through loss & grief — something professional organizers often encounter with their clients. We are delighted for her to share information on this delicate subject. Here’s what she had to say.
New friends, let’s get comfortable while we sip on our tea together and have an honest conversation about organizing through loss and grief because the sun ain’t always shining around these parts and more often than not, the rainbow on the other side feels like a mountain to climb.
Helping Grieving Clients Get Organized
Whether grief and loss have snuck their way into your personal life, you will surely meet clients who are living or have lived with grief — it’s often a major reason they need help to declutter and organize. When these clients reach out to us, when they choose us – it’s a pathway to an emptier, yet fuller, life.
This grief, a literal heaviness in your body (their bodies), is the kind that aches for relief. Relief that may come from taking control of spaces and possessions.
When we, as professional organizers, come on the scene, we see the struggle our clients have been experiencing in the clutter and chaos in their home. When we, as professional organizers, speak to our clients and ask questions, we can determine the underlying cause of the disorganization. Not all clutter is the same.
When this grief clutter is recognized for what it is — by us and by our client — that is where the work begins. It is at this moment that we, as the professional organizers, can dream up our fairytale ending, imaging the client’s journey toward release and restoration.
Grief clutter – clutter within a home that directly results from occupation with grief and loss. The owner isn’t necessarily a “messy” person, they just haven’t been focusing on their home while processing their grief and loss.
Recognizing Signs of Grief Clutter
Organizing through loss and grief takes some additional insight. How can we, as professionals, recognize grief clutter?
Grief clutter looks like an accumulation of things in all the places. High piles of mail, all the everyday items gathered on the table, on the counters or shoved behind whatever cupboard hasn’t been filled yet. It is in the daily habit of avoidance, deprioritizing. The higher the piles grow, the stronger the power is that these items hold over our clients’ lives, holding them in a rhythm that’s hard to break.
Keeping a home organized is literally the last thing on our clients’ ‘to-do’ list at this point. With our guidance, and our help to declutter and organize, we can help bring them to tell their own story again and understand the ‘how’ and ‘why’s’ of their journey.
Organizing with Clients Experiencing Loss and Grief
During these types of organizing sessions, expect hearts to be poured out to you, stories and struggles to be shared. This can be HARD, so be sure to celebrate victories big and small. Slowly, while the client touches, sorts, and declutters, they are casting off doubts — that they aren’t strong enough, that they can’t do this, that they can’t find freedom in their own house again.
The hard work that goes into each client’s journey is peeling back the layers to tackle the issues that keep them struggling with disorganization. This is the stage where we get to help our clients move one more step closer toward wholeness.
When you’re first helping your grieving client, perhaps during your consultation, gather your client’s goals, struggles, and daily habits to develop an understanding of their loss and grief. More than anything, listen with intention.
When you’re working with a client to sort and declutter, start with easy categories such as mail or a kitchen drawer — places that rarely evoke powerful emotion. This will provide some momentum and, perhaps, a distraction from grief. Handling day-to-day clutter is less heavy than sentimental clutter.
When you’re ready to move on to more personal items, remember to be patient and understanding. If sorting through their belongings trigger strong emotions, allow them time and space to unburden the grief they carry. Offer silent support, and perhaps a tissue. Offer them privacy and space if they seem embarassed or uncomfortable.
Take it Slow
Expecting struggles with these clients gives us more grace to give. If they are stuck on making decisions, give them the permission they cannot give to themselves in the moment. Don’t rush or push your client. Even if you don’t make a ton of decluttering progress during the session, any progress is helpful and your client will appreciate your support and understanding.
If your client wants to, encourage them to hold each item in their hand. Allow them to relive the memories that come, feel every emotion that rides over them, see the importance that item was in their life at the moment it happened. Listen, if they’d like to share.
Suggest Storage to Honor
Suggest sentimental storage options for truly treasured items. If a client is struggling to let go of an item for sentimental reasons, gently remind them that their sentimental item will do no good hidden in a box. Display an item in a special way so they can enjoy it every day.
Find Others to Help
Alternatively, your client may be interested in donating to a charity or organization that may benefit from their gift. If a pet has passed, dropping off his old toys and bed at a pet shelter may bring peace to your client. If they have a closet full of men’s clothing, a homeless shelter for men may be a great place to drop off the clothing.
Give Permission to Let Go
Read your client. If they don’t love an item, but feel guilty letting it go, give them permission to do so. Remind them they’re making space for new memories.
Organizing Through Loss & Grief
When you finish helping clients on their journey, you will often witness the magic of them coming alive. The excitement in their eyes, their words of praise because of the freedom we helped bring them.
This is where we, as professionals, are reassured that this process actually works. Organizing and decluttering produces life changing results. We not only offer hope to those who struggle with disorganization, but support to those struggling with grief and loss.
About the Author
Jesica Hernandez is a professional organizer and dog mom from Iowa. She founded Simplified Sanctuary to help busy moms, small business owners, and professionals create a quiet and simple space away from the chaos of everyday life. You can find her on Instagram at @simplified.sanctuary.