Decluttering and Moving--A Compassionate Approach for Traumatic Times

As a professional organizer, I’m often called on to help people sort through their “stuff,” and make hard choices about what to keep, donate or dispose of.  There are many reasons one might hire a professional organizer, and they often involve major, traumatic life events such as death of a loved one or divorce.  If you’re helping someone to declutter and organize their home following (or in the midst of) a life trauma, here are some things I’ve learned that will help you to provide practical and loving support.

Recognize Emotional Needs:  Compassion is absolutely the most important support you can offer to a friend or loved one faced with a big decluttering and organization project, or a move, during a traumatic life event.  Recognize that in addition to the anxiety and stress of moving, your loved one also may be dealing with depression and grief associated with their loss.  As much as you are there to help physically support them through the sorting, packing and moving, you also are there to provide emotional support. 

Provide Gentle Encouragement:  When I’m working with a clients who are moving or simply wish to declutter their personal spaces, but are not going through traumatic life events, I have a focused and goal-oriented approach that keeps them on track to meet their decluttering objectives within a given time frame.  Helping people during a traumatic life event takes a gentler approach.  While you can (and absolutely should) help your loved one stay on task, this is not the time to be a drill sergeant.  Don’t assume that it will be less painful for them to get through the process quickly.  In some instances, this may be the case, but often people will need more time, and more frequent breaks, to get through such an emotional process.  When a death is involved, your loved one may wish to share memories with you as they sort through personal items and mementos.  Take your cues from them, and adjust your approach to provide loving encouragement that meets their specific needs.

Be Pro-Active:  Many years ago, I was very suddenly and unexpectedly on my own to sell and completely clear out a 3,400-square-foot home, all while finding a new home in a seller’s market, and downsizing by half.  To say that I was overwhelmed and not thinking very clearly would be an understatement.  I did have a pick-up truck at my disposal, and planned to use it to move the contents of my home to a storage unit while I was between homes.  Luckily for me, one of my closest friends came and helped me.  She quickly sized up the enormous task before us, and smartly suggested that I rent a moving truck for a day.  In my frantic state, this had not even occurred to me.  With the moving truck, we were able to load and move all of my furniture and belongings with just two trips to my storage unit.  I can’t even imagine how long the process would have taken with a pick-up truck!  I was fortunate that my friend recognized that my normally spot-on and decisive planning skills were impaired.  She gently stepped in to take charge.  When you have an opportunity to help out a loved one with a big decluttering and organization project during a traumatic life event, remember that your clear thinking will be a great help to them.