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When Grief and Organizing Intersect

Hurricane Sandy damageAs a professional organizer, there are times when we encounter people who are coping with devastating loss and grief. The loss may include divorce, family illness or miscarriage, or death of a loved one or pet. Sometimes it’s the loss of physical abilities due to illness, accident, or old age. Or it could be the loss of security from losing a job or home due to a natural disaster, as so many have experienced with Super Storm Sandy.

So what can a professional organizer do to help grieving clients get their house and lives in order? First and foremost, a trained professional is sensitive to the stages of grief: Denial and isolation, anger and blaming, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. However, even if the loss occurred many years ago, sorting through the physical possessions can still trigger strong emotions.

While never easy, here are some ideas and strategies that can make this process a little less painful:

  • Focus on getting the rest of the house in order first – even little things can make a big difference in how a space feels and the positive impact it can have
  • Get some nice storage boxes and put things in them for later decisions, if you’re not ready to make decisions and deal with it now
  • Seek emotional healing through a support group, therapist or house of worship
  • Journal to express emotions and process the pain
  • Have friends and family pick out things that hold special meaning to them
  • Donate items to an organization the loved one cared about
  • Create list of special possessions and where they went – don’t forget to take photos
  • Set aside treasured things for placement in a memory box, shadow box or scrap book
  • Make a memorial of beloved things, letting them “lie in state” for several days while adjusting to their leaving

Guest author Terri Stephens is the founder and Chief Professional Organizer of Real Order Professional Organizing, LLC. Since 2003, she’s helped busy homeowners with their clutter and organizing needs in metro Atlanta and surrounding areas. Terri is also a Senior Move Manager and helps older adults and their families with later-life moves.

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