It’s Just Stuff…or is it?

As a member of MNDC (Minnesota Death Collaborative, a group of end of life professionals), I had the opportunity to hear a professional organizer, Su-Yoon Ko recently. Su-Yoon discussed the clutter in our own lives, lives of those facing death, and our loved ones who died leaving behind their legacy of ‘stuff’.

For some, clutter goes beyond the junk drawer but might not reach official hoarder proportions. There are many reasons we hold on to our stuff, from emotional attachment to time management, indecision, and everything in between.

Let’s unpack (pun intended) this a little. But first…full transparency here. I am of the time management AND indecision camp; paper clutter can breed on my desk. There are a few boxes in the attic – a permanent home for the contents still in question. There might be a collection or two that no longer seems worthy of dusting. A cookbook or twenty…I can find anything online these days with the exception of some of the little church cookbooks but I am not ready to part with them yet! There just might be a bag or two of clothing for donation, waiting for the ‘right time’ to run that errand.

What if I become unable to tend to my ‘treasures’ and purge my papers? I plan on living to a ripe old age, but what if that doesn’t happen? We are not guaranteed tomorrow. Time to tend and purge! Since I heard Su-Yoon Ko’s talk, I have cleaned the kitchen pantry, sorted random boxes of costume jewelry (there’s that necklace!), and this week, the office got my undivided attention. Shredding and dusting and pitching, oh my! I can find my desk and have space to write again! I have more energy for work now that the piles of papers aren’t taunting me. I won’t have a random can of tomato paste drop on my toe, and my husband can reclaim the floor of his side of the closet.

What about our loved ones and their lifelong ‘collections’? If she is ready, offer to help your granny go through her treasures. Bless someone else with your children’s toys and clothes. Find a library (or an aunty who reads) for your gently-used books. Offer useful items for free or have a garage sale and donate the rest. As for yourself, conquer the clutter while you can. Do you really want to leave this task to your family or friends if you suddenly become incapacitated?

If you are helping someone clear the clutter, be gentle with them. Getting rid of ‘stuff’ can be hard and emotional attachments run deep. It can be a daunting task for many, and for some it is downright overwhelming. What you see as junk-ready-for-the-trash-heap, might have sentimental meaning for your loved one. Now is not the time to judge; be present, be helpful, and offer suggestions when asked. And don’t forget the boxes, tape, markers, and trash bags.

If you lose someone dear to you, take your time sorting through their belongings. You don’t have to get this done all at once. It might take you five months or five years. Some things, you won’t ever let go. That’s ok. There are good reasons to keep a few treasured items. A dear friend has some of her parents’ clothes zipped into bags. Occasionally, she will open the bags and savor their scent. Some things are too precious to your heart. I get that. You can, however, make it easier on your loved ones by tending and purging your own clutter now. And who knows, you might find a $20 bill hiding in a pocket.

If you need professional assistance, I suggest you call Su-Yoon at 612-578-2031 or email her at

Published by susandoulamn

As an end of life doula, I walk alongside you during this sacred time, helping you create a peaceful space for your final journey.

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