Free Your space: Ghosts in the closet

Giving up the ghost. An expression, in so far as I have found, dating back to the 1500s. To ‘give up the ghost’ was primarily used in bible translations and refers still to the idea of dying — releasing one’s animating spirit from the body.

I am one of the younger of a large troop of siblings and cousins. As such, I was familiar with the loss of beloved family members from an early age. I’ve joined in saying final goodbyes to uncles, aunts and grandparents, later followed by both my and my husband’s fathers. Great people, in my eyes, who taught me much about love and life and honesty and hard work. They were not easy to let go of.trick-or-treat-31263_1280

Sorting through a lost loved-one’s possessions can be both a physically and mentally exhausting. As elders pass away, their progeny are left wondering what to do next. I, like many, hang on to items that remind me of those loved ones and their significance still in my own life’s journey. Among the heirlooms I possess, I have the cuckoo clock that used to hang in my grandmother’s bedroom and a couple of flannel shirts that my father used to wear, as well as a pair of rosary beads that belonged to my husbands grandmother.

Death, as we hear again and again, is part of life. The biggest ‘letting go’ that we will ever have to do will someday happen. And when it does, we will do it. Yet, for us — the living — letting go is still a daily decision. Ironically, we face these decisions of letting go not only with what is our own — a job, bad feelings, worn out possessions — but with the past possessions of those who have long since released them.

So, what is the answer? Do we hang on to everything? When we clean out our deceased loved one’s rooms, do we throw all their treasures away? How can we do that? How do we decide? What is the right choice? Would they be upset with us?

I do not believe there is a right or wrong response to any of these questions. The answers will be as unique as the people who consider them. Yet, as these dilemmas are something that I have personally wrestled with and that I come into contact with almost every day in my organizing business, I will dare to share my thoughts on the ghostly subject and how to address it.

First, who is responsible for making the final decisions? Even if that responsibility is shared, this must be clear. When unclear, items sit indefinitely, and become a source of guilt and frustration rather than fond memory. If the decision-maker is you, reach out to family members when you are unsure and see if something has particular meaning to them. Once they have confirmed that they can let it go, give yourself permission to do the same.

Next, what is special? Is there some thing or things in particular that pull at your heartstrings and jolt your memory — a special necklace, hat, jacket, painting or dad’s bowling ball? Since it can be very easy to turn each possession and every signature that was your mother’s into a relic that must be preserved, you must look with a discerning eye. For an objective view, photograph groups of items or entire rooms and look at the photos to try and determine what things mean the most to you.

Finally, how much will be kept? Well, the answer to this is dependent on other factors.

Factor 1. How much can you comfortably store? If you keep all your parents old coats is there still enough room in the coat-closet for yours? Will keeping all of Dad’s tools mean that you have two or three of everything in your garage? How many serving plates can you actually use and fit into your cabinets? No matter how large a home, the space is limited and not made to house multiple lifetimes of accumulation.

Factor 2. Why are you keeping the amount that you’re keeping. Are you saving all of Dad’s flannel shirts to later add into a quilt or are you just saving them because that’s what he always wore? In that case, would one or two suffice? Are you saving Mom’s china that you don’t really like because you feel guilty selling or passing it on? Do you need to keep all of Grandpa’s fishing poles to remember how much he loved to fish? Let go of guilt and fear and look for the best and most cherished memories to preserve.

As ghosts emerge from their regular haunts to float from door to door appealing for candy this month, allow yourself a smile and consider releasing one of your own ghosts!

* Annette Reyman is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers and president of its Greater Philadelphia Chapter. To contact her for organizing work, professional unpacking, productivity support, gift certificates or speaking engagements call 610-213-9559 or email her at her websites at and Follow All Right Organizing on Facebook and Pinterest.



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