My Husband Was a Keeper — In More Ways Than One

Photo by Mike B

No one who knows me would doubt that I adored my late husband, Bob. He meant so much to me. Bob was the kindest person I’ve ever known, truly. He “saw” me, and still loved me — for that, I will be eternally grateful.

When we got married, I and my two youngest children moved into a lovely home with him. He’d already lived there for over 20 years. I didn’t see all the things right away — the piles here and there. It was a blur. I was working, plus parenting teens. And then, I piled my piles on top of Bob’s piles in the attic and garage.

One morning a few years into marital bliss, I mentioned the stuff in the corner of a particular garage bay, wondering whether it was of real use. His response, I swear this is a quote: “I’m not dead yet.”

At work that same day, I talked to a friend about it. He basically said, “Over my dead body.” That’s what I heard. She didn’t know what to say.

So I never touched a thing. Hands off. Until now. He’s gone, and it’s all my responsibility.

After he died last year, I inherited empty product containers — the contents had evaporated somehow from unopened bottles. Weird, huh? Guess that’ll happen to liquids that sit in a garage for over ten years!

My oldest daughter suggested a second trash can, allowing me a slow, methodical process of gleaning and cleaning. In the past year, there’s been only one week (in December) when I didn’t fill the second can.

It’s been a process — cleansing and diabolical at the same time. Cleansing as I free up space and see new possibilities. Diabolical because the decisions required on many days exceeded my bandwidth.

It’s quite overwhelming what my husband left behind. Multiple collections, some of which have value and others, eh, not so much. Deciding… therein lies the problem. What to keep, what to sell, what to toss?

Margareta Magnusson, author of the 2018 book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Make Your Loved Ones’ Lives Easier and Your Own Life More Pleasant, calls household clutter a “source of irritation.”

Irritation, indeed.

Now that I’m retired and widowed, I regularly ask myself, “Why am I here?” and “What’s next?”

And about my home, I continually ask… “what to keep, what to toss?”

The questions may seem easy to answer, but my weekly planner has included a task this week that reads, “organize kitchen cabinet.” This is ONE cabinet, mind you, and I’ve postponed it for five days. And if I don’t do it tomorrow, add another day.

Bob taught me an organizational lesson or two — on what not to do. (I love you, darling Bob!) I started on a minimizing journey while he was ill, and we had a few interesting conversations about the accumulation of “stuff.”

But the lesson I carry with me today is that I must examine everything that crosses my fingertips — evaluate its usefulness and its longevity over my remaining lifetime and into my children’s lifetimes. Do I want my children to mess with “this thing” in the future? It is an enormous question… and one I am putting to my children… now.

Do they want this thing, this collection? What will I keep because it still “sparks joy” for me? (Haha, you’re a sicko, Marie Kondo!) Should I buy that pillow with the pithy summer saying about the porch, the beach, or lake life? I’d love a Fall ensemble for my bed, but…

The question I’m thinking of entertaining is this one:

If I buy a new household item, is there something somewhere in the house that can GO to create space for it?

I’m not there yet. No… I have not “arrived” in minimalist heaven.

That I am having these thoughts and asking these questions shows I am growing, even while I consider shrinking my personal possessions.

And that excites me.

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