Free Yourself From Stuff: Why I Chose Not to Hoard After My Mother’s Suicide

by Ashley Eneriz · 15 comments

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how hoarding ends up costing us more time and money. I loved reading all of the comments, and it’s obviously something we all struggle with. I just wanted to share a little bit of my personal tragedy this year and how beneficial it’s been for me not to turning to overspending, shopping, and hoarding belongings.

This past January, my mom committed suicide. She babysat my daughter on January 5th, we gave her hugs and told her we loved her, and then on January 6th she drove off a cliff. She’d been struggling with a bi-polar disorder for quite some time, but it’s still hard to have her die without explanation, or even a goodbye.

When a family member or loved one passes away without any warning, there’s often quite a bit of personal items that need to be sorted through and gotten rid of.

How do you deal with it? What do you do when you’re facing a tough life event and want to overspend, shop, or hoard your way to comfort?

Keep Memories, Not Stuff

This was something my family and I had to face. My mom didn’t wear a lot of outfits, so every shirt I put in the Goodwill bag came with a memory of her. I literally felt like every memory of her was being thrown away in a bag. I was tempted to take a few pieces of her clothing home just so I could have that little something to hold on to.

But I’m glad I didn’t keep anything. In a situation like this, it can be painful to get rid of that stuff, but it’s even more painful to hang onto it. If I had her shirts hanging in my closet, I’d be constantly reminded of her death.

Keeping her belongings would always stir up the anger that she had left me and her sweet granddaughter. Instead, I put two pictures of our best memories with her into frames. Some days they make me sad, but they serve better as a reminder of how she lived rather than how she died.

You’re Not Throwing Away Love

Throughout the year, everything connected to my mother has been hard to get rid of or sell, even though I’m not the type of person who’s usually attached to items.

For example, she gave me some books and a purse for Christmas. The thing is, I just don’t have a need for them, but it seemed wrong to sell or give away the last gifts my mother will ever give me. But I had to remind myself that these things are just items. They don’t hold special memories or meaning, and it is not realistic to keep them around for years.

One more item I had trouble parting with was a huge print I had made of my mom for the funeral. Again, it felt wrong to just toss it, but I had to remind myself that I wasn’t throwing away my love or memories for her.

It wasn’t practical to store this huge picture, and it was too depressing to keep it. Was it painful to throw it away? You bet! Honestly, it would have been more painful to keep it. Stuff may just be stuff, but it can have powerful control over us.

Its not easy to get rid of clutter, or keep yourself from buying things you don’t need. But once you get it out of your home and life, it’s amazing how much freer you feel emotionally, mentally, and physically.

Free Yourself From Emotional Ties

Whether your stuff has emotional ties to it or not, I just wanted to share that I understand how hard it is to get rid of stuff. However, I also understand how much better my family and I are for getting rid of it. My experience with losing my mom so suddenly would have brought a lot more negativity and lack of productivity by holding on to the unnecessary items.

Yes, you may only get pennies for items you paid a lot of money for, or perhaps you’ll experience pain and guilt for throwing away or giving away special items. But the freedom you receive from a clutter-free home is worth it. Of course, hang on to the truly special items and photographs, but get rid of the stuff that’s just stuff.

Spend your time and money on experiences, and hold onto the memories, but free yourself from the emotional ties of shopping, spending, and hoarding.

Have you struggled with overspending or hoarding issues after a difficult life event? How did you overcome this?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Cnon says:

    I am so sorry for your loss.

  • Ashley says:

    Hi Anita,

    I am so sorry for your situation. I know Gwen mentioned having an estate liquidator – maybe that’s an option? Or perhaps you can contact local churches to see if they can offer help or man power so you can have a home sale. I wish I had more ideas, but I wish you the best!

  • Anita says:

    My sympathies for the death in your family. I moved from a 4 bedroom house to a 2 bedroom condo. Two things occurred: I buckled under the pressure of sibling’s urging to ‘throw it away’ (or give it away which is what I preferred to do) even though I wasn’t convinced I wouldn’t need the item in my new home (I eventually had to re-buy items); now that I’m ready to get rid of many items I still have (after already giving a lot of stuff away to family, friends, neighbors, charities) I am currently in need of money but the only advice I get from my siblings (much older) now is ‘to put it out by the dumpster’ or ‘something is only of value to someone who is interested in it.’ I have been chronically ill for many years and poor health has taken its toll. I’m beginning to believe that my family doesn’t want to be bothered to help me find buyers, for solid wood furniture, new and unused electronic, etc. I am not interested in charging a great deal of money for items–far from it, I’m willing to let a solid distressed pine buffet go for $50-$75, for example. My problem is determining where, and then, how to execute necessary steps in order to sell on craigslist, etc. I’ve mentioned having a ‘home sale’ but of course I would need help from my family in order to do that. Any suggestions? Since being sick for so long I’ve lost all of my ‘friends’. I do have many nieces and nephews but since becoming ill and homebound I don’t have any relationship even though while healthy we were close. I wouldn’t care if I didn’t need the cash, but I need it. Am I foolish to hold out for help from family?

  • Ruth says:

    I am 52 years old and have survived my (divorced)mother and both my in-laws. I am not a hoarder but my house if full of furniture and “valuable” items from the three of them. Many of the most precious things belong to my and my husbands grandparents. I am the mother of two young boys. I doubt they will appreciate the lovely mahogany dining set that belonged to my husband’s grandmother or the oak side table that I remember in my grandma’s house. There are a lot of things I would like to get rid of but my husband holds on to to the hope that our boys may appreciate these things some day.

    The prosperity of the 70’s and 80’s meant that many of us were left with much more “stuff” than past generations. They lived longer and accumulated more stuff. We have our parents and grandparents stuff. Even the pictures that we all have can become overwhelming. The best thing we can do for our children is to talk to them about what they want and don’t make them feel like they need to keep everything from the past. Wow…. i feel like I could go on and on about this. Do you think I have some issues here… LOL

    Luckily, my dad remarried a witch so I doubt I will have to worry about any memorabilia from him!! LOL

  • Gwen says:

    My dad’s second wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. When she had to move into assisted living, she left an entire home and shop filled to capacity with stuff. I dreaded going through everything, much less figuring out what to do with it. Fortunately, I found someone who professionally liquidates estates. They filled a 40 foot container with trash, cleaned up the house and held an estate sale. No money out of pocket. A portion of the estate sale paid for the cleanup. What a relief.

  • Alley Kaye says:

    I am so sorry for your loss, Ashley. But bravo to you for being able to separate minutiae from memories.

    I am not a hoarder, but have occasionally caught a glimpse of the thought process that leads to the behavior. If I tried, I could tie every object in my home to a precious memory, of good friends, good times, departed loved ones, or a combination of all three.

    Parting with the “things that go to make up a life” (in the words of Genesis [the band, not the Bible]) is hard, sometimes gut-wrenchingly so, but you hit the nail on the head: “the freedom you receive from a clutter-free home is worth it.”

  • Linda says:

    After my mother committed suicide in 2009 we had to clean out the house, stuffed not only with her stuff but stuff she’d saved from her parents and sisters’ house. With my father, who had dementia, trying to understand. She had tried to talk him into a suicide pact and he’d refused. She was 80 and had alzheimers, we now believe, and refused to go the way of several of her relatives. She was also rather toxic throughout her life. Five years later the ‘bad stuff’ is being forgotten and the good remembered more and more clearly. I can look at the stuff I saved of hers without physical pain. She left six letters, not one of which helped. I attended a suicide survivors’ group, which really helped a lot, to understand that truly, people who do this are not in their right minds. It’s wonderful to be able to enjoy the good memories without the bad. It’s the healing process, at least for me. And… most of her survivors continue to clear out stuff because we don’t want to leave such a mess of incidentals and guilt to our survivors. My favorite is the heap of family heirlooms from people we never knew, esp. the Victorian hair jewelry. Maybe a museum would like it? My sister has furniture from the 1830s …. in storage.

  • JD says:

    Very sorry about your mother. My parents are in their 80’s and their house is packed to the brim. I have begged, offered to help, spoke often about the need to de-clutter. Nada, they are keeping it all. Should be a nightmare to get rid of it.

    I have been on a several year mission to “thin” our belongings because I apparently was a major consumer. Ahem. The closets are thinning down and there is more to be done, for sure.

  • caroline says:

    This really rang true for me; my mum, definitely not a hoarder at all, very neat and efficient in her ways, is my surviving parent, my dad ( a pack rat extraordinaire!) having passed away when I was a teenager… anyway, I dread with absolute horror the idea of my mum ever dying, but she is 76 years old. Yes. I am a rational person and no one lives forever… the notion of packing and sorting her things makes me feel ill, but I WILL be strong when the time eventually comes – let’s hope it’s many years away – and only keep things of real value, and have the emotional strength to let ”stuff” go. In the end, we arrive with nothing and we leave with nothing, regardless of religious conviction, these things are pretty much agreed-upon! So WHY be so obsessed with hanging onto ephemera? My in-laws have a dirty house stuffed with rubbish and tatty stuff because ”it’s precious” and ”I’ll clean it out one day” and… guess what? That day never comes. As very religious people, I find it strange that they don’t see that bits of old paper and cards and clothes not looked at in decades are worthless and pointless and just weighing them down. I think part of this desire to cling is an anxiety around the notion of change, of things moving on. A favourite phrase of theirs is ”but that’s the way it’s always been”, which drives me mad, obviously! This is a great article, and I cannot imagine your sadness and, yes, anger, at being suddenly bereft. Well-written!

  • lana says:

    My mom died at the age of 29 and I was ten. Our family gave her clothes etc to others. But, I saved her jewelry, desk and piano. A few things are good, I think. Too many people become obsessed with items instead of memories. Next year it
    will be forty years since she died. What I remember is her singing, baking and smiling…. I hope you have great memories that will last a lifetime. You may think of journaling and keeping a running list of all the great memories. It will be something to look back on and cathartic.

    It sounds like you are doing well and having right priorities.

    • Ashley says:

      Lana,

      Loved reading this! I would have definitely saved what you saved too. I saved a few jewelry pieces to pass down to my daughters so that they can feel they have a part of their grammie, even though they don’t remember her. I will definitely be journaling more and writing down the good memories. Thank you for your sweet words and encouragement.

  • Denise says:

    Thank you for sharing this difficult experience. I recently moved into an inlaw suite in the basement of the house my daughter, her husband and my granddaughter live in. I was a homeowner since 1980, and have accumulated so much over the years of raising four children, mostly as a single mom. After a disastrous real estate investment and years of being in debt I decided to free myself of the financial burdens that I realize keep me from finding peace in life. I can say that I have woken up afraid every day of my adult life: afraid that I couldn’t pay the bills, would lose the house, wouldn’t be able to look after the kids properly. Now that I am in such a small space I am surrounded by boxes and the garage is stacked with things stored from my previous life. I am sorting through things and realize how hard it is to get rid of “stuff”. Your article showed me how powerful the urge to cling to things is, and if you can overcome that urge in such sad circumstances, so can I. I am learning what I need to live comfortably in the present, and learning to let the rest go. Thank you.

    • Ashley says:

      Denise,

      I am so sorry you had to go through all of that! Life is definitely not easy, but you are doing great adapting to your new situation and overcoming the urge to hang on to the material things. Thank you for sharing your story 🙂 And good luck downsizing your stuff – you can do it!

  • Georgina says:

    God bless you

  • I am so sorry for your loss. This must have been a very tough year for you. I think you’ve handled the “things” very well.

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