Ask a House Cleaner, Grief Hoarding, Savvy Cleaner

Grief Hoarding – Death of a Loved One

Grief hoarding is when you bring home all the stuff of a loved one who has died. Grief hoarding is the sentimental value of trying to stretch your memories through stuff.

Angela Brown, The House Cleaning Guru gives hoarding advice. Learn how to celebrate their life without grief hoarding. Your memories are with the person, not their stuff. 

A savvy cleaner knows how to savor the sentiments in remembrance without creating more housework.

Today on Ask a House Cleaner we learn how to honor your loved one while honoring yourself.

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Hey there, I’m Angela Brown, and this is Ask a House Cleaner. This is a show where you get to ask a house cleaning question, and I get to help you find an answer.

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Question: Grief Hoarding – Organizing Tips When Someone Dies

 Now, today’s question comes from a woman whose mother just passed away. And she lives in a small apartment. Her mother lived in a house. 

And she’s trying to figure out, “How do I bring all my mother’s stuff from her house into my tiny apartment? There’s just no room, and I don’t want to dishonor my mother by not bringing home all her things. What am I supposed to do?”

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Answer: How to Honor a Loved One Without Grief Hoarding?

grief hoarding mom takes daughter on piggy back rideAll right, that is an excellent question. And it comes down to what we call grief hoarding. 

Now, grief hoarding is the concept where, when someone we love dies. And because we love them, we want to hang on to their stuff.  The truth of the matter is that the feelings that we have towards that person are towards that person. It’s not towards their stuff. 

And it’s easy to assume, “This was important to my mother. So, it should be important to me.” And you want to honor that memory by keeping all their stuff.

Did I Ever Tell You About My Frogs?

Now, before we go any further, let me tell you about the frogs. Grief Hoarding, Frog 2

Right after I got married, as a wedding present, one of my husband’s sisters gave us a frog. Don’t ask me why; I have no idea what the meaning was. But, it was about a two-and-a-half-foot statue of a frog reading a book. 

It was kind of cute and made of ceramic and copper. (It looked like it was an expensive statue.) Now, psychology 101 tells us that the behavior we reward is the behavior that will be repeated. 

And I was not paying attention when I received this frog. I was so dumbfounded by the frog that I gave it a lot of attention. I was like, “Oh my goodness, look at this frog. Wow, this is so amazing. It’s cute.” yadda, yadda. 

I Rewarded the Wrong Behavior

And then, I put it on the base of my fireplace, so that every time his sister would come over, she would see this frog. And she would know that I appreciate her gesture.

All right. Well, because I rewarded that behavior. Oops.  For every birthday and Christmas after that, she gave me another frog.

And then, all the family members started jumping in on this, thinking, “Well, Angela must love frogs.” And so, before I knew it, I had all kinds of frog statues. Grief Hoarding, Frog 3

I had glass ceramic frog figurines. I had frog dishes. I had daily calendars with frog pictures on them. I had outdoor frog statues for my garden and my yard. 

And everybody, neighbors, friends, family, relatives, people that came to visit would say, “Wow! I did not know that Angela collected frogs. Wow! We’ve learned something new about Angela.” And then, they would bring, and gift me more frogs.

Nobody Asked Me My Opinion

grief hoarding frog calendarThe truth of the matter is, I didn’t have anything to do with the frogs. I never wanted the frogs in the first place. They were nice, but I didn’t have any emotional attachment whatsoever to the frogs. They were just frogs. 

They were gifts people gave me, and I was trying to be polite. But, the fact of the matter is, if you would have asked me, “Do you want more frogs,” I would have said, “No frogs. Not more frogs.” For me, this is just other things I have to dust, and keep up with, and store. Right? I don’t want any frogs.”

The Frog Hoarding Has to Stop

grief hoarding frog couple sitting on bench garden statuesAnd when I sold my house, I actually sold all the frogs with the house. And I told the lady that bought the house, “These frogs will bring you good luck. I’m going to let all the frogs stay with the house. They’re yours now.” 

And I gave her all the frogs. And then, I sent a memo to all the family members, and said, “Hey, guys; no more frogs.” The truth is, I never wanted the frogs.

What Do We Really Know About the People We Love?

grief hoarding frog garden statuesBut, the reason I tell you this story about the frogs is this. If I had died, my family that lives 2,500 miles away would come to collect my stuff. What happens if they see my entire house full of frogs? They would say, “Wow, we didn’t know this about Angela. Wow! We’ve learned something new. Frogs were really important to Angela.” 

And so, to honor my memory, they would have drop shipped all these frogs back to Oregon. All right, so guess what? I never liked the frogs in the first place. And my family whom I love would have been stuck with them. Assuming they meant something to me, they would have tried to find meaning in them. Useless, costly mistake. 

Grief Hoarding Is Keeping Stuff for The Wrong Reasons

Grief Hoarding, Frog collectionSo, there are people in our lives that we love, that we want to honor. But maybe the stuff that we are hoarding after they’ve died is stuff they didn’t want at all. 

I found out later that my grandmother, who collected dozens of little glass figurines didn’t want them either. 

She displayed them in a lovely china cabinet. Everybody kept buying them for her assuming she was a fan. They didn’t mean anything to her. She never wanted them. 

Yet, there we were, trying to save them, and dust them, and take care of them because we thought they meant something to grandma.

Your Memories Are About People, Not Their Stuff

And it’s going to take some time to grieve. And so, if you feel that you need to hold onto that stuff to stretch the memory of your mother a little bit longer, then here’s my suggestion to you.  Apron transparent

Pick three items to bring home to your house. These can be things that were meaningful to both you and your Mother. Open book

If she wore the same apron every night while cooking dinner for twenty years, that might be an item you want to keep. It has sentimental value to you both.  So, bring the apron home.

Pick three items, and then, take all the rest of mom’s stuff and put it in a storage unit. Pay a couple of hundred dollars a month, and store the stuff in the storage unit, not at your house. You’re storing your own memories at your house. 

Compartmentalize the Grief 

grief hoarding Storage UnitThen block out a two-hour window each week in your schedule, and go over to the storage unit, and visit mom’s stuff. Touch the stuff. Smell the stuff. Hold onto it. And remember the memories that you had with your mom. Go through all the items in the storage unit, and spend time enjoying those items at the storage unit.

The private time away from the distractions of your own home is therapeutic and will help you heal faster.

And what will happen is you will get to a point where you’ll say, “Well, I don’t even know why there’s this vase. I think like 13 or 14 years ago, Dad gave Mom some flowers for Valentine’s Day, and this was the vase.” 

And you’ll realize that maybe that vase didn’t have any significance to her at all. It was the love from her husband on Valentine’s Day that meant something to her, not this glass vase. And then, you can part with the vase. And as you work through the items that are in the storage unit, then you can get rid of those items.

Grief Hoarding Can End

And the day will come where you realize, “Wait a second. I’m spending a couple hundred bucks a month. And two hours of every week every single week with stuff that no longer belongs to my mom. And the memories of my mom will live forever, but this is just stuff.”

Only then are you free to let it go. Or, it may be that you visit Mom’s stuff in the storage unit every week for 20 years. That’s fine. But, it’s not in your space. It’s not consuming your life. It’s a compartmentalized grief period where you’re honoring your mother during that time.

Unmanaged Grief Hoarding

Mother and daughter laugh while hikingSo, grief hoarding is when you bring everything home to your house. And it takes up all this space in your own personal life. And now, you’re trying to live someone else’s life in the reality of your own space.

That is grief hoarding. And it becomes obnoxious because you get resentful for storing all this extra stuff. 

And you don’t have space, and you don’t know where anything goes. And you don’t know what value it brought to your mom. 

You might be storing an apartment full of frogs that never had any meaning to your Mom. 

The Grief Hoarding Is Because We Care

When we are not ready to say goodbye, or we don’t have closure, it’s easy to hang on to things in search of meaning. Grief Hoarding doesn’t, and never will replace, the fond memories of those we’ve lost. 

I’m so sorry for the loss of your Mom. I hope you find closure in working through your pain. 

And until we meet again, leave the world a cleaner place than when you found it. 

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About the Show

Learn how the show came to be, interesting facts about the show host, and other frequently asked questions about the show.

Resources For This Episode

A Grief Observed –

Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations For Working Through Grief –

Please Be Patient, I’m Grieving: How to Care For and Support the Grieving Heart –

The 4 Facets of Grief: Heal Your Heart, Rebuild Your World, and Find New Pathways to Joy –

I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping, and Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One –

Beyond Tears: Living After Losing a Child –

Progressing Through Grief: Guided Exercises to Understand Your Emotions and Recover from Loss –

The Grief Recovery Handbook, 20th Anniversary Expanded Edition: The Action Program for Moving Beyond Death, Divorce, and Other Losses including Health, Career, and Faith –

The Hoarder in You: How to Live a Happier, Healthier, Uncluttered Life –

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