Grief Hoarding to Shoebox Memories

What do you do with the personal possessions of someone who has died? Many people feel guilty when getting rid of a loved one’s things which leads to grief hoarding. So, how do you decide what to keep?

Grief Hoarding

We have a homeowner who wrote into the show with a serious situation. She’s accumulated stuff from both her deceased parents and now has a house full of stuff. In an attempt to store everything, she has a full storage unit, closets, and attic.

Grief Hoarding to Shoebox Memories, Boxes in Garage

Most of it is stuff that was meaningful to her parents. Because of this, she’s afraid if she lets it go, it’s like letting go of them and their memories. So, how do you move through that?

Condense Your Memories

Well, we have a process as house cleaners that we call shoe box memories, and I want to share that with you today. Essentially, you take your memories and condense them to the size of a shoe box.

Grief Hoarding to Shoebox Memories, Holding a Shoebox

Now, for me, in my hand here, I have a small tatting shuttle. This tatting shuttle is 40 years old and it takes me back to the spring of 1980. Now, if you don’t know what a tatting shuttle is, it looks like a bobbin of thread, and it actually has thread on it. You take the tatting shuttle and you weave it in and out, and create handmade lace.

My Tatting Shuttle is a Memory

Now, back in 1980 I was a home schooled. I was 10 years old, I was a brat child, and I was difficult to get along with and I did not respect authority. So, for one of my home school assignments, my mother sent me down the street a couple of blocks to an old lady’s house. I think she was like 100 years old at the time.

Grief Hoarding to Shoebox Memories, Strips of Lace

Her name was Helen Clark, and Helen was a specialist in handiwork. So, she would sit there with me for three hours every Wednesday for several years. She taught me how to crochet, and knit, and embroider and tat.

I Learned from Helen

These were lost arts even back then. None of my friends growing up knew any of these skills. But we would sit, and we would embroider pillowcases and little designs that we would frame and hang up. She was meticulous, and I thought that I was doing her a favor by visiting with this old lady.

Grief Hoarding to Shoebox Memories, Woman Knitting

What I didn’t realize is the one in rehabilitation was actually myself. My mother was trying to teach me some life values through this sweet and wonderful old lady. I had to sit there, and I had to do it each week.

She Made Me Keep Starting Over

So, I would crochet, and she would look at my stitches and she would say, “They’re a little bit sloppy. You can do a tighter weave on that.” And she would rip it out and make me start over again.

Grief Hoarding to Shoebox Memories, Woman Teaching Little Girl to Knit.35-min

Then I would embroider stitches and she’d say the stitches are uneven. Again, she would make me rip them out with a seam ripper and do them over again.

Taking Value in My Work

So, there I was, 10 years old and stitching. I thought “How crazy is this, and what is the value of this?” But what I didn’t realize that at the time is she was teaching me how to take value in my work.

Grief Hoarding to Shoebox Memories, Little Girl Crocheting

She taught me how to recognize when I had made mistakes and how to correct those mistakes. Because right now is the best time to correct those mistakes rather than later on.

I Learned Entrepreneurship Too

Then she also taught me about entrepreneurship. And then she taught me how to tat, how to make these little lace strips that we could back with a satin ribbon. They became bookmarks.

Grief Hoarding to Shoebox Memories, Crocheting

Then we went down to the public library and sold them at wholesale. After that, the library put them on their counter, and they sold them at retail to their customers. So, it was an interesting business at 10 years old, and this was before eBay and Etsy.

It Was About More Than Just Handiwork

What I was learning at that time was not just about the handiwork, but about being meticulous. It was about taking pride in your work and finishing projects that you start. It was about following through and being consistent every single time.

Grief Hoarding to Shoebox Memories, Woman On Phone

Helen was a real stickler if I were to try to miss one of my sessions with her. She expected reliability and dependability even though I was a child. And then she taught me about being a small business owner. Even though I didn’t have this booming business, it was the basics of business and how to get started.

My Tatting Shuttle is Significant

So, I kept this particular tatting shuttle because it reminds me of that time with Helen. In my mind, it’s when I went from being a bratty, pre-adolescent child to being an adult. That was I started realizing things like my actions have consequences.

Grief Hoarding to Shoebox Memories Making Lace

So, that’s what the tatting shuttle symbolizes to me. Of all the things that I’ve had over the years, this is one of the few things I’ve kept. And I keep this inside a shoe box.

Keep Your Memories in a Shoe Box

Now the reason I call it shoe box memories is because this is an item. It’s not a great big dresser or a big piece of antique furniture or something. Rather, it’s something small enough to travel with me wherever I go. And this itself fits inside a shoe box.

Grief Hoarding to Shoebox Memories, Sad Woman Opening Box

Now, think about your memories. If you have stuff you got from your parents, friends, neighbors, etc., there’s value in that. But the value comes not from the stuff. It comes from the story. So, if you have stuff that you’re having a hard time letting go of, go get it and share your story on video.

Record Your Memories

How did you come to get this particular item? What was going on in your life at the time? Who did you get it from? Why did you keep it? What does it mean to you now? Honor it, respect what it brought to you and what it means to your life. After you’ve shared your story, only then will you be in a position to let it go. 

Grief Hoarding to Shoebox Memories, Man Talking to Camera

Now you can keep the video as a digital file and let that thing go, whether you sell or donate it. Because the stuff is not what’s important, it’s the memory behind this stuff. And most of our memories, believe it or not, will fit inside a shoe box.

Start Going Through Your Memories Today

I want to encourage you today to go through your things. You’ve been hoarding and storing items to do what? Newsflash, you’re not using them. You’ve never used them. You’re not going to use them. Not now, not ever.

Grief Hoarding to Shoebox Memories, Man Holding Typewriter

And so now is a good time to tell those meaningful stories. Share those stories with your family and friends. You can watch them at any time to remind you of how you felt, and how that item came into your life and what it means.

Find a Group for Support

Now, it’s okay if you are no good in front of the camera, and this sounds like a horrific overwhelming project to you. I recommend joining an online group, either a neighborhood group or Facebook group.

Grief Hoarding to Shoebox Memories, Women Talking on Couch.35-min

You could even find friends or people going through the same type of things and share your stories with them. Invite them over and let them be present when you make these videos. Then when it’s all over, maybe they can help you carry that item out.

Keep Electronic Memories and Your Shoe Box

Remove the physical item from this spot as if you are washing and cleansing yourself of it. Now what travels with you is the electronic version and the memories that fit inside the shoe box. I hope that helps a little bit. If it does, please pass this on to a friend. Until we meet again, leave the world a cleaner place than when you found it.

Grief Hoarding to Shoebox Memories, Woman Sitting in Antique Chair



Support Group:

Recommended Reading:
Reclaim Your Life From Hoarding: Practical Strategies for Decluttering Your Home –
Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things –
Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding –
Treatment for Hoarding Disorder: Therapist Guide –
Treatment for Hoarding Disorder: Workbook –

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Listen: Grief Hoarding to Shoe Box Memories

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