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Cancer Clutter: We Can't Take it With Us When We Go

Two-time cancer survivor suspects survivors look at the material stuff or clutter of life differently since their cancer diagnosis.
PUBLISHED September 01, 2016
Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools–We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.
We can’t take our stuff with us when we go. Intellectually, we all know that, but does it resonate on more levels with you since you became a cancer survivor? Is your relationship with “things” since becoming a cancer survivor different? Do you think less of “stuff” now? I know I do, and I hope it helps me make better choices — at least some of the time. Before cancer came along, I was (and still am) a clutter-clearing motivational speaker and author. 

I write columns and have a book and newsletter to help readers clear out their household stuff. Some of that advice is technical, some is thought process and some is about values—the values of my readers. What you value impacts your life choices and your clutter-clearing choices. I am just trying to have a discussion with fellow survivors about making more conscious choices and tying it into the clutter advice that I have learned. Do you look at your values in relation to your stuff?

As a two-time cancer survivor, when I weed out my clutter now, my thought process is different than before cancer. I make many of my life choices and clutter choices daily, and even hourly, based on my values. I did not do this so much before cancer. How often do your choices match your values? More so now than before you got cancer? Does time seem more precious and limited now?

A cancer survivor gets the concept that your time is your life, so how you spend your time, your life, is a reflection of your values. What is important to you? What isn’t important to you? The answers are different for each of us. If you value your time compared to your stuff, less stuff would probably equate to more time for you. Less shopping time, working time, and less cleaning, storing and organizing time would be needed if there were fewer possessions. 

Do you cherish your time now? No one wants to spend a beautiful day indoors to weed out clutter. Have you ever considered keeping a log of where your time goes for a few days? Record in your log when you change activities. Include daily preparations, work, television watching, phone texting, shopping, computer time—everything. Do you want to spend your time acquiring your stuff, paying for your stuff, taking care of your stuff and weeding out your stuff? Survivors know that we can’t take it with us when we go. I suspect survivors will understand my questions better than most.

How do you value your money? Is money for the purchase of experiences, stuff, security, retirement or something else? How do you choose to divide your assets to support your goals and your values? Think about your money in relation to your stuff. Does how you currently spend your money reflect your values? For example, would you take a trip or buy a piece of furniture?

Do you value your space—your home? The truth is that we are all renters. Our apartments, condominiums and even our houses are all temporary. We pay to occupy those spaces for a time. Do you like your space, and does your space match your values? Right now, I am in the process of downsizing because our present, rather empty home, doesn’t match our current life values. Home and stuff comes down to personal choices for each of us.

What value do you place on your stuff now? When do you choose to make do or to take care of your stuff versus replace it? Consider the things that you own. Which items fulfill needs and which fulfill wants? Which items are doing neither? Maybe an item fulfilled a need or a want in the past, but your life has changed. That’s okay. It can sometimes take a while for our stuff to catch up. 

As a cancer survivor, when and how often do you choose to value experiences versus acquisitions? Quite literally, this is deciding when you will spend your money on experiences like classes or hobbies or socializing or travel and when you will spend your money on things for your wardrobe, home or life. No right or wrong here—it is just about being thoughtful in your decisions.

Think about your relationships. Do you now spend your time working on growing those relationships instead of making acquisitions or taking care of those acquisitions? I try to make conscious choices about when I connect to people in my life by picking up the phone or writing an email, and other moments when I work on my home instead.

If you value family relationships and history and have possessions that reflect that, you may choose to pass items down in your family now, while you can share the story, see the smile and hear the “thank you.” This approach helps keep the things in the family that you hope will be kept in the family and can improve family relationships.

What would be your regrets about your time and your stuff if you found out you are terminal today? It sounds grim, but as a two-time cancer survivor as well as a clutter clearing author/speaker, I hope it is okay for us to talk about this. I hope these questions and thoughts help you to make conscious choices about your time and your life and your stuff as you move forward as a cancer survivor.
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