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.
Donwsizing to a smaller living space means this survivor has to decide what to keep and what to give away. Rather than keep too many belongings, she writes in her journal and takes photographs to preserve memories.
To make our downsized house feel more like a home that fits us and celebrate our first holidays here, my husband and I have begun to make small home improvements and weed out clutter. The clutter is his, mine, ours, and Mom's (my mom died from metastatic breast cancer this summer in the middle of our home move to downsize). Weeding out, deciding what to treasure and what to toss, is an emotional process for me. It brings back sad memories as well as a lot of very wonderful memories, and yes, I still have my "cancer box" with wigs and more "just in case."
As a clutter clearing speaker-author and as a cancer survivor, I weed through stuff and think about the memories. I am saddened at the memories that will be lost and I am working to accept that the fading of those memories is part of life.
Cancer survivors are more aware of the passage of time and their own mortality than some, I think. How do we cope with everything that we have lost and will yet become lost? I contemplate that as I weed out.
I found the painted metal Christmas cookie plate where Santa's cookies were always placed during my childhood. I tucked that away. There were some unlabeled jewelry items that looked like they may have come from my grandparents but no helpful note was with them. I began to create a box of items I did not personally want to keep but that I wanted my daughters to look at to make their own choices. I discovered I am not a good predictor of what my daughters would pick!
It is hard enough to weed out our own stuff — to disassociate feelings and memories from our stuff. Over the years, I have learned to capture memories by journaling and photographing things rather than saving everything. I don't know if anyone will ever read my journal or see the photographs, but doing this provides some comfort to me. It matters to me and it helps me to move forward.
I also resolve to work on becoming comfortable with lost memories. Mom is no longer here to ask!
I chose the philosophy that every moment of hard work or kind thought or deed helps lift up the world and move it forward. Setting out the Santa plate built a fun family tradition. The jewelry brings back the memory of moments with people we love. The items people own reflect who they were and remind us of our time spent with them. Many of these times were positive and uplifting and it is those moments that count. The vase is just a vase. The bowl is a bowl.
My friend recently lost her mom as well. She and her sister took digital photos of the framed pictures of themselves in their childhood home but did not need to keep the actual pictures. As they sorted through the house, they shared tears and laughter. It wasn't necessary to keep all the stuff to release those moments and memories into the world.
My mom and dad were savers. I will keep what I comfortably can but let the rest go. My parents saved out of love and frugality. That was who my parents were — not what the stuff is. Saving the stuff won't bring them back to me. Oh though I wish it would! The place I can keep my parents alive is in my heart and memories, until I am gone too. Selling and donating and weeding out their things does not hurt them.
Keeping all my parents' things won't help me or my children. As always and in the end, stuff is just not important. Even as a clutter clearing speaker/author and cancer survivor, I get to constantly remind myself of that as I weed out and send this stuff out into the world for people who can use it! Truly, everything will be okay.