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The Feng Shui of Dealing with Sentimental Clutter

The Feng Shui of Dealing with Sentimental Clutter
I experienced two deaths within days of each other this year, first my beloved Aunt Lily and then my best friend's mom, Sylvia. Both women were family matriarchs, and despite being in their 90s, their deaths were difficult for family and friends. As I sat in the house my aunt lived in for more than 60 years, I realized I would never return, never see her unique wallpaper, or sit on the carefully-selected furniture, or admire the objects she'd collected on exciting trips around the world - several of which I shared with her.

I know from practicing Feng Shui for the past 18 years that a house is more than the sum total of the objects we put in it, but I couldn't stop thinking about how I would miss these familiar objects and how difficult it would be for the family to decide what to do with them.

Years ago I had to close up my father's apartment and deal with my parents' furniture and the objects they had collected for almost 57 years together. I donated as much as I could and had the rest shipped to a storage unit near my home in another state. Every few days I would go to the unit and bring home a box or two to unpack. I had expected that I would be adding to my collection with my mom's porcelain, silver, and art, because these were all a vivid part of my childhood. But, I found little in each box that I wanted to keep - each item had my mother's touch and related to my parent's life but didn't fit with my own decor or style. Things that seemed perfect to me as a child in reality had chips and cracks. I decided to keep a few representative items, like my mom's needlepoint piano bench, those porcelain cups and saucers from her large collection that I had given to her as birthday gifts, two 1950s silk scarves from my parents' trip to Paris, the demitasse spoons engraved with the name of a famous hotel (your secret is safe with me, Mom). I selected a few of the doilies she had crocheted commuting on the train to see my father when he was in Army basic training during World War II. I cut the fabric flower off the dress she wore to my wedding. I donated the rest. In less than three months I could give up the storage unit because it was empty.

While making decisions about what to keep and what to toss is never easy, it can be especially complicated when you have an emotional attachment to the objects. The challenge is to work with the emotion of the process rather than letting it work against you, especially when clearing after the death of a relative or friend. Keeping in mind that in Feng Shui clutter represents "postponed decisions and the inability to move forward," here are three of the steps I offer to my clients who are working through their “sentimental clutter.” This process also helped me move through my own grieving and clearing.

Limit Your Clearing. If you deal with your sentimental clutter a few minutes each day you’ll be more likely to make good decisions and avoid regretting it later. Set a timer for 30 minutes or play a music mix that takes about that time. Start anywhere, pick up an object, and decide whether you’re keeping it. If you are, put it in the proper place. If you’re not, put it into one of three piles: Toss, Donate, Sell. Keep doing this until the timer rings or the music stops. Congratulate yourself because you’re done clearing for the day. Take the “Toss” items out to the trash and place the “Donate” items in the similarly-labeled box. When the donate box is near full call your favorite charity and arrange for a pick up. If you have things in your “Sell” box you should list them on eBay, Craig’s List, or similar sites – but I advise most people to skip this step because it could ultimately lead to more clutter.

Give It Time. Whether you’re grieving over the death of a loved one, mourning the loss of favorite possessions when downsizing, or facing the reality of getting rid of your children’s “stuff” when facing an empty nest, there may be some objects that you can’t deal with right then. This is the time to create a fourth pile marked “Decide” and place these objects here as you clear. When you’re done clearing, pack away the items in the “Decide” pile and don’t think about it. In about six months - or when you’re ready - open the box and make some decisions about the contents. Toss any obvious junk, donate items without any sentimental attachment, and keep the remaining things.

Save the Best and Digitize the Rest. When you have a large collection, like every birthday card your daddy ever sent or every piece of your child's art, try keeping one object to represent all of them. Pick a favorite and toss the rest. Take digital images of sentimental things, both to save space and so you won’t worry about fading. You can also find online sites where you can make keepsake books with children’s artwork or photos.

Sometimes, it's easier to part with beloved objects if you know that someone else is going to get them. It’s okay to ask your relatives and friends if they want your family items, but distribute these with care. Remember that sometimes one person's stuff becomes – you guessed it - another person's clutter.

Carol Olmstead is a Feng Shui Master Practitioner and author of the award-winning book, the Feng Shui Quick Guide For Home and Office: Secrets For Attracting Wealth, Harmony, and Love, which is available at The “Clutter Clinic” chapter includes Carol’s step-by-step clutter clearing process. Find out more about Carol’s real-world approach to Feng Shui at

Click here to read the entire August issue of Law of Attraction Magazine.

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