The experiences I had this summer were wonderful and terrible. I feel so privileged to have spent this time caring for my mother. It was terrific bonding time for me and my sisters - we don't usually get to spend so much time together. And of course it was very sad as we ultimately had to say goodbye.
One thing I looked forward to as I started the project of clearing out the house was actually living through the process, so that I could get a better sense of what my clients go through. Guess what? I learned a lot. Though I'm happy to say it didn't change my basic outlook on keeping the clutter at bay.
The first thing I learned is this: the longer you are surrounded by stuff, the more reasonable it seems to take it home and make it your own! I claimed far more by the end of the month than I'd wanted at the beginning. The takeaway? Trust your instincts. And once you've decided what you want for yourself, see if you can give one or two things back.
I also learned that it's sometimes easier to just take things home than try to figure out what to do with them. This is always an issue during decluttering, and if you're in any kind of time crunch it's exacerbated. In our case there is a large collection of books, many of which are quite valuable, which couldn't be managed in the time we had to dispose of them. We did some research to determine that shipping them would cost far less than they are worth, and committed to finding a dealer to help us sell them.
It's important to do that cost/benefit analysis, otherwise you may be paying for a headache that will never bear fruit. It's also a good idea to think about the emotional cost - how will it feel to have your dead mother's teapot collection cluttering up your dining room until you have the time and energy to dispose of it? Sometimes it makes sense to just give it all to the neighborhood thrift shop to save yourself the trouble and the sorrow.
Finally I learned that it all becomes overwhelming and you just want to get to the end and if that means shipping stuff across the country and dealing with it later then FINE. Because eventually you get tired. We did end up making decisions about everything - but there are certainly a few things heading my way that will need further consideration.
I also practiced a lot - practiced saying no to things that I really wanted but have no earthly use for, practiced sharing when more than one of us wanted the same thing. (Note: this is easier to do when there is SO MUCH TO CHOOSE FROM.) I practiced taking a moment to appreciate things that were important to my mother before giving them the heave ho.
All in all, this was an experience that will make me a better coach and helper. In fact, I kind of wish I'd had someone by my side, gently asking me whether the things I grabbed are really going to add value to my life. I guess I'll have to wait and see - a moving van will pull up sometime in the next couple of months and disgorge all the things I claimed - and then I'll decide which ones really get to stay.