I have become increasingly aware of how my surroundings affect my stress and my ability to cope with day-to-day things. I am surrounded by clutter and disorganization, it’s hard to focus on any one task without getting discouraged and distracted, and then defeated. It’s no wonder my surroundings have probably contributed to my overall well-being (or more accurate, lack thereof!) because there is so much chaos caused by so much STUFF! Kids toys, clothes and socks strewn about the house. No matter how many times I pick up, something else falls to the floor. Not only is this stuff physically weighing, but mentally as well. And when I finally feel like I have a handle on it all and find the underbelly of a rug or a corner to sweep it all under or into, I would be alerted to the fact that I still hadn’t handled the “motherlode.”

What’s the motherlode? Two and a half years ago upon the death of my husband (after a long, lingering illness), I realized I couldn’t live on my own with a newborn and two-year-old twins and I needed to move in with my parents. I was in no shape to organize such a move, much less execute it. I was virtually paralyzed with grief, trauma, postpartum depression and extreme sleep deprivation. All I could do was crawl away to a hotel room my friend set up for me and let others pack my home and care for my kids. I continuously thank God that the home my husband and I lived in for two years before his death  was a home that belongs to my grandparents and remained in the family, so I wasn’t pressured into getting rid of things or go through the headache of selling and contracts. Strangers, friends, and family who flew in from across the country packed everything in my home and stored it in the basement. This was the motherlode: all of this, my entire former life and all my memories packed into boxes. To make matters more complicated, my husband was a “just in case” keeper of everything he’d ever owned, so it was A LOT of stuff shut behind that basement door. And there it has remained until I resurrected it recently.

I was determined to find the things I truly treasure, rather than holding onto every single thing out of fear of forgetting my former life.

The why behind is not necessary, but I needed to move all my things out to make more room in that basement. I had tried a few times prior to go over there and go through things, only to stop abruptly in panic attacks or tears if I came across my husband’s shoes, or his underwear or a handkerchief. I felt compelled to keep every shred of paper he had touched, even if it was just a sticky note or an old grocery list—just about anything would trigger me. My mind wasn’t ready then to go through things, but this time, the last and final time going into that basement, I was ready. I was ready to free myself from the weight of the motherlode–which refers to riches or abundance– and that’s what all these belongings meant to me, an abundance of good and painfully brutal memories because every time I ran across one of my things that I had shared in life with my husband, I was reminded of what I used to have and should still have, but don’t. I was determined to find the things I truly treasure, rather than holding onto every single thing out of fear of forgetting my former life.

Initially, going through things was hard. It felt like I had an anvil on my shoulders, each item carried so much weight. Every box I’d go through, I’d secretly expect to discover a treasure left by my husband. Something just for me. Through the painstaking task of allowing myself to go through everything a little at a time, I had the luxury to think through if I really needed to keep things and worked up the strength to give myself permission to donate or give away other things.

The anvil was lifted. I was free to let things go.

It was during this process that I found them; I found my treasures among all the various boxes and books and knick-knacks and dishes. I almost threw away a brown paper bag that looked like it was just filled with receipts. Against my better judgement, I held onto it and went through it. Buried in the scrap paper were all the cards and love letters my husband had written me. After digging a little deeper into the stacks of boxes, and designating more things to donate, I came across a notebook with the revisions of his marriage vows to me (in the whirlwind of our four-year marriage, I never read the vows and had never known where my husband had put them) and a couple other writings about us I had never seen before. When I found these things, saying goodbye to everything else was not as heavy. The anvil was lifted. I was free to let things go.

When I was finally finished going through everything, it was significant, in more ways than one, to turn around and walk away from that empty room with the things that really mattered most—his words to me, and me alone. I don’t need a storage unit—these memories fit in my purse, but they will be more precious to me than any book or knick-knack for the rest of my life.

Now, I’m planning a yard sale. Going through things, not hastily, but meticulously, an exercise to determine need vs. want and treasure vs. trash. The more I consciously get rid of and the few things I decide to keep make moving forward a little lighter.

This whole process has led me to a deeper meaning also, as I think about what things my children would want that belonged to their dad vs. things that might not hold any meaning at all to them. As I am having to make these decisions for them (they are too small to know at this time), I’ve decided the real treasure lies in their dad’s hand-written letters to their mom, his writings he left them, photos and videos and, of course, his CD of his singing and playing the music he loved—they will always know what he sounds like, and I will never forget.

My journey to minimalism is far from over—life keeps a lot of things!—but I know it will spill over to my children, and my future family values. I’ve concluded I don’t want to leave my children with a basement full of stuff, rather keep intentional things that they will always want to keep. This experience has convinced me that real treasures don’t have a lot to do with “stuff,” but rather moments that trigger memories. I am intentional with what I choose to leave my children: taking more video footage of myself talking and laughing, so they will never forget how I sounded, snapping a lot of photos and being diligent in putting them into photo books, to hand-write letters to them and to tell them stories of their dad and I. They don’t need anything else and neither do I.

See the sister post to this one for tips for going through your late spouse’s things:

What should I do with all his stuff?