Beaded Handbags Bear Witness

March 5th, 2010

I once helped a couple downsize and prepare to move to a retirement apartment.   They had different feelings about this.  The husband was eager to go, and would enthusiastically greet me every morning when I arrived at their door.  The wife, not so much.  Several mornings she answered the door and greeted me with a disappointed, “oh, it’s you.”  I knew working with her would be a challenge.

First we proceeded through the whole house and designated which large furniture items would be appropriate for them in their new space.  We then had to sort through the rest.  After several days, we were working on a closet in a spare bedroom where we found some small, beaded handbags.  She then told me stories about each purse, and the fun dances she and her husband would attend during their courtship when he returned home from World War II.  She confided that because of the times, her clothes were simple and inexpensive, but her fancy purses made her feel “dolled up” and worthy of the special times they were celebrating at the end of the war.  She was so relieved that he had retured home, when so many others had not.

The next day, she answered the door in the morning and was downright pleasant. As soon as we started working on the piles we organized the day before, she confided in me, “you know, I really dreaded having to go through all this stuff, but I am really enjoying myself now, finding old things and remembering.”  I was glad that she was enjoying the process.  I also felt special that she shared personal stories with me.

I often have two equally important jobs when I work with clients.   One is to help sort through and organize items, and the other is to bear witness to the client’s stories and memories.  With this client, we would find an item, she would tell me its story, and then we would decide the appropriate fate for it.  She enjoyed sharing her memories, and I enjoyed listening to them.  We finished the process sooner than any of us thought.

A Teacup of Memories

February 14th, 2010

Several years ago, I worked with a woman who was downsizing from her home of 40 years into a retirement apartment.  We worked our way through the whole house and eventually reached the basement.  In a storage closet, we discovered a very large box, annoyingly jutting into the path of the doorway.  “That box has been there forever, “she said, “and it has always been in the way.”    She had no idea what was in it.  She then left me to sort thorough the items piled on top of it while she worked on a project in the next room.

When I got to the box, I discovered an entire set of fine bone china with complete place settings for at least 10 people.  There was even a matching gravy boat and formal tea pot.  I brought one of the plates to her and told her that it came from the box.  She nodded and said, “I always hated that china, but it belonged to my favorite aunt who I always felt loved me the most.”  She then got a little misty eyed as she told me of her aunt and family as a young girl.

Knowing she did not need, like or even have the space in her new apartment for this china, I came up with a way for her to keep this memento of her beloved aunt.  I took one teacup and one saucer and got her a small display stand for them.  We placed it prominently on the shelf in her new dining area at the apartment. 

Several weeks later, she called me and said, “I look at my teacup everyday and I think of my aunt.  You don’t know how happy it makes me feel.”  I felt like I gave her a little gift:  the ability to revisit warm memories without the burden of unwanted stuff crowding her new living space.  Even though it is easy to associate things with people, we have to find creative ways to honor the memories of loved ones without it being a burden in our everyday lives.  This was a perfect solution for her.