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Sentimental Clutter

Who would have thought that sentimental clutter could mean so much?

Several boxes of varying sizes are stacked neatly in a row. Children are often responsible for vacating their parent’s home. And that is what I did when my mom died. Although I sold much of her personal belongings and gave away items to family members, I kept those things that I could not part with. Now, several years later, I feel ready to go through the cardboard boxes and declutter the space that takes up a small corner of my home.

After opening up the boxes, I gently hold photographs of Mom in uniform as a Woman’s Army Corps (WAC) in World War II. I clutch her police shield in my hand and gently rub the numbers, which remind me that she was one of the first New York City female police officers. I find a champagne cork and wonder what she was celebrating. These are not my memories. They belong to someone else. Then why is it so hard to get rid of these possessions? Perhaps because they are the tangible links that help keep her alive in some way; parting with them is too permanent a goodbye; or somehow the objects keep her alive through reliving events in her life.

I look through Mom’s college yearbook, Valentine’s Day cards she got from my dad, and hand written cards that I wrote to her when I was small child. Although these are only things . . . clutter . . . to me, they are most meaningful. I cannot part with them. I decide to photograph some of the objects that are less meaningful and easier to donate or give away.

As I self-reflect, I think about what will happen to my personal belongings once I am gone. Is it time to let go of those sentimental things that I do not need to leave behind? As I clear clutter from my life, I focus on the memories that each item engenders.

The time will come when my children will place framed photos in a box along with my keepsakes. They will find their tiny infant outfits worn home from the hospital along with baby keepsakes. Will they find meaning in my memories or even consider these items sentimental clutter? I hope they reflect on the memories we created as a family, instead of the stuff I leave behind. But, if they keep a few pieces of my “clutter” to help them hold onto our connection, that would be okay.

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Barbara is a leading authority and best-selling author on managing burnout, secondary traumatic stress, compassion fatigue, and vicarious trauma. As a nationally recognized keynote speaker, she motivates audiences to build their resilience and create work-life balance. Her programs help leaders and teams manage workplace chronic stressors and get over burnout at work.

Barbara's newest book, "But I Didn't Say Goodbye: Helping Families After a Suicide", is available now on Amazon -

• Three weeks prior to giving birth to triplets, her father died by suicide. Her story was featured in the Emmy award winning documentary, Fatal Mistakes, Families Shattered by Suicide narrated by Mariette Hartley. Many employees are grieving personal loss. She offers programs for leaders on lost productivity and performance while managing grief at work.

• As a sought-after keynote speaker who has presented to over 500 groups since 1991, including corporations, state and national associations and non-profit organizations, Barbara offers work-life balance strategies for leaders to implement right away. With clarity and humor, her speaking engagements are designed to give audiences powerful and practical strategies of work-life balance, wellbeing, and self-care that can be implemented immediately.

• Barbara is a Board-Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress and Diplomate with the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. She received a Bachelor of Science in psychology and a Master of Arts degree in community health, with a concentration in thanatology, both from Brooklyn College.


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