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For architect and University of Vermont adjunct professor Ted Montgomery, whose wife died of cancer last year, his starting point began after he found out how aggressive his wife's disease had become. "At some point I knew that I was going to be in the house alone (this picture), and that the dynamics would change," he says, referring to the Vermont dream house that he and Sarah had built in 1996.
After Sarah's death, Montgomery started the slow but deliberate process of change. "I've changed things around the house and in our bedroom not out of spite, but because I think healing is about looking things right in the eye and letting them flow and change," he says. "One of the first things I did was get rid of all the medical things and the clothes she wore when she was sick."
Professional organizer Nadine McCoy stresses the importance of asking a friend or relative for help throughout the organization process. "Many times in divorce or separation, we tend to blame ourselves and feel embarrassed of our situation, so we don't ask for help. But ask for help so that someone else is there to offer objective input on how you can reframe your home life and move on," she says.
McCoy says that although every client is different and every timeline is different, regardless of your needs, it's always wise to organize your papers and affairs in advance and not in the middle of a disaster.
Consider Personal Items
Professional organizer Beth Zeigler recommends giving away pieces that you know specific friends or family members really love. "You can take comfort in knowing that those things will be treasured and cherished, that they'll get a second life in someone else's home and will somehow stay within the family; giving items to people you know may also ease the letting-go process," she says. Organizing tools like sturdy cardboard boxes or huge plastic containers come in handy when separating things.
However, before giving things away, it's important to think about the sentimental value of things for others involved: A child whose parent has died may not realize the value of her mom's sketches today, but may appreciate having them for display when she enters adulthood and has her own home.
If you are going through a divorce or separation, be sure to let the leaving party know what the process is for getting his or her things. If a partner is dragging his or her feet, an ultimatum may be called for. McCoy suggests having a garage or estate sale for homeowners left with a lot of things. "It may even be liberating," she says.
Make Home Improvements
Homeowner Margerie Reyes stays in a home she used to share with her ex-fiancé. After removing things with painful memories, she says, "I made small home improvements that helped me take back the house for myself, like stacking my shoes and lining them creatively against a slanted ceiling, which showed my love of elegant footwear. I invited friends and family to fill the home with laughter and new, positive memories."
As for Montgomery, he recently moved a Japanese maple tree that he planted with Sarah in front of her studio (this picture) in honor of a nephew who died when she was still alive. "We planted the tree together, but I never loved the location of it. So I dug it up and moved it near the entrance to my driveway. [The tree] looks beautiful there. It's the right place for it. I think moving it was hugely symbolic for me in many ways," says Montgomery.
Tell us: Has your home brought you comfort in a time of enormous loss? Please share your story with others who may be going through a similar change.