The widow and the magical art of tidying up

An excerpt from Dani Holland’s blog, Three Chicks and a Hen


I will preface this post by saying I am not a tidy person. I do try, but it just isn’t me.

No matter how many times I ask my girls to put their toys and books away, and say things like ‘If you give it a proper home in your room, you’ll always be able to find it again’, we all know that I’m a terrible example.

I may as well dress myself as Mary Poppins and cheerfully chirp about spoons full of sugar, as we all know that a Tidy Me character is just as fictional. The only thing that motivates me to have a spotless house is visitors.

But, usually, in the first few months of the year, I get a bee in my bonnet about de-cluttering. I march around the house muttering about all the excess stuff we’ve collected during the year, and how it all needs to be donated, while small children scurry behind me hiding various items they want to keep from my sight.

This is a fine idea in theory, but it doesn’t take into account items that belonged to the Bear.

It’s been two years since he left, and I have kept nearly everything.

Apart from a few broken shoes, and the underpants he really didn’t like, I still have it all. A few choice items have been given away to close friends and family, but I’m not yet ready for his life to be scattered too much.

Because that is what these things feel like to me –

I can’t hug him, but I can hug his t-shirts.

He’s not here to give me a foot rub, but I can wear his socks.

His books are still crammed in the bookshelves, even though there is not nearly enough room for all the other books we own.

In the same drawer that I keep my jewellery is a wooden box that holds his wedding ring, his wallet, still with all the cards and receipts, the cravat he wore to our wedding, and lots of other meaningless little scraps that only hold meaning to me because they spark memories of our life and love together.

Most of the time this box sits there untouched. But when I am in a sorting, decluttering mood, I get this box out and hold each item, re-live the memory that each piece contains, kiss it and put it back in the box.

I know that eventually, I may be ready to pass on some of these things. I am doing my best not to turn our house into a shrine, because that is the last thing he would want. He would probably tell me to throw the lot out, or give it away, but I just can’t.

It’s like I need physical objects to take up space in our home to counterbalance the amount of space that he still takes up in my heart. I can’t see him, I can’t hold him, but he is still there.

A few years ago, I bought the Marie Kondo book about decluttering. The basic premise is that we should only keep the items that ‘spark joy’ and pass the rest on to others.

I don’t know if I could say that my Bear’s items spark joy – often they spark a heavy feeling in my heart and hot blinding tears.

But memories – the memories they contain are as precious as jewels.


Until January 2015, we were a happy rambunctious family of five, a loving hard-working dad, a crafty stay at home mum, and three wonderful girls. Then the Bear was diagnosed with inoperable bowel cancer, and everything changed. After his death in January 2016, our family of four is still trying to make sense of the cards we’ve been dealt.

To read more from Dani, visit Three Chicks and a Hen.

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