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  • Writer's pictureMary Balistreri

Success! Wait! Then Where Is My Coat?

I did it! I shredded the last shred of boxed up old paperwork. Dusty, nasty, musty, 20-plus- year-old paperwork fed through my household demolition machine two sheets (sometimes three or four, but that tended to cause a jam) at a time as I diligently resurrected every box and folder of overkept stuff in my basement, attic, bedroom closet, drawers, and storage boxes. The paper stuff monster had taken over my life and house a bit at a time. I did not realize it was a problem until I, with a group of family, cleaned up my sisters enormous stuff monster.

Remember back in the day ,when the bank would send you a statement in the mail containing all of the canceled checks for that month? I kept all the statements, the checks, and the advertising, too. Each item thrown into a folder - some cardboard and some every shade of clear plastic under the rainbow - to fill up space forevermore. There is no sane reason to hold onto all this stuff.

It seemed I went through moods, like artists do, in my hoarding. For instance, rather than my blue period, I rediscovered my paperclip period. Some years I favored metal, others those colorful, plastic clips that break so easily.

Then, next arrived my pure business period. During this stage, I printed everything that was emailed to me in triplicate. I am sure the multiples materialized because the printer jammed or was offline or just plain sat twiddling its thumbs to annoy me. I even printed the payments I made for online orders, you know, just in case. Scratching my head over that habit does not make it less embarrassing.

Next, I developed the "creative" stage where I scurried each bill, insurance explanation of benefits, insurance policy update, and credit card itemization away into the see-through folders of many colors. I guess adding bright colors to my finances made me feel better about working a desk job, in the same way personalized checks make us feel like it is ok for each of us to have a personality.

As I write this, I am taking a deep breath and giving myself grace for all the wild savings of things and paper that once held me captive. I am telling myself, "that's ok, Mary. You are de-cluttering now" each time I think about those envelopes, boxes, or folders. Times have now changed. Those habits are part of my past. I am moving on.

Success! I am all caught up! As I mentioned at the start, I shredded my last piece of hoarded paper. Now, each year, only the documents that are eight years old need to be shredded. (I believe the IRS expects us to keep seven years of taxes on hand just in case they decide to launch an investigation.) What an accomplishment! I literally, not figuratively, had held onto the tax returns for my former musical theater company Circlestage. First folder of taxes? 1995. Yes! Nearly 30 years ago. I am proud of my newfound diligence and my persistence.

I did celebrate this achievement, modestly, at home. I enjoyed a glass of a delicious red wine, lit a candle, and sat in silent reverie, surrounded by my dogs and cats, and reflected on my accomplishment. What happiness. What serenity.

Then, I thought about the mysterious disappearance of my winter coat. My reverie was shattered. The same coat pictured here. In fact, the day this picture was taken, around December 18, 2022, may have been the last time I wore the coat. Early in 2023, my sister Ann died causing me to embark on this cleanup mission.

As I noted in other blog posts here, I began my own version of Swedish Death Cleaning after going through tons of stuff belonging to my sister and my mother. I do not want to leave my sons and family with similar work. It is not for the feint of heart.

So, the question in my mind now is, did I go overboard in sending items from my closets, drawers, and storage to Goodwill? You see, I simultaneously rummaged through my material goods while carefully thumbing through my paperwork. Normally, each year I keep a list in the Notes on my iPhone containing a description of every item I donate to Goodwill or other organizations. This helps with taxes, that is, it used to help with taxes back when the claiming of donations to charitable organizations counted toward your deductions. Not sure of the impact it makes anymore. Anyway, in 2023, I failed to keep a list. Grieving was in fashion for me in 2023.

At some point in either mid-December or early January, I needed that black coat and could not find it. I get by often in the winter wearing either my leather jacket (pictured to the right) or my heavy, ankle-length parka (pictures of that one do not exist, for obvious reasons - think UNfashionable). The black dress coat is hauled out for the above-zero weather and only if I need to be slightly better dressed as evidenced by my choice of sweatpants in the above photo. Not sure why I chose it that day.

After rummaging through several possible locations for the black, dress coat - and making a call to the dry cleaner in case I might have forgotten it there - I resigned myself to the loss. In my whirling need to declutter, I apparently gave away my winter coat.

This realization leaves me worried about what else might be missing. There is also a crisp white shirt I was unable to find during the summer. It is one of my favorites. I remember looking for that shirt all summer. I like to wear it as a substitute for a blazer when Zooming with clients during the hotter weather. Hmmm, what else? And which items belonging to my husband and son were tossed into the "donate" bags?

This business of "cleaning house" to make life easier to go on living for those we leave behind is quite complicated.

One bit of reassurance came to me in the form of a HelpText. HelpTexts were offered to my family through the wonderful hospice where my mom took her last breath. It is a service which sends occasional text messages to those who are grieving to help ease the discomfort of grief a bit. The text I received reminded me that confusion is part of grief.

I experienced so many emotions in 2023 as I grieved; I found it hard to name them all. Confusion is more of a state of being than an emotion, I suppose. I would not have thought that confusion was part of my grief. But it was! Thank you, HelpTexts people.

Looking back on last year, I realize confusion impacted me many times. What day is it? I thought multiple mornings upon first opening my eyes. Sometimes, I jumped out of bed expecting to run to a hospital, then stopping in my tracks when I realized both Ann and Mom were gone. Sometimes, I was unsure if I had been sleeping for the night or just dosing off for a nap. I expected to open my eyes to a hospital room where I had fallen asleep in a chair or recliner.

My nephew, Ann's son, told me that life seemed so strange after she died that he wondered if it all were a dream. I agree. Much of 2023 passes through my thoughts in clouds or billowing smoke or wavy lines like the ones they used to use on television to indicate a transition of some kind. They were right to use those wavy lines. I have been in a transition.

Confusion. Confusion took my coat! Oh, well. I did purchase a new one at a very good price. It is bright pink and a bit longer than the lost black coat.

How is my 2024? My old energy is back. I feel a sense of clarity of mind, heart, and body. And, I miss my sister and my mom. I always will miss them. Some days more than others. I still possess all the memories of them. The memories belong to me. Something Swedish Death Cleaning can never take. And, they do not take up any room in the attic.

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