Cydney Millstein knew moving would be stressful. But she didn’t foresee the emotional land mines buried in the belongings she had to sift through, like the possessions of her husband, John Gutowski, a photographer who had died about three years prior, after surgery for brain cancer. Millstein reread his journals and numerous sympathy cards. She cried a lot. It felt too hard to press on.
“I was grieving all over again,” she says.
Emotional roadblocks can blindside people as they’re moving, says Harriet Barrish, a Leawood, Kansas–based psychologist. “There’s a lot of emphasis on losses when you move,” Barrish says. “As much as we don’t think we get attached to things, we do.”
To get through the tough transition, enlist friends to help you decide which items to get rid of. Millstein’s friends helped move her from the house she and her husband had shared to the new one built just for her.
They also helped her sort through all the stuff. “Everything seemed like it became precious,” she says. She saved the truly important things: her husband’s artwork, the last letter she wrote to him in the hospital. She gave away or sold other mementos—and her friends stayed close.
“They would call me and bolster my mood and bring me food,” she says. “I felt like a boxer whose friends took me to the side of the ring and said, ‘You can do it. You’re almost done.’ ”
To make the process of letting go of items easier, put them in storage if you’re not ready to deal with them, recommends Barrish. And unpack quickly. Getting settled can do wonders for the psyche.