Cleaning closets: You never know what you'll find in there

  • The hidden corners where stuff can pile up.

    The hidden corners where stuff can pile up. Courtesy of Susan Anderson-Khleif

Posted1/11/2020 6:00 AM

I've been on a rampage, cleaning out closets. Grief freezes a lot of vision. I have spent seven years just putting items, papers, records, etc., into closets. Old houses have a lot of hiding spots.

Actually, any apartment or condo has corners, under beds, other places to stack, store and ignore items you don't want to handle or see.


My late husband and I bought the first house built in Sleepy Hollow, in 1959, and we've been here 27 years. So that's a lot of storage and empty places to fill. The closets were bulging.

So it's been pretty surprising to sort through all the objects and files I stuffed in closets. It's taken me all these years since my dear Baheej died to get up the motivation to do this. I still have a couple drawers and cupboards to sort out, but I'm mostly done.

The problem is one actually needs to look through stored items because some are important and should not be thrown away. Many other items make you wonder why you even kept them. I think grief does this to us. We just want clutter out of the way. There's no energy to process it and sort it.

And I did find some important material, such as notes Baheej wrote to himself for another novel he was writing. And old tax returns and medical records I should keep. And old letters to and from my parents.

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In one satchel I found a journal Baheej kept while he was on sabbatical at Tokyo University in Japan in 1987. It contained interesting observations on Japanese society, family life, relationships between men and women, Japanese theater and festivals. I'm glad I didn't throw that out. We traveled to Japan quite a few times between then and 2000, so the journal is of special personal interest to me.

It's so easy to just ignore those storage areas, especially in a house with excess space out of sight. There's no real pressure to clear things out. One needs to develop "peripheral vision" in order to notice these things. This can be cultivated.

The point is: This applies to many important matters that should be addressed or changed -- not just storage closets, cupboards and drawers. It's so easy to just look the other way. Out of sight … we all know. Many types of problems are simply not seen, or ignored, especially in grief or as you are trying to get your life into some type of order.

These could be practical matters such as house repairs or car maintenance. They could be your own health issues that should be addressed. They could be relationships one should be nurturing with family and friends. Or even your own appearance or clothing.


You know how, in some cars, there are blind spots where you are blocked from seeing traffic behind or alongside you. Well, sometimes there are mental or emotional states that prevent us from noticing matters that should be handled. Actually it's often a matter of timing; the time must be right for you. Especially when dealing with grief and all the sadness and busy work that comes with a death.

I personally keep "to do" lists so at least, when I do notice such practical and personal matters, I will remember them and one day take action. And I hope none of the readers of this column have as many closets to clean out as I did!

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a doctorate in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at or see her blog See previous columns at

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