Organising a home shrine – not just for religious people

Drowning in clutter versus organising a home shrine

When a loved-one dies their belongings become more significant – because that’s all we have left of them.

Photos of them, clothes that smell of them, keepsakes they adored – evoke memories of that person so strongly that it seems wrong to declutter them.

But sometimes it’s fear and obligation dictating the situation, not the actual desire to own these items. We fear that if we lose the items our memories will disappear. And we feel obliged to respect their memory – it’s the least we can do in their absence.

Firstly ask yourself whether nana would want you to feel burdened by her stuff?

Secondly, are your memories of nana so fragile that they will be erased if her clothes are donated? Our memories are in us, not in her stuff.

Lastly, rather than keeping everything she ever touched, maybe there is a more thoughtful and curated way to honour your beloved nana.

Organising a home shrine – why

When I lived in Japan, I noticed the myriad customs around honouring the dead. One of these customs involves organising a home shrine, a way of respecting the memory of the deceased, displaying love for them and processing grief.

Organising a home shrine – how

This process may not be appropriate for you in the throes of deep grief.

Traditional Japanese homes designate a quiet space for gentle reflection, but if your aunt Mary was a wild child who loved bourbon, there is no reason her shrine can’t be in the liquor cabinet.

Choose an area and assortment of belongings that most represent your relationship with them.

Feel free to let go of keepsakes that don’t fit this brief. Truth and meaning will be found in a curated collection, not a big disorganised jumble.

Some home shrine examples:

  • A piece of furniture they owned, containing some of their special things.
  • A photo of them accompanied by a candle in their favourite scent, which you light to remember them.
  • A jewellery box with their favourite pieces – that you should absolutely feel free to wear if the occasion arises.
  • A collection of photo frames on the wall, adjacent to a vase of their favourite flowers refreshed on meaningful occasions. (their birthday, Christmas etc)
  • An installation of a handful of their trinkets.
  • A quilt made from their favourite clothes.
  • A dedicated photo album or recipe book.
  • Their ashes.

In an increasingly secular culture, sometimes we need to find our own way to honour the dead. Organising a home shrine can achieve this.

If you want more clarity on removing their less meaningful items, here are some questions to ask yoursef when decluttering.

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