What if you have a room in the house that needs attention and it’s just too painful to go there? The years pass, the room becomes an unintentional shrine and you are afraid to let it go?

 Enter Nate Berkus. Oprah’s favorite decorator. Nates’ assisted families that are coping with the loss of a loved one, in transforming a room without losing the memories.

Memory clutter is a more common problem than most people realize. People are terrified that if they let go of the loved one’s objects, they will lose the memory. Clearing the emotional clutter can actually help preserve your loved one’s memory. Sorting through the things that remind you the most, that represent the best, you honor the memory even more. Instead of the fear of losing the memory, you actually move to a place where the most important memories are honored.

In 2004, Nate and his partner, Fernando, were on vacation in Thailand when the devastating tsunami hit. Nate survived, but Fernando did not. “One of the reasons why your story was very touching to me was that I lost my partner very dear to me very suddenly, and it took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that people aren’t things. They’re just not,” he says.

Nate says he held onto a voice mail Fernando had left on his cell phone for a year after his death. Not knowing his phone would automatically erase messages that were a year old, Nate was shocked to find it was gone when he went to listen to it on New Year’s 2006. “It forced me to realize that, that wasn’t Fernando, as sad as it was,” Nate says.

Nate tells the families that it’s a monumental day, “because we’re here to help represent the future and honor the past. And that’s really what we’re here to do.”


  • Realize that if you let go of an item, you do not let go of that person. People do not live on through material items.
  • Hold on to items that only bring back positive memories, not painful ones.
  • If there are items that encourage you to keep up a ritual based on grief, consider letting it go and focus on the positive instead.
  • Make sure your space has a great representation of the past but also leaves room for you to celebrate the present and plan for the future.
  • Keep the items that truly represent your loved one. To help, use this three-step process:

Step 1: Place all items in another area.
Step 2:If you’re looking to renovate a room, decide how you want to feel in that space.
Step 3: Sort everything into three categories: charity donations, keepsakes and items for a memory chest.

After almost six years, one family began the process of letting go of their young son. They begin with suitcases of his clothes and find a T-shirt that brings back painful memories of the end of his life. “Three years of our life was pain, and that’s like a memory of him. That’s still him,” his mother says.

“You have to separate the pain from the memory of your son,” organizational expert Peter Walsh says. Slowly, she lets go. “The thing is now this will be used by kids who need clothes. It will be put to great use by others who are less well off than you,” Peter says.

When deciding to keep certain things, that were part of the family routine, Peter wants to make sure this ritual is not unhealthy for the family. “The big focus in this is that stuff has power over you,” Peter says. “My concern [is] that often in touching things or looking at things they [are] connecting to the grief of the experience.”

Five hours later, the family finishes with four boxes of joyful memories.

When they described what they wanted in a home office, the family told Nate they wanted it to be functional but still honor their son’s memory.

Nate turned Jake’s old bedroom into a cheerful, organized office for the entire family. The new space is inviting. Calming blue walls, one of which is covered in cork with family photographs and mementos from the past, but room for the future picture perfect moments.

Nate and Peter pulled out all the stops for a memory chest using a beautiful armoire from “Remember when we gathered everything that you wanted to keep into the memory chest pile?” Peter says. “It’s important to understand that those things that you wanted to keep can be stored anywhere as long as they’re stored with honor and respect. And in the case of the room, the armoire’s the perfect place for that.”

On the other side of the room is a matching armoire to organize office supplies. “There are two cabinets, one’s past, one’s present and future,” Nate says.

The family loves the tribute and says they are glad the room is no longer a shrine. “It’s more of a healthy room….it’s not stuck in 2001. Now it’s 2007 and forward.”