My featured guest for 10 questions is Michaela Murphy, owner of “The Tidy House”.

Michaela has some extraordinary skills. She is a qualified bereavement counsellor and therapist, and also trained in the KonMari tidying method (Marie Kondo). As a legacy de-cluttering consultant, she has combined these skills in a symbiotic way to offer two valuable services to clients:

1) supporting the bereaved when sorting personal possessions of a loved one; or
2) assisting clients who proactively want to tidy and de-clutter their possessions.

Understandably, this can be a very emotional task, so her compassion and work as a counsellor enable her to provide the perfect balance of practical and emotional support.

I was curious about her unique business and her experiences. In particular, how clients feel about inherited jewellery.

Q1. How did the idea emerge to create “The Tidy House”?

5 years ago I read Marie Kondo’s ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying’ and was unexpectedly blown away by it. It just made so much sense and prompted me to set about decluttering (KonMari-ing) our whole house item by item.  My son was 18 months old at the time so it took me almost a year but the process literally did change our lives. 

Thereafter I was evangelical about the KonMari method and lived for years with the mindset of only wanting to keep items that brought us joy.  After binge-watching the ‘Tidying Up with Marie Kondo’ Netflix series I discovered Marie was offering a professional training and I signed up straight away – just one of those gut-feeling, impulsive decisions.

I knew I wanted to combine my 10 years working as a relationship counsellor with my passion for decluttering, and that lead me to create The Tidy House – a therapeutically supportive tidying service to help others who are drowning in stuff but don’t know where to begin their decluttering process.

My interest in the impact of bereavement lead me to create a specific service to support those faced with dealing with a loved one’s belongings after they’ve died – there’s really very little support out there for this aspect of bereavement.

What to do with inherited jewellery

Q2. How do your counsellor and de-cluttering skills uniquely position you to support clients?

Bearing witness to my clients as they declutter is an intimate, and emotional process. It’s truly a privilege. The simplest object can be a gateway to a flood of memories; happy, sad even traumatic events can rise to the surface from the act of laying hands upon an item. 

My counselling background means I can hold a compassionate, safe space for clients to do this work.

We always leave sentimental items until the end of our tidying process as they are the hardest to work with.  One of my wonderful clients who I worked with for several months, had a box of her beloved late sister’s belongings. This collection of items was something she wanted to tackle ‘one day’ but was afraid she never could and the box had been waiting for many years.

 We spent a lot of time talking until she felt ready to face this last box which she did with such breath-taking serenity.

She has since told me how liberated she’s felt to have sorted through those items, discarded those things which did not bring her peace, and then carefully store the items she chose to keep in a way that feels honouring. 

Sorting through our belongings is powerful and emotional work and my experience as a counsellor has enabled me to help clients safely face the un-faceable.

Q3. Do your clients discover jewellery unexpectedly when de-cluttering personal effects from loved ones? What does it mean to them?

Almost every object we own has a story attached and jewellery is no exception.  As jewellery is such a personal item and is worn on the body, often against the skin, I think it takes on special significance. 

It’s lovely to edit down jewellery to just the pieces that are most treasured; and storing them carefully with a little space to breathe so you can see what you’ve got.  I’ve had clients say they are loving wearing long forgotten items having rediscovered them during our process.

Q4. Have any of your clients explored re-setting inherited jewellery? What have they considered during this process?

There was a couple who had each inherited diamond engagement rings from their respective grandmothers but neither ring was quite their style, so they had the stones of both rings removed and a new engagement ring created using the diamonds in a more contemporary setting. I thought this was such a lovely idea, to combine the stones from two beloved relatives creating something new that would be worn, cherished and passed down.

Q5. You lost both your parents within a short period of time during your final year at college. How did this affect you, and does it inform the support you give to clients?

Losing my parents has had a profound effect on my life and my work. 

Having faced death head on (I am grateful to have been with both my parents when they died), and then having to deal with their estates I really understand the additional trauma that can be caused by having to deal with a deceased loved one’s home and belongings.  It can feel like a mountain to climb amidst the exhaustion and overwhelm of early grief, and it can be difficult to ask for help with such a big task. 

This is why I created my legacy decluttering service specifically to help bereaved clients find a way to work through their loved one’s belongings.  When we’re grieving it’s hard to think straight, to formulate a plan, to work efficiently and that is where I can help by offering up my practical and therapeutic skills.

Q6. You drew on this experience when creating intensely personal books as part of your “Keepsakes & Mementos” series as your final art project at college. Could you please tell us more about it?

Having lost my parents while at art college I felt I couldn’t do anything other than make my final project about that experience.  Their deaths felt all consuming at the time, so channelling these feelings into my project was such a cathartic part of my mourning process. 

 I was interested to find out which items other people had chosen to keep as mementos of their loved ones and so invited people to send me pictures and accompanying stories about the objects they’d chosen.

 As part of my wider research I learned how the Victorians commemorated the dead through memorial jewellery and sometimes through ‘death photography’; taking photographs of dead loved ones was seen as a way to preserve the memory of someone who’d died. As a nod to this practice, I compiled the photos and stories I was sent into a beautiful leather-bound Victorian photo album.

What to do with inherited jewellery

Q7. You also created a unique piece of mourning jewellery in tribute to your parents. Could you please elaborate on the inspiration for it and the research you undertook to design and produce it?

I became fascinated by Victorian mourning jewellery and as someone who loves to wear jewellery, I knew I wanted to create my own piece to commemorate my parents. Victorians often incorporated the hair of a loved one into their jewellery and this was a highly skilled and decorative art form. 

I had locks of hair of both my parents which I wanted to use in the piece, but I was aware this was perhaps a little macabre for modern tastes!  I knew also wanted to repurpose some of my mum’s jewellery so a necklace seemed an ideal choice. 

After much experimentation I came up with a way to deboss (imprint) my parent’s hair into metal and created a metal bar as part of the piece which had my mum’s hair imprinted on one side, and my dad’s hair on the other.  I loved the idea that something containing their DNA had connected with the metal and could sit against my skin, without me needing to incorporate their actual hair within the piece. 

I also wanted to incorporate my mum’s wedding ring in a way that meant I could still slip it onto my finger to feel a tangible link to her.  As scent is such an evocative way to remember people by, I created a removable scent pad which sat within the circumference of the wedding ring on which I could spray her perfume or my dad’s cologne.

With all these elements combined, a sense of connection could be preserved and triggered in multiple ways.

What to do with inherited jewellery

Q8. What does jewellery mean to you?

I often use jewellery like armour or an amulet.  On days where I need a confidence boost, I will put on certain pieces which elevate my look before I’ve even spoken to someone. 

I also love jewellery with a story. 

My engagement ring was my paternal grandmother’s engagement ring.  Her and my grandfather met as teenagers and were a real-life love story, so as well as it being a beautiful art deco piece, it feels wonderful to wear a ring that heralded the start of a love-filled marriage which lasted over 50 years. I’m hoping it’s a good omen for my own marriage!

Q9. Do you have any pieces of inherited jewellery which are particularly special to you? If so, why?

As well as my engagement ring I have a stunning amethyst and diamond ring that was also my paternal grandmother’s.  She wore it every day and I remember as a child I would sit and stroke the amethyst.  At the time it seemed HUGE.  It’s a comforting, loving memory of her that I treasure so to have been left that ring means so much to me. 

I also have a gold cocktail ring of my mum’s, again one I remember loving as a child.  It’s one of my most treasured possessions – something I loved to draw at art college, drawing it made me feel close to her.  My mum was always glamorous and loved jewellery and this beautiful ring epitomises her elegance.  This piece is definitely an amulet for me when I need it!

Q10. What pieces of your jewellery do you envisage passing onto your children? Would you consider discussing it with them first, or possibly re-purposing it together?

I just have one son.  If I died before he got married (obviously I really hope I won’t!) then I’d want him to have my engagement ring, if he wanted it.  I have two nieces who I’m very close to so I have imagined giving them the amethyst ring and the cocktail ring to share (like good sisters should!)

I love the idea of repurposing heirloom jewellery if it means new life can be breathed into it.  I believe even the most valuable of pieces want to be worn and enjoyed, not shut away permanently.  These beautiful things are a way to bring joy into the world.

If you have pieces of inherited jewellery which you would like to consider re-imagining or re-setting, please contact us to discuss exploring the options.

For more information on Michaela and The Tidy House, please contact her directly or view The Tidy House website for more information.