A Corpse in the Living Room?

Outline of a dead body

She came down the stairs and what did she find? A corpse was lying in the middle of the living room. Chaos then ensued as police were summoned, clues were gathered, and the scene was processed. How could this have happened? How did she get here?”

I’m not a mystery writer, but I do enjoy a puzzling whodunit every now and then. The appearance of a dead body is typically a shock, throwing everyone into a tailspin and launching an investigation to solve the crime. Though I can gratefully say I’ve never encountered a dead body in my work, I have run across many a corpse. Unlike the ones in thrillers, these are often sitting out in plain sight, eliciting neither acknowledgement nor reaction. How can this be?

The answer lies in definitions, as the word corpse means not only a deceased person, but anything that is no longer viable or useful. Although the item may be in working order, if you will not use it again, it is “dead” to you. Sometimes such belongings are stashed in an attic or basement, but just as frequently, they are allowed to gather in prime locations, such as the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, or living room.

Taking a cue from the mystery writers, here are a few questions you can ask to help you identify – and then remove – corpses from your space.

Who/what is the victim?

The first step is identification. This sounds obvious, but often we own things that we don’t recognize. The odds of using something whose purpose we are unable to ascertain are slim to zero. If you don’t know what something is, ask friends, family members, and/or look online. If you still can’t figure it out, move it out to trash or recycling.

Who put it here?

This can be helpful as an object’s provenance often contributes to our rationale for holding on. For example, a piece of furniture passed down from a beloved family member tugs on our heart strings, while a toy brought home from a fast food restaurant does not. If you have many corpses in your space, and the answer to this question keeps coming back to the same individual, this is the problem you need to solve. Do you need to keep everything from Dad or are a few, special belongings enough? Does one member of the household keep bringing new objects into the space for the wrong reasons? What conversations or strategies might direct these emotions in a more constructive direction?

What was the time of death?

In other words, is it “warm” or “cold”? Old does not automatically mean worthless, but layers of dust, faded printing, past expiration dates, outgrown sizes, outmoded technology, and the like are all clues that death took place a long time ago, and the body should be quickly buried.

What was the motive?

This is the most important question! It is critical to understand why an item we don’t use is sitting in the middle of our living or working space.

  • Are we afraid if we give it away we will lose a memory?
  • Do we regret the money we spent and feel like keeping it somehow justifies the expense?
  • Do we have a vague idea that this might be useful some day?
  • Did we splurge on it simply because it was a bargain, and passing it on makes us feel guilty?
  • Does it represent a previous lifestyle that we are reluctant to release?
  • Did we buy it with good intentions, and letting it go feels like failure?
  • Are we avoiding a confrontation?

These are common explanations, but none of them justify the real estate these objects are occupying. When we acknowledge the true reason we are keeping something, we open the door to dealing with the emotion, fear or concern in a beneficial manner.

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While a murder rarely has a “happy ending,” there is a peace that comes from solving the mystery. The loss may be grieved, but the story typically ends with the characters moving forward in a positive, hopeful direction.

Do you have a corpse in your living space? Can you think of something it is finally time to release?

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