Spring Cleaning SOS: Asking for Help When You Live Alone

By Gwenn Voelckers

It wasn’t easy. As a woman who lived through the challenges of divorce, I understand first hand how difficult it can be to ask for help.

The thought of reaching out for assistance was daunting. I didn’t want to be a burden or inconvenience my family and friends.

I wanted to show the world that I was perfectly fine, thank you. I avoided asking anybody for anything, determined to muscle through on my own, which only led to isolation and needless hardship.

But as I navigated my new-found independence, I began to realize the importance of asking for help and the positive impact it could have on my life and relationships.    

It all started with spring cleaning.

I simply had to make sense of the boxes and bags of family photos, documents, and items I “inherited” after losing my mother and father. I had procrastinated for far too long.

It was time.

So … I called my dear friend Carol and asked if she would help me begin the emotion-laden process of deciding what to keep, donate or throw away.

A self-described decluttering guru, Carol happily agreed to get me started. Among many helpful tips, she encouraged me to ask myself, “Does it have value? Does it bring me joy?”

I’m delighted to report that — together — we made great progress. Her help was invaluable!

And we had a good time together, often laughing at the silly things I’ve held onto all these years. My grade school report cards come to mind. No need to be reminded that I “whispered too much.”

Spring cleaning is a perfect example of a task that can be overwhelming to tackle alone. Could you use an extra pair of hands?

Here are some tips on how to ask for help:

• Be honest. Take a moment to reflect on what keeps you from asking for assistance. Could it be pride? Do you think you’ll be seen as incapable or inadequate? Are you concerned about being a bother? Or, would asking for help force you to acknowledge that, indeed, you need it?

• Redefine what it means to be strong. Everyone needs outside support from time to time, and seeking help on your terms is not a weakness. In fact, the strongest people are often those who have the courage to admit they need reinforcements.

I’ve always admired this quality in others. Real strength is knowing your personal limitations and having the confidence to recruit assistance when necessary.

• Have some faith. Believe that people truly want to help. Just think about how you’d respond if a friend, family member or co-worker asked for a helping hand. You likely wouldn’t hesitate; you might even feel slighted if not asked, especially if someone you cared about was having real difficulty.

Know that others, too, want to be there for their friends and family in need.   

• Take a chance. When you choose to open yourself up and expose your authentic self, you are taking a risk. That’s a good thing! When you are “real” like this, you have an amazing opportunity to cultivate deeper, more meaningful bonds with others.

• Make the request. First put some thought into where you could really use some support; then ask for help with one specific task. It could be something as simple as asking a neighbor for help raking out a garden bed or cleaning the garage to something as important as identifying a trusted roofing contractor.

If finding the right words to make a request is difficult, you might start out by saying, “You know, I’m not very comfortable asking for favors, but I wonder if you might be able to help me with something?”

• Express your gratitude. You know this, of course. A heartfelt thank you in person or in writing will be warmly received by the person whose help you have accepted. No need to go overboard. Remember, people want to help others and don’t expect to be compensated for doing a good deed.       

• Offer help in return. Because giving can be as gratifying as receiving, make it known that you are available to return the favor. Better yet, find opportunities to offer help. We all have gifts and can be of great assistance to one another.

So, take it from me . . . life can be better, just for the asking.

Gwenn Voelckers is the author of “Alone and Content: Inspiring, empowering essays to help divorced and widowed women feel whole and complete on their own.” She welcomes your thoughts on this column as well as topic suggestion for future essays at gvoelckers@rochester.rr.com.