One Step at a Time: Dealing with Stuff After a Loved One Dies
Photo by Sarah Brown on Unsplash
When the funeral is past, the estate settled, and the mourners gone home to their families, there’s one daunting task that remains: dealing with your loved one’s things. Once a source of clutter and frustration, knick-knacks, unwashed laundry, and other left-behind things take on a magical quality in the wake of death. Packing them up seems like an unbearable expression of finality, but at the same time, you can’t keep living amidst reminders of what you’ve lost.
While there’s no easy way to get through it, there are strategies that can make the overwhelming prospect of decluttering after a loved one’s death feel a little more doable. If you’re facing this task yourself, here’s where to start.
Start with the Easy Stuff
Don’t dive straight into bedroom closets and boxes of mementos. Starting with non-sentimental items lets you work up to the bigger stuff and build confidence for the task ahead.
The best place to start is with clutter and things you no longer need, such as:
- Medical equipment.
- Old mail.
- Tools and recreation equipment.
- Extra vehicles.
Go with Your Gut
The hardest part of getting rid of things is the fear that we might regret it later or that, without stuff to remind us, we’ll forget our loved one entirely. To stop this fear from taking over, go through each room and pick out the items that stand out to you most. These are the items that immediately evoke your loved one’s presence and that you can’t imagine living without. With your most cherished items set aside, you’re ready to get to work.
Sort by Category
Most guides will tell you to tackle this project room by room, but we like to break it down even further. Sorting through one category of stuff at a time, whether it’s tools, records, or clothes, breaks down the job into bite-sized chunks and makes it easy to identify the items you want to keep.
Sorting through your loved one’s things is a marathon, not a race. If you feel burnt out, take a break. If it’s too much to handle alone, ask for help. As long as you keep moving forward, it doesn’t matter what pace you’re moving.
Find a Cause
With a few exceptions, selling your loved one’s things usually isn’t worth the effort. Not only do most secondhand items fetch only a fraction of their original price, but the time you spend selling items just extends the process of saying goodbye. Instead, identify a cause that aligns with your loved one’s values and make donations in their spirit. A wide range of organizations accept donations of household goods and some organizations also accept vehicle donations.
Let Go of Guilt
When it’s time to take your piles of discarded goods to the thrift store, consignment shop, or dump, you may find yourself overwhelmed with guilt and wondering if this was all misguided. Don’t let it get to you. The truth is, stuff is just stuff, and things aren’t what keep your loved one’s memory alive. While holding onto a few special items is a wonderful way to honor your loved one’s memory, their spirit lives on in you — not in what they left behind.
Cherish What’s Left Behind
When everything is said and done, you’ll be left with a few of your loved one’s favorite things and a lifetime of memories — so cherish them. Find creative ways to display the items you’ve chosen to keep, frame the old pictures you found in the back of the photo album, and make a point to enjoy your loved one’s memory. Because while there’s healing yet to be done, you’ve made it over one of the toughest hurdles grief throws our way.
By John Moreland of Elderimpact
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