Decluttering after someone dies

woman thinking about decluttering after someone has died

When we have lost a partner, parent, child, or friend, grief overwhelms us so much that it is hard to make the simplest of decisions.

For some, busying ourselves with the practical things that need to happen when a loved one has passed can be a distraction, a way to focus on something other than the terrible sense of loss we are feeling. Focusing on practical tasks that need to be done for a funeral or a memorial can be a comfort to us during such a sad time.

But when things start to settle down, we are surrounded with the stuff of life that is left behind. Clothes, books, sentimental items, hobby items. They don’t belong to us, and we aren’t going to need them, but when should we start decluttering when someone dies? Is there a right time?

There Is No Right Time

Often, we feel under pressure from other family members to get rid of a loved one’s things before we are ready because people think ‘it’s time’. But it might not be the right time for you. Everyone grieves in different ways.

For some, memories are enough, and there is no need for a tangible object to evoke those memories. Others need time to be able to let go of precious things that have deep seated memories attached. Don’t be rushed.

Don't Make Serious Decisions When Grieving

Someone once told me you should never make a life changing decision when you are grieving, and I have always found that to be such great advice. Decluttering too soon after someone dies can be detrimental to our wellbeing.

Grief can do the strangest things to us and impact our rationale. Letting go of a loved ones belongings before you are ready can have a long lasting impact. You will know when it feels right.

When Deadlines Loom, Be Selective

Sometimes we do not have the benefit of time. Decisions and actions need to be made quickly. Properties need to be put up for sale, belongings have to be sold. Time pressure can be upsetting and unsettling.

So, we need to be selective with what we keep and create a plan to deal with it. It’s OK to store things in a box until you are ready, but be mindful that the sorting has to happen at some point. Out of sight is often out of mind, so be sure to keep the sorting firmly on your to-do list.

Try and Be Fair When Family Is Involved

Sorting through someone’s belongings is even more difficult when multiple members of the family are involved. People have differing ideas of what should be kept, who is entitled to what, and what is precious and what is not.

It can be one of the tensest times for a family. And it isn’t easy to navigate your way through it. Be mindful that everyone has had a different relationship with the person and try to be firm but fair. Everyone grieves in a different way.

Quality Over Quantity

The belongings of a deceased person are, by nature, sentimental. And the key to keeping things that evoke memories is to favour quality over quantity.

You don’t need every tie your husband owned. Nor do you need every piece of a 72-piece dinner set. You can relive the memory with one or two very special selections.

Share Your Stories

Many of the difficult situations mentioned above can be avoided by some careful pre-planning. To avoid confusion among your heirs, talk about your wishes while you are still able. Be clear in your will about who you would like to have what when you are gone.

Share the history of your memorabilia. Talk about who is who in photos so you can leave behind a history that will live on. Don’t be scared to plan for the inevitable, and your legacy will live on.

This article was first published on Sixty and Me on 24th October 2020. It can be found here