Disposing of a Loved One’s Personal Effects

Disposing of a Loved One’s Personal EffectsAfter the funeral plans have been completed and life has settled into what will be your new normal, it’s time to deal with the personal effects a death leaves behind. Although some of the deceased’s belongings might have been divided among descendants according to the will, most people leave closets (and even homes) full of stuff behind. Clothes, furniture, books, pictures, mementos of vacations long gone…all of these things eventually have to be sorted through and taken care of.

For most people, this is a bittersweet time. Painful memories are sure to arise as you sift through the remnants of a loved one’s lifetime, but you may also find that there are positive associations, as well. Although there is no right or wrong way to go about things, here are a few tips for sorting through a loved one’s personal effects after they are gone.

  • Recruit Help: Unless you feel a strong need to go through the task alone, ask for help from other relatives and friends. Not only will the emotional support help, but you may find that the physical task of sorting and boxing is wearying. It’s also beneficial to have someone on hand who wasn’t as close to the deceased, as they can provide a more objective viewpoint on what to keep, what to throw away, what to donate, etc.
  • Throw Things Away: Throwing things away is the hardest part of letting go, but it’s also the most important. No matter how much you loved the deceased or how valuable their belongings, you’ll most likely never need their used toothbrush, their half-eaten meals in the fridge, or the newspapers they never got around to recycling. Start by throwing away the easy, everyday stuff, and work up from there. (It’s a good idea to keep a separate box for everyday items you simply can’t bring yourself to throw away. Sometimes, things like that half-empty bottle of their favorite wine need to linger for a few months before we’re finally ready to say goodbye.)
  • Make a Plan: Once the first few items have been cleared away, it’s a good idea to make a plan. Do you want to sell most of the larger pieces to make money? Would you rather everything go to family and/or friends who might have a personal interest in the items? Is it easier to mark everything for donation and have an outside company pick them up? By setting goals ahead of time, you can better plan your coping strategies and rally the proper support.
  • Rent Storage or Have a Long-Term Strategy: No matter how hard you try, chances are you’ll want to keep several of the deceased’s personal effects. If you have storage at home, that’s great, but you may need to look into renting a storage unit. Although moving things from the deceased’s home or room to storage is only a temporary solution (you’ll eventually have to go through those items and dispose of them), it can help if you aren’t ready to say goodbye to everything yet.

There’s nothing wrong with holding onto a few sentimental items the deceased left behind, but it can be unhealthy to throw nothing away in an attempt to control some of your feelings of loss. If you find the task of sorting through belongings too difficult, give yourself time to come to terms with the task or talk to a personal organizer or grief counselor. Your funeral director may be able to point you toward services and/or resources designed to help you clear out a space in your home and in your heart.   

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