What to Do When a Loved One Dies: Clearing Out Belongings
One of the most difficult things to do after a loved one dies and the funeral has ended is to clear out the deceased’s personal possessions. There are no official guidelines about how long you should hold onto things like clothes, books, and personal mementos, which makes this process difficult. Is one week too soon to pack everything up and donate it to charity? What if you cannot or do not want to get rid of anything at all? Or, as is often the case with valuable objects, what if there are multiple family members all clamoring for the same thing?
Rule #1: There Are No Rules
How long you hold onto a loved one’s possessions is a personal decision that only you can make. Although considerations of storage space can impact your decision, when and how much you donate or sell is entirely up to you. (Unless, of course, selling the deceased’s effects and sharing the proceeds is tied up in the will.) Anyone who tells you that there is a time limit on your grief is wrong. As long as you are not hurting anyone or breaking any laws by holding onto personal effects, you should take things at your own pace.
Rule #2: Know What’s Healthy
That being said, you should be aware of what is and is not healthy behavior. Keeping your father’s favorite sweater or holding onto his military service uniform to pass onto your own children makes sense. Holding onto the entirety of his closet for years, does not. If several months have passed and you find yourself unable to throw anything out, it might be a good time to look at your motivations and explore your process of bereavement. Everyone approaches this differently, so you may benefit from the guidance of a professional therapist who specializes in grief counseling.
Rule #3: Consider the Costs
Some people prefer to keep a room or home intact after the loss of a loved one. Others prefer to box everything up and rent a storage facility to store it. Still others need the money made from the sale of personal belongings to help cover the funeral costs. All of these are valid as long as you have the financial ability to back up your decision. It is not worth going into debt to keep a loved one’s belongings. If you find yourself struggling financially, you may need to rethink your approach.
Rule #4: Move in Stages
There is no reason why you have to box everything up and donate it right away, all at once. We experience grief in stages, so why not do the same when clearing things out? Set yourself a reasonable timeline and do not beat yourself up if you are unable stick to it. Maybe you will pack up the living room and dining room in the space of a month, but save the bedroom for later. Perhaps you will let go of furniture first, since it tends to be less personal, and save things like books and clothes for when you are in a better frame of mind. It can also help to pack up a house and put things in long-term storage for an undesignated period of time. That way, you can clear out storage when your grief is not so raw.
Rule #5: Keep What Matters
The most important thing to remember is that you do not have to throw away anything that you do not want to. That favorite sweater of your father’s might make a great throw pillow for your couch. Your mother’s perfume bottle can sit on your vanity forever, providing you a whiff of her scent and a reminder of her love. Anything that has sentimental value might be worth keeping, even if you do not plan to reuse it exactly the way it was intended.