Advice on how to sort through loved ones possessions after they die

How to sort through loved ones possessions after they die. This is a question I get asked often and I thought it would be helpful to share some advice. Hope this helps make the process a little easier.

how to sort through possessions after someone dies

I listed some of the personal items I kept after my husband passed away. See that blog post for examples on what to keep and what to get rid of.

Advice on sorting through loved ones possessions

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Grief is different for everyone. We all move at our own pace and go through emotions in our own way. Remember this is a personal journey, listen to yourself and your needs as you go through the grieving process. I’m going to share my personal experience on how I navigated things after my husband passed away, but remember that is my personal journey. Everyone’s journey is different and you might want to do things differently and that is ok. My best advice to give is listen to yourself and do what is best for you as you navigate grief.

My husband and I were living in a townhome in Utah before he passed away. I was a new mom with three month old twins. (read more of my story HERE) I knew that I needed help so I decided to move to Minneapolis to live with my parents. Everything was still so fresh, my husband had just passed away. I knew I was in no position mentally to make decisions on his possessions. I packed everything up and put it in a storage unit.

I’m actually glad I didn’t have to go back and live in the place we had lived in together. That would have been so hard. It was nice to be able to move in with my parents and have this fresh start. It would have been so hard to see his things all around me everyday. I think that was a great step moving forward in my grief.

Two years later I went back to my storage unit and slowly started to go through his things and decided what to keep and what to get rid of. I didn’t do it all in one day. It took time! It’s been four years since he passed away and I wanted to give my advice on how I navigated this process.

Make sure to follow their will

If your loved one had written will and specifically asked for their possessions to go to certain people make sure to follow their wishes. A last will and testament is a legal document that communicates a person’s final wishes pertaining to their assets. This would be the first thing you check and make sure they have before you start sorting through their possessions.

Take your time

This is probably the best advice to give for someone going through a loved ones possessions. Please please take your time in making decisions. A month after my husband passed away I packed up everything we owned and put it in a storage unit. I didn’t give one thing away and decided to give myself time. I’m so glad I did that. I was not in the mental space to make those type of decisions.

If you need to put stuff in a storage for 10 years then do that. If you like seeing his shirts hanging in the closet and that brings you comfort, leave them there. Listen to your heart and do what is best for you. For me personally it was painful to see his possessions so I packed them away. Everyone is different.

Have someone there for support

Going through your loved ones possessions is probably the hardest thing to do after they pass away. You can still smell them and feel them through those items. This is totally optional, but you might want support from a friend as you go through some of those things. It can be a heavily emotional process. If you want to be alone that ok as well. Remember do what is best for you!

Just make sure whoever that person will be they are there only for support. If they are making you feel rushed or wanting some of the items for themselves or others, that might make the decision process harder. Whoever comes with you should know that you make all the decisions and they are there for support only.

Avoid regrets

Death is permanent which is one of the reasons it is so hard. Never being able to touch that person again, have a memory with them again, a life. Their possessions that were once meaningless now hold so much more power and importance. They are the last things that remind of us of the person we loved. This is why we do not want any regrets making decisions on what items we get rid of.

To help avoid regrets you must process your emotions and listen to yourself. Take your time and never feel like you have to get rid of something. Also don’t feel guilty for getting rid of something that you are ok with getting rid of. Their college textbook doesn’t define your relationship our memories do. Don’t feel guilty.

Be considerate of friends and family

This can be a hard subject after a loved one has passed away. I understand everyone just wants to be close to that person again and have something to remember them by. Think about everyone else in that persons life and what they would want as well. When I had items I was wanting to get rid of, I always made sure to ask his family first and then his friends. If no one wanted the item, I donated it.

Start with the easy stuff

Start deciding on the easy stuff. Items like a tooth brush and his college text book were easy for me to get rid of. Other items like his clothes were harder for me to make decisions on. I set the harder items aside and focused on the easier things first.

Take pictures of possessions

Take pictures of items you want to remember, but you don’t necessarily want to keep. This way you can still remember it, but you don’t have to store it or keep it with you.

You’ve got this

You’ve got this! I’m so sorry you have to even do this, but take your time! Remember to listen to yourself and and do what feels best. If it takes 10 years to get rid of something then it takes 10 years. Who cares if you have to leave boxes up in your attic. You will know what to do when the time is ready.

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One Comment

  1. My mom passed 10 years ago and it was about 10 years of grief for me. I have only a few items of hers that can now give me comfort. My sister gave me a pillow with Mom’s hand writing on it. I still have it hanging in my closet in the bag she gave it to me.
    My Dad gave away some knickknacks and clothing after offering them to his children and then grandchildren. He still has a lot of stuff in his home. He says we will have to sort through it after he’s gone. I know that may be nearly impossible for me. I am in my own process of getting rid of my adult kids stuff. We are all very different, but it is not good to feel the weight of stuff. Your advice is spot on! I work with a therapist and have weekly goals.

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