The loss of a loved one, no matter the circumstances, can be an emotionally charged time. Having to sort through the things that belonged to a special friend or family member who has died can make the time of mourning even more difficult. The process can take longer than expected, other family members will likely need to be involved, and there may be disagreements about what should be kept, discarded, or donated. Fortunately, there are some things that you can do to get through the decluttering process more easily.
Be mindful of your feelings
Remember that you are grieving and that it’s natural to feel a variety of emotions. It’s normal to laugh, to cry, to get angry, and to be overwhelmed. Feelings of guilt also can come up and stall your plans to decide what to do with your loved one’s belongings. Rather than pushing your feelings aside, accept them and try to declutter during times when you tend to be at your best. For me, that would be morning time. I can take on just about any challenge at seven o’clock in the morning, but the situation is reversed at seven in the evening.
Decide when to work alone or with others
It can be helpful to work by yourself, especially if you’re not in the mood to talk and prefer to focus on what you’re doing. There will, however, be times when you need to include others, not only because certain decisions need to be made, but also because it’s helpful. You may be feeling emotionally and physically drained and it can help to have other people to lean on.
Create simple ground rules
Having a plan to guide you through the process will keep you on track and minimize disagreements. Come up with some basic rules that you will stick to. For example, if something is broken, it will be thrown out (or recycled, if possible). Here are some more to consider:
- Things that are difficult to decide how to handle can temporarily be put in a maybe pile and decided on later.
- Any items with mold will be immediately thrown away.
- Unwanted items in good repair will be donated to your loved one’s favorite charity.
- Valuable items will be given to specific family members or sold. *An appraiser can help you figure out how much items are worth.
- Duplicate photos will be given to specific people who want them.
Take regular breaks
It can be very easy to just want to plow through the uncluttering process. You can be particularly productive on a given day, so much so, you might forget to take a breather or to eat. There are days when you may be very emotional and need to take a moment to regroup. Remind yourself to take breaks at regular intervals by setting an audible timer. Hearing it (rather than having one that only vibrates) will prompt you to stop when you need to.
Be easy on yourself
You don’t have to decide what to do with everything all at once. And, you don’t have to get rid of it all. I kept the dress I wore to my brother’s funeral over 20 years ago. I never wore that dress again. I hung it in my closet and it was with me through three moves. Just last month, I donated the dress to charity. I was finally ready to part with it. The dress was still in good condition and I felt good knowing that I wasn’t throwing it away, that someone else would appreciate it.
Anyone — even a very organized person — has difficulty at times like this. Don’t expect all decisions to come easily or to always be in control of your emotions. There will be highs and lows. Some days will go very well, and others, not as much. Be aware of how you’re feeling and don’t beat yourself up. It can feel like being on a roller coaster. On days when things are not going the way you want them to, remember that it’s a process. You will get through it.