Good grief: How to declutter after the death of a loved one.
In any situation, letting go of possessions is an emotional process and, following the death of a loved one, grief can make this task feel almost impossible. However decluttering after a person dies can actually form part of the healing process allowing you to relive and share lots of memories from happier times. I’ve helped several clients following losses and would offer the following practical advice:
Discuss and agree rules. Where other family members are involved it is useful to get together and decide who will take charge and outline basic rules. Bear in mind that everyone’s reaction to grief will be different and together you may need to accommodate different personalities ranging from pragmatic to highly sentimental.
Feel ready. Unless there is a strict timeline that is out of the family’s control, consider waiting for at least a few days for everyone to start processing the loss before you begin sorting through your loved one’s possessions.
Make a plan. Brainstorm or mindmap the whole task ahead onto paper - make a bulleted lists of decluttering categories (or areas/rooms). Then prioritise what is most important, or the least sentimental, and start to work through the list methodically. If you are working as part of a family or friends team, delegate or ask people to volunteer for various tasks.
Think about destinations. Where can the items ultimately go?
- to family members, friends or acquaintances
- to be sold
- donations to local projects or charities - perhaps one favoured by your loved one
- a recycling centre.
Reach out for practical support as and when you need it. Ask others to take on tasks like contacting auction houses, listing things on Ebay or Gumtree, and for ferrying items to the recycling centre or charities. Friends or relatives all helping each other can bring together different perspectives that may speed up the decision making process and make the tasks less overwhelming. However If you are working with family and things start to get difficult due to differences of opinion, agree to put any controversial possessions to one side and continue with less stressful territory until you can all calm down.
Avoid overwhelm. Break larger tasks into bite-sized parts you can tick off mentally and know you are moving ahead. This is especially important if you are working solo. For example if you are sorting clothes, work through a single drawer or a cupboard at a time. Aim for consistent progress rather than attempting it all in one go and burning out and then having problems getting re-motivated to start up again. Give yourself plenty of breaks and reward yourself for progress made.
Prepare for an emotional rollercoaster. Think in advance about how you are going to deal with unexpected or difficult emotions popping up. Try not to internalise everything or push down your emotions. Talk about how you are feeling with friends, family or volunteer counsellors. The link below will take you to an excellent list of grief resources including charities, podcasts and peer support forums:
Read my Sentimental Journeys blog. It is very common to struggle with making emotionally healthy choices when it comes to saving or parting with a loved one's belongings. When selecting items to keep make sure you are being practical about space. Moreover think about how you will use the items - the key to truly honouring your loved one is surely to integrate their possessions into your daily life rather than storing boxes of their stuff in your loft or garage where they can languish unloved and guilt-inducing. Try not to end up with so much that you begin to resent the impact on your home and psyche. I have written a related blog called Sentimental Journeys which will hopefully help you more with this aspect: https://www.ruleyourroost.co.uk/post/sentimental-journeys.
Finally, I am sorry for your loss and I hope you find that sorting through your loved one’s things proves to be cathartic in some way and helps you move forward and face the future positively. If you get stuck or feel you can't face the task on your own then do contact a Professional Organiser, we are here for you.