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5 Tips for What to Do with a Loved One’s Belongings After the Funeral

February 15, 2020

Losing a loved one can be difficult and overwhelming. Following the funeral, one of the most challenging things is deciding what to do with your loved one’s belongings. This can be a heart-wrenching experience because you are sorting through pieces of that person’s life, and you may have memories attached to many of those items. As with grief, there are no right or wrong choices.

Photo credit: Katarzyna Białasiewicz/123RF.com

Unless you’re under a deadline, like selling a house, the timetable to begin the process is up to you. Once you are ready to begin the task, here are five tips for dealing with a deceased loved one’s belongings:

  1. Create Sorting Piles: Organizing the deceased’s belongings into piles helps make the process easier. After you’ve thrown away the obvious trash, sort items into five piles: keep, give to others, throw away, donate, and think it over. You can put color coded Post-It notes on larger items and place smaller items in bags or boxes marked with the five categories.

    As you go through your loved one’s worldly possessions, there may be items that you aren’t sure what to do with. Don’t let that stop you in your tracks or the process can become too drawn out and draining. Put those items in the “think it over” box and come back to it later.

  2. Keep Only What Has True Sentimental Value: It’s tempting to keep everything that once belonged to a person, but that may keep you from fully moving on. Remember that your loved one’s items aren’t your loved one. Whether or not you have enough room in your house for dad’s collection of duck decoys or grandma’s vase from Italy, you will always have room in your heart for all the wonderful memories of the person that was a special part of your life. As you sort through your loved one’s belongings, focus on what is truly important to your memory of them.

    Take photos of items that you want to remember but just don’t have the room to keep or can’t find a suitable home, then put those belongings in the donate or throw away box. You can scan old photos or pages of photo albums or scrap books and easily share the digital files with your family and friends. Many photo stores offer “shoe box” rates for scanning old photos at an affordable price.

  3. Be Kind to Yourself: Sorting through a loved one’s belongings can be tiring work and you shouldn’t tackle it all at once. Avoid getting overwhelmed by only going through items for a few hours or so at a time, and take necessary breaks to process all the emotions that may come up. Keep your time frame flexible—if you become too overcome after a few minutes, it’s okay to stop and try again later or start again on another day.

    There may be entire categories of items that you can come back to at a later time, such as file cabinets full of paperwork or storage boxes in the basement. If there are letters, photo albums or other items that take time to look through, put them to the side and go through them later when you have the time and emotional capacity to linger over each page.

  4. Selling and Donating Items: Once you’ve sorted all the belongings into categories, knowing what to do with the “Sell” and “Donate” piles can be difficult. If you are donating things that belonged to your loved one, you want to ensure that they go to a good home or to a good cause. If you are selling items, you want to get as much value as possible. You can have a yard sale or sell items online, but that takes a good deal of time and effort on your part. Otherwise, you can hire an estate sale company to do the work for you. For specialty items, such as antique coins, you may need to bring in an expert.

    For donating items, here is a list of great organizations for everything from clothing to cell phones: How to Give Away the ‘Give Away’ Pile: Selling and Donating Old Items

  5. Find Space for Items You Want to Keep: First of all, decide how much room you have in your own home, and set realistic limits of how much you can keep. This is especially true for collections—choose your favorite one or two Hummels and don’t feel as if you have to keep all 300 figurines just because mom loved them. You can give some to your family, sell a few of the most valuable, or donate the rest. As much as possible, try to use, display or enjoy personal belongings on a daily basis.

Find storage space for those items that need to be stored away, such as clothing, photos or paperwork. Locate room in your attic, basement, or even in a drawer to help keep these items and their associated memories safely stored away. Keeping more items than you have room to display or store could result in renting a storage unit to have a place for everything. Be honest with yourself about your limits and then stick to it.

Although it may be difficult to decide what to do with all your loved one’s belongings, you can get through it by sorting through the items using helpful categories, being kind to yourself in the process, and finding the right place for all your loved one’s worldly goods.

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