Decluttering and Bereavement

It's a hard fact of life, and death, that when someone dies then other people become responsible for that person's possessions.  Of course this is usually family members of the deceased.


Just when you're reeling from the grief and loss of a loved one, there is more than likely the need to go through their possessions and make some tough decisions.


I'd like to share some of my own experience with this situation.  My mother died unexpectedly last November.  There was a lot to be grateful for, she was 86, still living independently and didn't suffer. Nonetheless it was a shock of monumental proportions.  Not to mention the large hole she left in all our lives.


My mother had been a widow for a long time and so as Executors of her will my sister and I were faced with sorting and clearing the contents of her 3-bed bungalow so we could sell it.


Where to begin?


I can only speak for myself in this.  I appreciate that each person's experience of grief will be different.  For me there was an immediate conflict with the task in hand.  One part of me felt that everything had to be left - it felt 'wrong' to be boxing up my mother's things or worse still throwing them away.  It felt disrespectful somehow, and far too final.


My logical mind knew that it made sense to deal with the less personal items first.  Especially those things that we knew neither of us would want to keep.  I began with piles of old magazines that could be recycled. We tackled the kitchen quite early on as well. Old saucepans and crockery didn't feel too emotionally loaded. It might not be the same for you, but you will have your own equivalent. Be guided by your intuition. You might feel you'd rather tackle the challenging stuff first and get it done. That's fine, just make sure that is a conscious decision on your part.


Ask for help


I was very fortunate.  My sister was local and hugely supportive.  My husband also volunteered to deal with some of the harder items for us.


Only you know what you can manage.  If packing your loved one's clothes for a charity shop will be too painful to cope with then acknowledge this to yourself from the outset.


Consider, is there is anyone you can trust to do this for you in a way that feels good for you?  You may get lots of offers of help.  No matter, it is your choice as to who can do this for you in the right way.  Don't be frightened to ask. Most people close to you will want to help at a time like this, but often they don't want to interfere or say the wrong thing.  


It is just as valid should you prefer to face this alone.  There is no right or wrong way - only your way.


Declutter or keep?


During this process you will have to decide what you want to keep and what has to go. Early on I knew of a few things that I really wanted to have in my own home.  I was fortunate that my sister wanted different things so there were no disagreements on this delicate matter. As we came upon things we wanted we removed them.  In this way the pool of 'things' began to reduce.  


In this second stage I would suggest you focus on (a) the things you definitely want, and (b) the things you definitely don't want.  There is a third category in my experience where you just can't decide.  Those things can wait.  


The decluttering aspect can involve different 'destinations' for different items. I think it's important to let  things go in as loving a way as possible.  You may like to support a local charity shop that was dear to your loved one.  Alternatively you could gift certain things to friends or more distant relatives of the deceased.  It may be possible to sell some things if they have an intrinsic value.  


There may be antiques or collectables for instance.  My main motivation was that anything that was not broken, damaged, or unappealing in some way should be re -homed. I liked the idea that if my mother could see what we were doing she would have smiled.


With the best will in the world, you can't keep everything. It wouldn't be right for your own possessions to be swamped out in this way.  The hardest thing to face is how to dispose of things that won't be of any interest to anyone other than their original owner.


Taking things to the tip was too challenging for me and so my husband helped.  My sister also took some things to her local tip and managed it OK.  Everyone is different.


If you feel you'd like some unbiased yet sensitive support with this kind of task, please do get in touch with Judith