Sorting Through the Belongings of a Loved One
Losing a loved one can be difficult for many reasons. Decisions need to be made, there are timelines to adhere to and adjusting to life without that person can be a challenge all in its own. Once everything settles, the items they have left behind remain; so how do you tackle the project of sorting their items before moving forward?
We have compiled a few tips that are sure to help you along the way. Some from our own experience and some from the experts.
Before getting started:
- Carve out time – Prepare mentally
Enjoy the process by allowing yourself ample time with no harsh deadlines. Know that the task ahead may be difficult so allow yourself time to grieve and reminisce.
- Gather necessary loved ones
If there are friends and/or family that will be sorting through the items as well, make sure to set boundaries or ground rules for choosing items. Make sure you search first and foremost for sentimental and personal items before items you simply “want”. Setting boundaries will help keep things fair.
– Expert Tip: Find or Purchase storage bins for storing and packing what you want to keep.
During the process
- Keep what brings you joy and bright memories
When sorting through the items of a loved one, it can become difficult to determine which items are most meaningful as most items have memories attached.
When performing this task, it is important to focus primarily on items that bring you the happiest memories. In the popular Netflix show, ‘Tidying up with Marie Kondo’, Marie explains the best way to identify these items is by taking each item in one’s hand and asking: “Does this spark joy?” If it does, keep it. If not, disregard it. Sit with each item for a minute and remember what it makes you think of. The more you do this, the easier it will become to identify the items that bring the most joyful memories of your loved one. Once you have decided to keep an item, place it in an empty bin for transport or storage.
“No matter how wonderful things used to be, we cannot live in the past. The joy and excitement we feel here and now are more important.” – Marie Kondō, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
– Expert Tip: Take photos! Some items may be too bulky or difficult to keep but still hold strong memories. When this is the case we suggest taking a photo of the item so you have a visual representation despite needing to physically part with the item.
- Keep in mind that someone else can deal with the leftovers
When choosing what to keep, it can be overwhelming to also decide what should be tossed, what should be donated and what should be sold. By keeping in mind anything that you don’t want to keep can be handled by a professional, it can help bring the focus back to you and what you find important.
Still finding it difficult?
You’re not alone! Many people feel the same way and explain it here:
- A study from the Yale School of Medicine found that “for many, letting go is literally painful” —meaning that for some of us, parts of our brain associated with physical pain are triggered when trying to part with certain items.
- According to Julie Holland, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine, “Sentimental clutter is the adult equivalent of a teddy bear.” – We all know what this feels like!
- Jennifer Baumgartner, Psy.D., notes that nostalgia can make clearing out a space nearly impossible. She goes on to state that, “we often infuse our junk with the spirit of a moment in time, associating the tangible with the intangible. Our junk becomes the object upon which we project our internal experience.”
If you’re hitting a road block, try these next few tips to help get you to the finish line:
- Try sorting some of your own items first
Your own items will not hold as much emotional weight as the items of a loved one. By taking time to sort through some of your own items you can get used to the sorting process and carry that same technique onto the items of your loved one.
- Visit the home / space / items more than once
While sorting, it can be difficult to sit for long periods and move through many items. If you are unsure about a particular item or have a large amount of items to sort through, give yourself many sorting sessions. Ensuring you have more time to make decisions can ease the difficulty and stress associated with the task. Give yourself a deadline but know that you have that allotted time with the items. A second look can help purge more or ensure a sentimental item is not missed.
- Consider a creative approach
Oftentimes the items we choose to keep from a loved one can be placed in a box and rarely visited. To prevent this, thinking of a creative way to display the most cherished items can be therapeutic. Consider a shadow box, a collage of photos, a small memory box or a scrapbook.
We hope these tips can help guide you through the sorting of a loved ones belongings. It can be a difficult task that many of us have experienced. If you have any tips to share, we would love to know what aided you through your process.