Sorting Through Belongings After a Death | What to do with someone's stuff

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Adrian, 08 April 2021

Adrian is a Cruse Bereavement Volunteer

Coping with possessions

After someone dies, at some point we have to start thinking about how to deal with their possessions. Both the decision to act, and carrying it through, can be intensely emotional. In this blog post, Adrian, one of our Bereavement Volunteers, offers some advice.

Dealing with belongings after a death 

Dealing with the clothes and personal possessions of someone who has died is a really difficult process to start and people normally find it an emotional time. Some have guilty feelings about what they are doing. 

Start in your own time

Firstly, don’t let anyone tell you when to start. It’s your choice and only you can know when it’s the right time. It helps if you start with disposing of items that you have little emotional attachment to. Clothing and personal items (eg a set of golf clubs) are always welcomed at charity shops. By giving you are helping others, particularly if the charity is one the person had a connection to.

Take a 'step by step' approach

One client shared with us that he dealt with much of his wife’s clothes by putting them in storage bags in the loft. He not only gained the space, but he was able to take items to a charity shop when he was feeling emotionally stronger. Using a ‘step by step’ approach makes it just that bit less painful. Maybe start with just half a wardrobe, or a few drawers. The main thing is that you have started and are moving forward. 

In summary, the reality is you’ll probably keep a number of pieces of clothing and artefacts – and why shouldn’t you? They can be an important part of remembering your loved one.

Try not to feel guilty about making changes 

Making changes to their house, or your house if you shared a home, can be another big step. One man described how he wanted to move back into the bedroom previously shared with his wife. She had been ill for a few years and needed additional space for her disturbed sleeping pattern. He felt guilty because he wanted to move into ‘her room’, change the décor and make it his own space. In time, he managed to overcome his guilt and make the changes he wanted. 


Dealing with pictures

Sometimes, when someone dies, people find they can't look at pictures at all, but others put up many pictures around the house to remind them of their loved one. 
As well as clothing and other possessions, one particularly difficult step is knowing what to do with pictures. Of course there is no need to get rid of all of their photos, but there might come a time when you want or need to store them in a different place.
When dealing with pictures, it's normal to feel emotional or even guilty. You might think to yourself... “How can I be considering taking down that picture? They've been gone less than a year." However, the drive, the need, the desire for this type of action is actually really positive when you are coming to terms with your loss. Maybe take some of the pictures down to store in a memory box and leave the rest for storage.

As with possessions, there is no need to rush the process, and only you can know when you are ready. When that time comes, it is possible to adapt your home to the life you live now while keeping space to remember and honour those who are no longer with us.

Tips for making changes

  • Don't feel pressured into making changes before you feel ready.
  • When that time comes you might want to ask a trusted friend or relative to help you get started.
  • There is no need to get rid of everything, and there are lots of ways to keep a few items to remember someone with. Read some more ideas on how to remember someone.
  • Take things slowly and you can always stop if you find it's not the right time after all
  • Cruse can help if you need to talk things through.

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