Dealing With Your Loved One’s Belongings

Sorting a lifetime’s worth of someone else’s belongings is a task difficult on its own, but with the added emotional burden of grief, it might seem entirely impossible.

Of course, the process will be emotional, time-consuming and difficult; but it will also be rewarding and satisfying. You will discover what matters most to you, and make room in your heart and home for those objects that are most meaningful.

If you’re not sure how to begin sorting through your loved one’s things, you can use the “Four Ps” to get started.

The Four Ps

  1. Pick Participants.

Decide who you want to involve in this process. Of course the old mantra “many hands make light work” is true of a lot of large projects, but in this instance, you may find that many hands do more harm than good. Because this is such a personal and emotional task, consider only involving those who you feel knew your loved one well. A helpful exercise is to imagine one of your loved one’s most precious keepsakes. Who would recognize its importance? By limiting participation, you are ensuring that you won’t have to worry about valuable items being discarded.

  1. Prioritize.

Start by listing out those tasks that are time-sensitive. Did your loved one own a business? Did they have a home that now has to be sold? Decide what needs to be dealt with urgently. Remember that smaller tasks can always be left for later. For example, if you need to sell a house quickly, consider renting a storage unit and going through things after the fact. If you put too much pressure on yourself to do everything all at once, you might find the emotional and physical effects to be overwhelming.

  1. Plan. 

Just starting such a large and emotionally burdensome project is often the hardest part of the whole process. Of course, start with the most urgent and high-priority tasks. But after that, consider breaking the process down into smaller projects. For example, you can sort items by room or by category. Start with something easy, such as tools or clothes, and save more difficult or sentimental things for last. You will find that having a game plan makes the whole project feel much more manageable.

  1. Pace yourself.

You’ve already decided what things are most urgent. After you’ve dealt with any time-sensitive tasks, slow down. Set small, manageable goals. If you start to feel overwhelmed, take a break and treat yourself to an outing or a conversation with a friend. Although going through your loved one’s belongings is a large task, it doesn’t have to be miserable. By taking your time and being gentle with yourself, you may find that the process becomes a satisfying, rewarding and even enjoyable way to remember and honor your loved one.