Tips for Decluttering After Someone Passes Away {Decluttering Sentimental Items - Day 30} | From Overwhelmed to Organized: Tips for Decluttering After Someone Passes Away {Decluttering Sentimental Items - Day 30}

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Tips for Decluttering After Someone Passes Away {Decluttering Sentimental Items - Day 30}

Today in the Decluttering Sentimental Items series, we're talking about decluttering after someone passes away.  This is probably the hardest time of all to declutter... everything feels sentimental because it belonged to the person you lost.

If you're in the position of decluttering after a loved one has passed away, first of all, I'm sorry. And I hope these tips help you through this painful time.

There are LOTS of different opinions out there and I think it's something that's different for each person and each family and each situation. What you keep and what you let go of, as well as how long you take to go through things, will be different from someone else. It's hard no matter what. You know yourself and how you deal with things, so tackle this in a way that you will be best for you.

I haven't had to personally deal with this topic so I asked my friend Danielle to guest post and share her tips and experiences on decluttering after a loss.

Welcome and take it away Danielle!

I worked as a therapist and social worker for years before staying home with my children and starting my blogging career. Grief is a common reason that people come in for therapy as it's easy to get stuck in the grieving process.

There are five stages to grieving: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.  Not everyone experiences each stage and not necessarily in the same order, but usually people experience at least two of the stages.

When we grieve, we ideally want to get to the acceptance stage, but each stage is an important part of the process. It is okay to spend some time being angry, in denial, depressed, etc. But it's important not to get permanently stuck in one stage.

Getting to the acceptance stage can be hard, but I believe that organizing and decluttering after a loved one passes is an important part of that process. Many people want to keep everything the same. They might keep a loved one's room set up exactly as it was before they passed. They may hang onto old clothing or other items that just collect dust in a closet. They may obsess over a letter or document and keep rereading it, trying to find meaning in it.

What you decide to keep or declutter is such a personal decision, but I'm going to go over some basic suggestions. Organizing and decluttering the items left by a loved one can help you create a peaceful space to mourn without being overwhelmed.

What to Keep

I'm going to start with important documents; these should all be kept for 7-10 years. These documents include:  death certificates, the person's will or trust, insurance policies, the last statements for all of the person's finances (bank accounts, mortgage, credit cards, investment accounts etc), their tax returns for the past two years, marriage/birth certificates, and a recent credit report. Make a neat folder to place these all in, then put them away in case they're needed. On the folder, write the date that you can throw them away.

It's also nice to keep items you need (ie. a bureau, silverware, and that sort of thing) as long as they don't have negative feelings attached to them. Just make sure to declutter the items you're replacing!

Tips for Letting Go of a Loved One's Items

  • Many people find it helpful to limit themselves on what they should keep or discard.  For example, they'll give themselves a small box to fill with items to keep. Then they declutter the rest of the items. Keep items that truly have a sentimental value.
  • Talk to other loved ones to see if they want some of the items. If your family is close, you could organize an event to declutter together: sit around and go through the items while talking about memories of your loved one. This can be very healing.
  • I've seen people keep items that have a lot of negativity attached to them. I think it's important to get rid of those items. Sometimes it's cathartic to have a symbolic ceremony for letting those items go. For example, if there was a negative letter that you've been hanging onto, burning the letter. Consider what will be helpful or harmful to you when you're grieving.
  • Anything that doesn't have sentimental value and isn't needed should go, unless you know someone else who might value or need it. I'm an advocate for keeping things out of the landfill and I also think there's a lot of joy in giving to others. Old clothing or items in good condition can often be sold, freecycled, or donated. 
  • Get rid of unnecessary paperwork- much of that can be composted or recycled. Teachers may be able to use old magazines. Have a yard sale if there's a lot of things to go through or call up Salvation Army, Goodwill or another donation center for pick up.

Creative Ideas for Organizing

  • Make a memory quilt of the person's old clothing. This will allow you to declutter the bulk of the clothing, but you can keep the blanket to use when you're missing the person. You can make a normal quilt or make it as a weighted blanket. Learn how to make a weighted lap blanket or how to convert a regular blanket into a weighted blanket.
  • Decorate a memory box. Keep special items inside. This will limit how much you keep and give you a nice, organized box to pull out when you want to sit and remember that person. This is particularly helpful for young children who experience a loss.
  • Keep photos together. If they're taking up too much space, scan them onto your computer and save on your hard drive. You can easily put together a slideshow of them all and burn them onto CD. Microsoft Movie Maker is one possible program to use for this and it comes standard with Windows 10. Click here to learn how to make a photo slide show on Microsoft Movie Maker
  • If you have an item you'd like to get rid of, but don't want to lose completely, take a photo of it and keep it in a photo album. 
  • If you're afraid to lose a memory if you throw away an item, journal the memory instead. You could even create a scrapbook with photos. 
  • One of the ways I honor my lost loved ones without a lot of clutter is a memorial wall. I read about this idea many years ago in a book. The author's family has a shrine setup for loved ones who have passed and they light candles, incense, or ring a bell to invite the spirit (more in a philosophical sense than a physical sense) of their loved ones into the home. I struggle with loss and it's been helpful for me when I'm grieving to have this. I always feel more connected to those I've lost when I spend some time by my memorial wall. Check out my tutorial on how to make a memorial wall.

I hope this post was helpful for you. Remember that this is your journey so you should do what is right and meaningful to you. Just be aware of how your choices affect your mood and happiness. Keeping clutter, even meaningful clutter, can make us unnecessarily anxious.

Thanks so much Hilda for inviting me to guest post!

About the Author

Danielle Pientka was a therapist and social worker for many years before she turned stay-at-home mom and DIY blogger on She lives in Maryland with her husband, two sons, two dogs, and three ducks. She is author to A Complete Guide to Using, Laundering, and Sewing Reusable Cloth and A Month to Happiness: A Journal {affililate links}.

For More Decluttering Sentimental Items Tips

Want more tips?  Check these the 31 Days of Easy Decluttering series!

Or the Decluttering From A to Z series from last October!

If you'd like more decluttering ideas, you can check out my Decluttering/Purging Tips & Ideas board on Pinterest.

Your turn! 

Have you decluttered after a loved one's death? What did you keep and what did you let go of? What tips can you share to help others who have to do this?

If you've got a picture of how you displayed or re-purposed items after losing a loved one, please share it in the comments or on one of the series' social media posts.  Or use the hashtag #declutteringsentimentalitems.  I'd love to see how you are giving honour and respect to your sentimental items!

Happy organizing decluttering!

Here are all the posts in this challenge in case you missed any or want to share some with your friends or family!

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