10 helpful tips to help you cope with sorting your loved one's things after death

January 18, 2021

 Caravan Sonnet

Happy Monday friends! I hope that you had a wonderful weekend! Anyone else have a long weekend that you are enjoying today? I love my job, but I was thankful for the opportunity to get some extra rest today and sleep in a bit more. *smiles*

Today I wanted to start a new series on Mondays that discuss cleaning out a house after a loved one dies. This is not something that I ever thought I would write about but with the loss of my precious daddy in May 2019 and then my incredible grandmother in September, my mom and I have found ourselves in a situation that we never thought we would before. We have found ourselves not only limping through the process of going through my fathers things at the home we lived with at my grandmothers for the last 5 years, but now returning to TN at the home my parents spent nearly 30 years of their life together. It has had so many grief layers to it that are difficult to express in a simple post. 

For anyone who has cleaned out a loved ones home or belongings you know how messy, complicated, hard, exhausting, and isolating it can feel. It is not something that I see many people delve into writing about and I truly hope in the pursuit of creating a cozy-luxury haven living space for yourself that you find these posts helpful. Lots of the things that I am sharing here are things that I wish someone would have told us, and I hope that they will gently remind you that you are not alone in this process. 

Today I wanted to start this series with 10 helpful tips to help you personally cope with sorting through your loved one's things after death: 

1. Do not be surprised at the emotions that arise in this process

On any given day I can have literally a hundred emotions regarding this difficult process. Sometimes I feel incredibly grateful for the amazing life and memories I have had throughout my life because I was so well loved by my dad. I smile because something  makes me laugh and then literally five minutes later I can come across a letter or a card where he has written about dancing with me at my wedding  (I am single) and I start weeping. I even have tears writing that as it just happened this weekend. 

It is okay to have lots of emotions in the process. Be proud of yourself for facing them, give yourself time to cry and grieve and then maybe come back to that area of the house another day. 

A quote that I have fully embraced in this process is from John Piper which says, 

"Occasionally, weep deeply over the life that you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Feel the pain. Then wash your face, trust God, and embrace the life that he’s given you."

A blog post that I read by John that has been helpful and tenderly encouraging with this theme can be found HERE

2. If possible, take the time that you need to do this

This is not always possible (depending on the circumstances surrounding the situation you find yourself in), but if it is try to give yourself the time you need. If you have to make quick decisions then try to do so with someone else that might be helpful or consider renting a storage unit to slowly go through at your pace. 

3. Don't throw away things that are painful to look at now

Depending on how you are processing your grief you might be tempted to go one of two ways: throw everything out or keep everything. Don't throw everything away immediately just because it is painful to look at now. Consider what are special keepsakes for you and set those to the side to go through in the future. 

4. Don't keep every single thing because it is painful to let go of

On the flip side of number 3, don't keep every single thing because it is painful to let go of. I remember clearly when a ball point pen that my daddy had been using before he died ran out of ink. I literally almost had a breakdown because my mom (naturally) went to throw it away. It sounds silly as I write this, but some of you know exactly what I am talking about. Take the time to realize that the pen doesn't symbolize the loss of your loved one, and it is okay to grieve the fact that you will never see the person you love writing something again, but then let go of "stuff" and embrace the beautiful person that you loved so deeply in a different way. 

5. Don't be afraid to embrace the pain of what you are doing

Many people never face doing this and avoid it. I was almost scared in some ways of stepping into this with my mom because our grief was so deep that I didn't want to go back into that pain again. What I have found is that it is the most difficult thing to do after losing a loved one, but that we can handle it and so can you. You can do this. Cry over it, weep over it, and then take a break and come back to it again. 

6. If it is to much, stop and take a break.

If it becomes to much take a break often. Take a break for an hour, exercise, go for a walk, get outside, do something fun, find something to laugh about (which can be hard), and come back to the area you are doing on a different day. 

7. Tackle a different area

Sometimes it can be difficult to go through the same area all at once. I know that most professional organizers will say to "complete a room all at once" but sometimes that is just not possible emotionally. Be sensitive and loving to yourself and tackle a different room or area if you are having trouble with something that day. 

8. Tackle big projects as you can

I have found this honestly to be the most helpful thing. I remember right after my father died that his work wanted us to send all of his files to their office (my father worked out of our home but his office was in a different state and country). In grief we blindly grabbed the files that were immediate and ended up taking several loads of files to be mailed out. I was literally weeping and couldn't even handle it. It was hard to see my dad's handwriting over everything, the fact that we were boxing this up so quickly when he had worked so hard at his job, etc, etc, etc. I literally wept the entire time and the kind UPS people so compassionate. I honestly never thought that I would be able to deal with an entire office of things in my grandmothers basement, let alone old files, etc. 

But as time continued and my grief journey is farther along I realized that this Christmas it wasn't the same depth of pain and sadness as we went through some of that office. Instead of weeping there was sad smiles that my mom and I exchanged, some giggles over the way that my father wrote hundreds of notes all over manila file folders, and some giggles at the difference in our organization tactics. There were still tears, there was still a lot of hugs that we gave each other, but there was not the extreme grief that those first few days held. 

Having the space to tackle this big project in our own time frame was incredibly helpful to both of us. I have known people who have boxed things up and then set those things in a room and then weekly will choose a box to go through as they can. Take the time and continue to press forward. As one person in this "club" to another... I do promise that you can handle it. 

9. Donate as you can

One thing that my mom chose to do was to donate the items that she could to help others. My father would have wanted this (those who knew him knew he would give you the shirt off his back if you needed something) and so my mom carefully went through things to donate. 

Because we love thrift store shopping, we decided that we didn't want to come across these items again and so on our winter road trip (that we took pre-COVID) we took things and dropped them at a different thrift store out of state. We did this near the beginning of the trip and it was a beautiful thing as we realized we were helping someone else and also giving ourselves freedom to grieve in a different way without "stuff". 

10. Practice Self Care

What you are doing is emotional and the most difficult thing in the grief journey in some ways. Give yourself love and care as you tackle these things and this difficult season. I have found focusing even more on eating healthy, exercising, finding things to laugh about, baths, and embracing loved ones deeply has helped. Think about what it is for you that is really helpful in this time and season and embrace that even more. 

I hope that these tips are helpful and that you will find this series to be a tender reminder that you are not alone in this season. 

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