It’s Not Just Stuff

 In Advice

Some of the most intimate aspects of a person’s identity are reflected in their personal belongings. A baseball cap, a favorite fragrance, a collection of toy dinosaurs can instantly evoke the image of someone we love. These objects seem to be infused with that person’s essence and become an extension of their being.

When a loved one dies, handling their belongings can be overwhelming. Each person has a unique way of resolving this challenge (which can get complicated when several different family members are involved). Here are a few tips to help sort things out:

  • Respect your own timing. You may feel ready to clear out the closets right away, giving favorite belongings to family and friends or donating to charity. On the other hand, you may decide not to touch your loved one’s belongings for months or years as you slowly adjust to the reality of your loss. Or you may choose to sort through some things now and leave or store some for later. Listen to other’s suggestions, but do what feels right for you.
  • Pick your treasures. There will be some things that you don’t want to give away, not now, not ever. These will be the transitional objects that keep you connected to your loved one for as long as you need — a watch, a quilt, a love letter, a favorite stuffed animal, a coffee mug. Trust your gut. Keep what you really want to keep no matter how odd it may seem.
  • Preserve your memories. Gather together a collection of objects and photographs that make you feel close to your loved one and visit it when you want to remember them. Intentionally creating a memory space can make letting go of the larger volume of “stuff” easier. This suggestion can also be helpful if you had to let go of belongings before you were ready.
  • Let go of what you don’t need. Those baskets of plastic flowers and the beer mugs from around the world can go. Just because your loved one couldn’t part with them doesn’t mean you can’t if you want to. Sometimes letting go can be liberating.

Often sorting through a loved one’s belongings becomes a form of grief work in itself. Moving a pair of shoes from the hall closet to the basement involves working through something. Let yourself feel the feelings that go along with the task. If you are not sure whether or not to let go of something, ask yourself how keeping it is helping you. Is it a useful tool, still serving an important purpose in your grief process or is it a means to avoid taking risks and letting in new energy? Let your own answers guide you.

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