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Sorting through a loved one’s belongings

Updated: Mar 16, 2023



When someone we love dies, they leave behind a lifetime’s worth of physical memories. Sorting through these can feel like a mammoth task, hopefully the following snippets of advice will help it feel more manageable.

Like anything in grief, this task is very personal so, what helps one person may not help another. The most important thing is to listen to what feels right for you and to go at your own pace as much as possible.


We know that it isn’t always possible to take as much time as you would like to sort through a loved one’s belongings, particularly if their home has to be sold or cleared within a certain timeframe. This said, try and give yourself as much time as possible to work through everything. If the house needs to be empty by a certain date but you still have belongings that you are not sure what to do with, consider taking them back to your own house or placing them in storage somewhere until you are ready to work out what to do with them.


If you lived with your loved one when they died, so their belongings are in your home, do not pressure yourself to sort through them immediately after their death. Feelings can change over time and in the first few weeks and months after the loss, we tend to feel a little numb.


When sorting through the belongings, if possible, break the task down into sections and decide how long you want each sorting session to be. Perhaps decide to work through one room at a time and set time limits on how long you spend on the task at a time, trying to do it all at once can feel overwhelming and may put you off wanting to start altogether. Allow yourself time to reminisce as you are going along as well, you will more than likely come across items that evoke memories of your loved one which are important to experience and help to place their death in perspective of their life.


Implementing a system of categories can be a helpful way to sort through their things, perhaps try:

- save for me

- save for others

- sell

- donate

- throw away

- unsure - to decide upon another time as you don’t want to rush into a decision with these that you later regret.


Think also about how to support yourself on the days that you are sorting through their things and whether it be helpful to have someone with you to help you do it. If so, who would be the best person to ask? Try to pick someone that will allow you to talk through any memories that come up from certain items. Even if you have told them that memory before, in grief we tend to need to tell our stories over and over again as our minds adapt to the news that someone is gone. Therefore, choose someone that will patiently allow you to do that without trying to rush you through the memory.

Make sure also, that the person you choose to help you will allow you to experience any emotions that come up during the process, rather than trying to fix them or make you feel better. The outlet of emotion is a vitally important part of working through your grief. Feeling like you cannot honestly express how you are feeling will not be helpful when sorting through your loved one’s things.


If you come across an item that you want to remember but that is not practical to keep, consider taking a photo of it instead. That way you still have a reminder of the object without it causing any problems. If your loved one’s home has to be sold, you could also take photos of that so you have a lasting reminder, perhaps these pictures could be put into a memory box or album when you are ready.


Working through belongings can be a tiring and emotional process, so take care of yourself as you do so and be sure to talk through any emotions that come up with someone that you trust.


Wathall’s have teamed up with the Salvation Army to arrange collection or accept donation drop offs at any of our branches of textiles, clothing, accessories and shoes. Please click here for more information about this service.



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