Bereavement can be one of the most difficult things we face in a lifetime, causing emotional strain and upset. Going through a loved one’s possessions might be the last thing on your mind when you’re grieving, however, it can act as part of the healing process and help you to move on whilst cherishing your loved one’s memory.
An emotional time
Seeing yourself surrounded by items left behind from a loved one can be both daunting and overwhelming. Unless you find yourself under pressure to sort through their belongings quickly (e.g. for a house sale to fund funeral costs), take your time and ensure you are emotionally prepared for the process ahead.
It is important to remember that it’s natural to feel apprehensive, or even guilt in this situation, as you might be worried you are erasing the memory of those who have passed. However, this is a process that may allow you to reminisce of the good times you had with your loved one. Although, don’t be surprised if looking through these personal mementos might stir up feelings you thought you had already overcome.
Beginning the process
Before you start, confirm your loved one hasn’t left any instructions for how their possessions should be dealt with once they’ve passed. These could be in the will, or in a funeral plan.
Where do I begin?
The process of going through the belongings of a loved one can raise a lot of questions, what should be kept? What should I let go of? Who should be involved? To try and ease the pressure, below is some advice to guide you along the way:
Sorting through the items of those who have passed can be both physically and emotionally draining, particularly if it is a house clearance. Consider if there are siblings or close friends who can give you a hand through the process, particularly if they may be entitled to certain items as noted in the will. If there are people that should be present but can’t be, ask them for specific instructions on what they would like kept back to ensure there is no confusion.
Prioritise and plan
Particularly for larger clear-outs, consider in what order you will go through the items. Whether it’s one room at a time or you want to go through the furniture first, have boxes and labels prepared to make the process as smooth as possible.
Don’t rush this process if you don’t have to. Even if there is pressure due to a house sale, consider placing your loved one’s belongings into storage and come back to them when you’re ready.
Have a few things prepared to help you stay organised: binbags, cardboard boxes, pens, labels, refreshments, gloves and cleaning equipment will all help you to sort through the items and avoid having to go through them again at a later date.
Advice on house clearances
When you’re faced with clearing a home after losing a loved one, it can be scary and overwhelming, stirring up emotions before you have even begun. With a house clearance, it is particularly crucial to be prepared with piles; the donate pile, the keep pile, the recycling pile or the selling pile. Prioritise the items that hold sentimental value, and if you find yourself stuck with what to do next, take a break and come back to it another time.
If you’re clearing through the house and are perhaps struggling with the enormity of things to do, see if family or friends will lend a hand. Even if they just help to bag things together, it could provide some relief at a difficult time.
What should I do with valuable items?
When faced with valuable items, you could encounter a moral dilemma when it comes to what to do, questioning if it would be disrespectful to sell a loved one’s possessions. For each individual, this decision is unique. It entirely depends on the relationship the deceased might have had with the item, or whether they would be happier knowing it was being put to good use with someone who needs it.
Whilst going through the possessions of a loved one, you may uncover some precious pieces of jewellery. Unless it has been otherwise stated in the will, it is important to have jewellery valued. If you decide to keep hold of it, ensure it is kept in a safe place. Or, consider passing the jewellery down to other generations and beginning a new family tradition.
Pieces of art may not look like much to the untrained eye, but some could be priceless, so get in touch with art galleries to see if they offer valuations. Alternatively, it might surface that some of the art has been painted or drawn by your lost loved one, so don’t be too quick to throw it away as it could turn out to be something you miss in the future.
There could also be value attributed to musical instruments and sound equipment amongst a loved one’s belongings. In cases where these are difficult to transport but you are curious to their value, consider organising a valuation meeting at your home. Or if you find some instruments are broken and beyond repair, recycle them.
If those who have passed have left behind a vehicle and you are likely to use it, ensure to let the DVLA know that you require a change of ownership, then tax the vehicle and insure it under your name. Or if you won’t be driving the car, you’ll need a Statutory Off-Road Notice (SORN).
Challenges you might run into
Going through the possessions of a loved one isn’t easy, particularly if you’re finding it tough to part with items. For many people, a person’s belongings can assume a different meaning after they’ve gone, creating a new emotional attachment to the person who has passed.
Remind yourself that if it all becomes too much, wait until you’re ready. It could be months, or even years, until you’re prepared to face their things again. It can vary depending on the relationship you had with them, and every relationship is unique, just like the grieving process.
Be prepared to feel overwhelmed no matter how prepared you are, it is still potentially one of the most emotionally upsetting things you may have to go through. In moments of doubt, try to remember the good times you once had together and be prepared to take plenty of breaks, even putting things away to sort at a later date.
For more advice on bereavement and grief, visit our advice section.