Lisa walked from room to room of her dad’s house. Books, jackets, fishing poles…it was like he still lived there. Lisa closed her eyes and imagined that when she opened them, she would see her father sitting in his favorite chair watching the History Channel. But, of course, she knew he wouldn’t be there. A week earlier, her dad had died from a heart attack. Now, it was up to Lisa to go through his belongings, pack them up, and move them out to get the house ready to put on the market. Of course, she could take what she wanted. But as she moved around the house, she couldn’t imagine getting rid of any of it. After all, these were her dad’s things. Throwing them away would feel like throwing him away.
If you’ve ever lost a loved one — not just a parent, but a spouse, a sibling, a close friend, etc. — this situation might sound familiar. How can you, the friend or family member of the deceased, be expected to get rid of items that once belonged to your loved one, especially when your grief is so fresh? Sure, our rational minds tell us that these objects are just “stuff,” but in our hearts they feel like so much more.
On the other hand, keeping everything is out of the question. For starters, you probably don’t have space in your own home to take on a lifetime of possessions, but moreover, holding on to a loved one’s belongings just because they have sentimental value is more likely to weigh you down than comfort you. So, how do you decide what to hold on to and what you should be letting go?
What to keep
What you decide is worth keeping is obviously completely up to you, but here are a few considerations and questions you can ask yourself along the way.
- Do I have a use for this? If you’re choosing to hang on to a favorite sweater, will you wear it? If you want to keep a few dishes, will you use them? Perhaps you decide to save your loved one’s musical instrument. Will you play it? Keep in mind, you don’t have to wear the sweater, eat off the plates, or play the guitar to decide they are worth keeping, but if you plan to put the items to use, all the more reason to hang on to them.
- Do I have space for this? If you live in a modest home, you might not have a lot of extra space. If you are extremely attached to your mom’s old armchair, think about where you will put it. Is there an existing chair you can donate to make space for it? The last thing you need when you’re going through a challenging time is for clutter to weigh you down.
- How will it make me feel knowing that I have this? If you’re considering hanging on to a 26-volume encyclopedia set, ask yourself, will it make you happy knowing that it’s there? Or will the books sit on a shelf for you to forget about? If you want to keep your dad’s golf clubs, will you smile each time you see them in your garage, remembering afternoons spent with him on the putting green? Or will they sit, unused and collecting dust?
As mentioned, it’s ultimately your choice what you decide to keep and get rid of. Try not to let the opinions or comments of others get in the way of your process. Going through the belongings of a loved one is an incredibly personal experience, and as such, you should go at your own pace do what feels right to you.
Once you’ve decided what you definitely want to keep, what should you do with the rest? There are two options when it comes to paring down the items of a loved one. You can either take baby steps or you can take a huge leap.
For some, the grief of a loss will be all-consuming, and the thought of disposing of personal items right away will be too much to bear. And that’s okay. There is no deadline by which you need to get rid of things. However, it is important to make a point of getting around to it. Take baby steps to build momentum. Maybe you aim to get rid of a few items each day or each week. You can gradually increase your efforts over time.
For others, it may feel easier to take the big leap, rip off the Band-Aid, and get it over with. Try to donate what you can. From kitchen utensils to old books, antique vases to rocking chairs, just because you don’t have a need for something doesn’t mean that someone else doesn’t.
There is no right or wrong way to pare down. For you it might be easier to pace yourself and get rid of your parents’ things one day at a time, while your sibling might prefer to take what they want and be done with it. Be gentle with yourself and go with your gut.
At WH Cornerstone Investments, we are experienced at guiding clients through periods of grief. We understand that life throws curve balls, and we have dedicated ourselves to helping our clients rebuild both their personal and financial lives.