Following a death, many have trouble sorting through loved one’s personal possessions.
This is to be expected. Each item, no matter how big or small, is a physical reminder of your loved one’s absence. It’s a connection to the past, a distant memory. And while it may be challenging at first, it’s an important step in the healing process.
Each circumstance is unique. For instance, the tasks you need to complete will be different if the death was the spouse you lived with versus a family member who rented or leased their home. These types of unique situations will create the speed of urgency in which tasks need dealt with.
Below, we offer tips for getting organized from the start.
1. Get Affairs in Order
After a funeral or memorial service takes place and final goodbyes are said, you need to determine timing to get your loved one’s affairs in order. Prioritize more pressing tasks, like legal and financial matters.
To start, gather all pertinent paperwork that relates to legal or finances, especially anything that is timely or requires action (ex: unpaid bills, open credit cards). As you sort through paperwork, make sure to file important documents like credit reports, brokerage statements, property titles and more. Shred and dispose of anything that displays your loved one’s personal details to protect against identity theft, but not items that legally need to be retained.
Once these items are out of the way, you can focus on other areas like personal belongings.
2. Enlist the Help of Family and Friends
Now that you have affairs in order, enlist the help of family and friends. Not only will this simplify the process, it can also provide you with a shoulder to lean on when dealing with what is destined to be a very trying task.
Consider splitting duties up to alleviate the burden on yourself or others. For instance, ask one family member to organize, clean or remove personal items from a specific room if you plan to sell your loved one’s home. Or, if you plan to have an event like an estate sale, enlist one group of family members to plan it, one to run it and one to clean up afterwards.
Keep in mind that there are also professionals available to help if needed, including cleaning crews, professional organizers and estate managers.
3. Establish a System
As you divvy up responsibilities, decide on a system to keep things organized. Label items you wish to keep, donate, recycle and discard.
If other family members are helping you get organized, have each person assemble their personal keep pile if this is not done in advance through a will. Some items may hold more sentimental value than others, so do your best to evenly distribute keepsakes and heirlooms to avoid family conflict.
Remember, you don’t have to keep every single item. While it may feel impossible to part with certain items, there’s no sense in keeping something you have no use for. Take pictures instead, creating a visual log of your loved one’s belongings and the memories that follow. Donating unwanted or unneeded items is a great way to honor your loved one, and bless others in need.
4. Pace Yourself
Organizing your loved one’s belongings can be an overwhelming process. Stumbling upon certain items may trigger unexpected emotions. While it may be tempting to sort through it all in a few days, it’s important to pace yourself. Don’t take on more than you can handle. After all, organizing the items left behind can provide you with much-needed comfort.
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