Decluttering your home after the loss of a loved one

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Decluttering your home after the loss of a loved one can be incredibly challenging.   If it feels like the right next step for you, how can you approach the process while being kind and patient with yourself? Let’s look at the main points to consider when decluttering your home after losing a loved one.

Begin by creating some structure

 Beginning the process is often the most challenging part of decluttering your loved one's belongings. The good news is there’s no right or wrong way to approach it. It’s entirely up to you when you choose to begin, how quickly you’ll declutter, and to what extent.

 Having some degree of structure with which to approach your decluttering can soothe feelings of overwhelm when you’re in the middle of the journey. That said, don't worry if you get upset and need to come back to it. It can take some people months or even years to get started, and it may require frequent or extended breaks.

 Here are some tips to help you create a supportive structure for your decluttering:

  • Take a big picture and look at how much there is to evaluate. This can help you create realistic expectations about the time the decluttering process will take, and identify any resources you might need. Those resources could include people you need to consult or practical items like storage boxes.
  • See if you can identify a few, key themes, like paper documents, clothes or books. This can help you break the bigger project into more manageable subtasks.
  • If possible, and if it feels right, you might invite friends, other loved ones, or a community support person to help. It may be supportive for their own grieving process and help you in practical and emotional ways.
  • Consider giving yourself space to hold on to more items than you expected your first time through. You could decide to revisit them in a few years and see if decluttering feels right at that time.


Remember, this isn’t a one-day task (and we do not recommend a rushed approach). It can also be done incrementally. Focus on taking care of yourself and doing what feels right for you.

Set small, achievable goals

As mentioned above, decluttering your deceased loved ones' belongings isn't a one-day task. Set small goals, achievable every day. Instead of tackling an entire room in one go, perhaps it's a specific type of item, or maybe it's going through a certain number of boxes.

If you're finding it difficult to focus, consider incentivizing this. Make a plan to do something extra nice for yourself once you've met the day's goal. It could be watching an episode of your favourite show or getting a coffee with your best friend. Taking care of yourself during this process is extremely important, which brings us to our next point.

 Let go of guilt

 This is the hardest to undertake. You may find that you’re placing a lot of guilt on yourself for not wanting to keep certain items. It’s easy to place value on everything.

Remember: getting rid of your loved ones’ belongings won’t weaken the connection you have with them or the memories you cherish.

If you’re finding things you don’t want to give away but also don't want to have on display, consider storing them in a box (special or plain) so you can revisit them when you’re ready.

If you’re finding it difficult to depart from anything, consider taking photographs of some items and creating a scrapbook so you’ll always have them with you. If your loved one was a collector of stamps or tea cups, you may consider keeping your favourites and offering the others to your friends and family, or donating them.

 Consider asking for help

 Decluttering is a huge and often overwhelming undertaking. If you have family, friends or community connections that you can ask for support, and you want to, it may help you make this process more manageable. It can also be an opportunity to remember, reflect, and share stories. If the person helping wasn't close to the deceased person, they can also give an outside and objective perspective.

 Divide everything into categories

 As you’re going through everything, divide it into five or more categories:

1. Save for yourself

You may find that this is initially a larger number of items than you’d like. Be patient with yourself. Over time, you may find yourself ready to let go of some items, but remember, this isn’t a race and there’s no right way to declutter.

2. Save for others

Make a reference list of items your friends and family wanted as you go through things. There may be things that would be good to set aside for later years for younger family members. For example, your grandchild might be too young to receive grandma’s china set now, however, this might make a touching gift later in life.


3. Donate

If your loved one had a charity or non-profit they frequently donated to, consider honouring this tradition by donating their items there.


4. Sell

There might be items of value that you can sell on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or a consignment shop. You might even consider holding a yard sale. Keep in mind how much energy you have to give, as a yard sale can be quite time-consuming, which can make options like consignment shops appealing.


5. Throw away

Grab a few garbage bags for items that are worn out and get a shredder for documents you no longer need.


Giving your family and loved ones a meaningful gift


While it’s a good idea to consult other family members and close friends before donating, selling, or throwing anything away, if you see something that you already know they’d want, consider gifting it to them.

Perhaps it means giving your child grandpa’s old watch or giving your niece a painting—whatever it may be, these are the kind of gifts that are priceless and will be cherished forever.


Decluttering your home can be meaningful

While the experience is different for everyone, clearing your home and making conscious choices about your loved one’s belongings may provide an opportunity to process grief or to feel better equipped to head into the next season of your life.

Remember, please be gentle with yourself through the process. There’s no rush to declutter these items right now, if ever.

 If decluttering does feel like the right next step, we hope you’ve found today’s tips helpful.

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