Organizing After a Death in the Family

The loss of a loved one is overwhelming in so many ways. There is a myriad of things to address, yet you can feel paralyzed to do anything. While the funeral home will guide you through the official and public ceremony of saying goodbye, it is often the later tasks that are most difficult to know how to do. One of the most trying acts is determining what to do with a lifetime of personal belongings. There will be cherished memories and valuable assets but also many mundane possessions. How do you know what to do with these items?

There is no RIGHT way to proceed and no perfect timeline. You must listen to your heart and do what feels best for you. When the time is right, following these steps can give you the direction you need to make the daunting process easier.

1. Enlist assistance. Having someone to help is so important. This may be a close friend or family member who can discuss the loss and share memories sparked by belongings. They can also help with the physical work of packing up items and transporting.

2. Call in a professional. For some, family can be comforting and helpful but for others, they can raise anxiety or simply not be available. A professional can objectively ask the right questions to help you make the best decisions and then relieve you of the burden of having to pack things up, bring them to donation and get the space organized again. A professional organizer will move at your pace, reduce the stress of the process and allow you to grieve in your own way. They can even work with your family and be there for support.

3. Make a list of friends and family who may benefit from the belongings. It helps to know items are going to someone for whom they have meaning. They may never ask but if offered something special, or encouraged to take something, they may feel very touched and grateful. Try to create the list as a first step, before you start the process when you can think more clearly.

4. Choose a charity. Select a charity that supports a cause representing something close to the heart of the deceased. This will make you feel good about the purpose those things will serve.

5. Take your time. Don’t feel you need to do everything at once. Even the smallest tasks like disposing of empty shampoo bottles and scraps of paper may feel draining so don’t force yourself to do too much at one time. Be sure to reward yourself when you finish a small project. Go for a walk or visit with a friend.

6. Ask questions. Does the item illicit a happy memory? Can you keep just one when there are multiples? Do you have room for it? Could you take a photo of it and keep a memory book of photos? Could someone else make better use of it?

7. Allow your friends to help. People will be asking how they can help. You may not feel comfortable going through things with some friends, but you can allow them to drop off your donations or deliver a piece of furniture. Often the smallest chores feel incredibly taxing so permit other people to lift that burden for you. They want to help.

8. Don’t be afraid to talk it through as you go. My mom used to say, “Grief takes a thousand telling’s.”

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