In 2014, my husband and I lived through what has become known as the summer of sadness. We call it that because my brother-in-law and my mother-in-law died two weeks apart that year. And if that wasn’t enough, during the same time my own brother was fighting for his life after a work accident. To say we were in grieving was putting it lightly.
And then to add to our angst was the necessary task of sorting through our loved ones belongings.
We only had a couple of days to sift through a lifetime’s worth of possessions because mother-in-law's house was going on the market. Our family had to work through a lot of emotions in a very short time.
That experience taught me so much. It offered me personal perspective I hadn't known before. As best as I can, I would like to share with you some of the things I learned from my experiences in 2014 as well as working with clients since then dealing with similar circumstances.
declutter when you are ready
For some, decluttering soon after someone has passed is easier because they want to lessen some of the pain by boxing up some of their items, while others need more time to work up to the idea of going through a loved one's personal things. There is no "right" way because everyone processes grief differently and on varying timetables.
Listen to your heart and start when you are ready. If you find yourself thrown into having to make decisions sooner than you feel comfortable (because of timing of selling the estate for example) just do the best you can with the amount of time you have been given. Reflect on some of the other lessons I share below as they can help if you are thrown into sorting before establishing the mindset to do so.
love first, money second
There can be a lot of emotion swirling when families get together to declutter a loved one's estate. The event can potentially bring animosity especially if there is a larger sum of money involved. If you find your family quarreling about the estate because of money, remember that relationships have no price tag and that no money is worth damaging them.
find your favorite treasures first
For each of us, there are often certain items that we treasure from our loved ones. For me a few are the glass candy bowl that held the lemon drops at my grandma's house, the mason jars my mom used to can fruits and vegetables with and a glass pitcher my mother-in-law used to serve water in for holiday meals. I love these items because they both remind me of the people I treasure and they are useful items that I now cherish using. When you begin sorting through your loved ones things, start by seeking out your favorite treasures first. Doing so acts as a balm of sorts as you push forward in sorting + organizing the remainder of any possessions.
declutter by category
The most successful way to declutter an entire home is by category (clothing/closets, books/shelves, decor/mementos et al) rather than by location. Decluttering by category makes it easier to make decisions because you are able to see the total volume of a category all at once, as well as see if you have duplicates making it easier to compare and contrast. This is true for decluttering an estate as well. If you would like a free decluttering checklist, visit our Neat Little Nest site here.
aim for progress, not perfection
Since decluttering an estate of a loved one is hard and emotional, be compassionate with yourself. It is likely that you will not be able to get rid of everything in one go, but aim for making progress. The goal to make decisions the best you can remembering that no one is able to take the memories you had with that loved one away from you.
The above tips are shared with love and compassion and are based on my real-life experiences. Keep in mind, coping with death, loss and grief is incredibly personal, and there’s certainly no right or wrong way to process and deal with these life scenarios. Be sure to take your time, when possible, to begin the sifting and sorting through of personal belongings and allow yourself to feel all the emotions that bubble up along the way.