Decluttering a Loved One’s Possessions

I am updating this post. When I first wrote this post, I only had ideas from what other family members had done and research I did. After the loss of my 18 year old son last year, this subject has become more personal. So I have added what I have learned.

Mary said, “I am so bogged down with stuff. I need help deciding what to keep and what to purge. I have 14 boxes of photos and things from my parents house and am having a hard time deciding how to get rid of things and what things are important to keep.”

vintage photo

First of all, no one, not decluttering gurus, best friends or anyone else can tell you what to get rid of and what is important to keep. Only you know the stories behind your possessions and how they affect you.

There is no “should.” You don’t have to get rid of anything.

But, if you feel you need more space for your current life, you’ll feel better if you can let go of things.

Here are some guidelines you can use:

  • There is no timeline for decluttering a loved one’s possessions. It took us 9 months to go through my son’s room. Declutter in bite sized chunks since it can be emotionally draining.
  • It is helpful to go through the objects with someone else – another family member or close friend. You will need support.
  • Think about what you will do with the space. Knowing that we were going to create a hang out space for my daughter and her friends made it easier to get the energy to declutter.
  • If you have things you’ve deemed important, but they are getting scrunched in boxes somewhere it may be time to do something about them. Put the pictures in archival photo albums or have them scanned into a digital format so they won’t fade away. Or put some on the wall. Other family members may cherish having some of the pictures. Display a china plate you love. Use a piece of furniture instead of storing it.
  • We were worried about a fire ruining memorabilia so we had some of the pictures and documents copied to put on the wall and put the originals in a fire proof safe.
  • Pictures that are duplicates, out of focus, of something you don’t even recognize or don’t bring up any fond memories you may consider letting go of. If you have older relatives have them tell you the stories.
  • You can ask yourself if something fits into your current lifestyle and goals. People can hang onto only so much of their past before it impedes on their present.
  • If there are collections you enjoy, they can be in a curio cabinet instead of in a box. Or on shelves on the walls. See what of your parents or loved ones can be incorporated into what you already have.
  • Things you won’t use, don’t like, or bring up bad memories are good candidates for being decluttered.
  • Work on not feeling guilty about letting go of someone else’s possessions. They bought them because they like them. That doesn’t mean you have to like them as well.  They are not in these possessions; the memories are in your heart.
  • Junk is junk whether it’s yours or theirs. My son had so many little metal pieces, parts to I don’t know what, and broken toys. I didn’t need to keep any of that.
  • Old magazines are usually archived so you might want to sell or let go of them.
  • Is the stuff bringing you closer to the life you want or further from it?

You don’t have to let go of clutter all at once. Be gentle with yourself. You may start by making one pass through of things that don’t have much emotional attachment. Then the next time through you realize you don’t need or want a few more things. Each time you declutter, you let go of more because you enjoy the freeing effect of having more space to live your life.

You find throughout your life and different transitions you will want to declutter. It isn’t a one-time event. You continue to bring in and let go as you grow and create a life you want.

Vintage photo posted by ozfan
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