Decluttering After A Loved One Dies

Barbara recently lost her husband of 45 years.

“What am I going to do with all of his things”, she asked.

Sometimes when a death is expected, a lot of sorting occurs before passing. People get the chance to go through their belongings and distribute possessions to family and friends. There is an opportunity to throw or donate items that are no longer useful, loved or needed.

But often when death is sudden, a huge task is left to sort out possessions. This, coupled with the grieving of a loved one, can be most overwhelming. It’s an emotionally charged time. 

When To Start Dealing With Your Loved One’s Possessions

Grief is an important process that should not be rushed.

There is no right or wrong time to start decluttering. If you have the advantage of time, then I would say to start when you’re ready.

For those of you who don’t have the luxury of time to start (you may need to vacate a room, or sell the house quickly) then you may find yourself dealing with a whole range of emotions. This is a time where emotion can override intellect, so you need to have a clear plan to help keep you focused.

Letting go of the possessions does not let go of the memories

Ways To Make The Declutter Process Less Overwhelming


Make a list to help you prioritize:

  • Which areas of the house/room you need to focus on
  • Who else  can help you sort out the belongings (if you wish) 
  • Which people would be touched to receive a memento from the deceased
  • What days suit you best to start decluttering



For some a declutter project may be a small job. For bigger jobs I recommend you get the materials you need to make the declutter project as streamlined as possible:

  • Boxes, bags, storage containers
  • Markers
  • Stickers for labelling
  • Gloves and face masks (if necessary for dusty areas)
  • Tape


Going through your loved ones possessions is going to be an emotional time. 

  • Prepare yourself to be flooded with memories.
  • Prepare for tears, laughter, sadness.
  • Expect a few surprises. 
  • Prepare for the feeling of being stuck, and not able to continue. This is not unusual, and not something you can rush if you’re not ready.
  • Be kind to yourself. Allow the tears. The grief. Perhaps even the regrets. It is all part of the process.


Using the basics, let’s stick with:


  • Keeping items for yourself needs some forethought.
  • Think about your home. How much space can you allocate without cluttering your own space?
  • Realistically allocate a number of boxes for your own keepsakes and stick to it.
  • Ask yourself serious questions:, do I really need this? Am I getting sentimental? Is this a multiple of something I already own? Will this item bring me joy or create clutter?


      Toss anything that is:

  • Broken
  • Not in good working order
  • Tardy
  • In need of major repair.


  • If other family members or friends have no use for items that are in good working order then Goodwill stores will be grateful for your donations.

     Pass on to someone else

  • Consider which family members or friends would enjoy some of the items and perhaps treasure them more than you.
  • Remember – it may not be your taste, or fashion sense, but it may be someone else’s.

     Probation Box

  • Reality is that there will be items that you can not decide what to do with.
  • In order to keep you moving and focused, any item that you really struggle with can be placed in a probation box. You can then deal with it later. For more tips about how a probation box works, read this blog.

Time Frame

  • For those who don’t have the luxury of time on your side, setting a timeframe to work on the declutter project will keep you focused.
  • You may decide to commit to 2 hours a day. Or 2 days a week.
  • Have an finish date in mind. Limiting your time will help you make fast decisions and maintain momentum.

 Lastly, remember our mantra:

Move fast. Don’t Over-think. Let it go.

If you have had to deal with decluttering a deceased loved one’s belongings please comment below with your best coping strategy.



5 thoughts on “Decluttering After A Loved One Dies

  1. Pingback: Helping Seniors to Cope With the Loss of a Spouse - Fading Memories Podcast

  2. Kate Hansen says:

    I like how you mentioned that you’re going to need to be prepared emotionally because you can be flooded with memories. My grandma recently passed away and I’m going to be needing to clean out her home, but it might be too hard so I may just call a service. Thank you for the tips on how to declutter loved one’s possessions.

  3. Pingback: Decluttering After A Liked One Dies | Posts

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