I often get asked, “What kind of clients typically call you for organizing help?” The answer is about 1/3 of our clients are seniors or those with health problems, 1/3 are busy professionals and the remaining third are those who are chronically disorganized. But there is another common factor that my clients often have. I am getting more and more calls from those who have lost a loved one and need help sorting through their loved ones belongings. This week 3 out of 6 of our clients had lost a loved one, and my heart goes out to each and every one of them.

Client A lost both his parents who were elderly, and needed help going through all their belongings in preparation of putting their home up for sale.
Client B lost her husband to cancer. He was only 53 years old.
Client C’s roommate passed away and I believe she was in her thirties.

After losing a loved one, we go through a series of emotions including sadness, overwhelm, and loneliness.

Sorting through the personal belongings of your loved one can be extremely overwhelming, so here are a few tips to help you with the process.

1. If you are not ready, don’t do it – If you are not pressed for time, then take your time going through the items. Wait until you are emotionally ready.

2. Ask for help – don’t be shy about asking for help. It can be very overwhelming when making decisions on what to keep and what not to, so reach out for help. If you don’t want to ask friends or family members to help you, then consider hiring a professional organizer. PO’s can help you with the decision process, as well as be there for emotional support.

3. Be thorough – Everyone is different during this process, but most people are not excited about going through every little item. But make sure you do because you never know what you might find. I once found a lot of money (over a thousand dollars) stuffed into old papers. My client was very happy with that find.

4. If you don’t want it, ask family and friends if they do – If you come across items that you don’t have room for or don’t want, ask family and friends if they may be interested in them. You may be surprised at what they want.

5. Your loved one would not want you to be drowning in their stuff – I see this often, especially when a parent passes away. Some of my clients have boxes and boxes of their parents stuff and have a hard time parting with them. Please keep in mind, your parents would not want you to have a full basement, garage or home with all their stuff. They would not want you to be overwhelmed by all the stuff. They would want you to let the stuff go.

6. Selling items – when it comes to selling items, there are many different ways to do so ex. Estate sale, auctioneers, antique dealers, on-line auctions, you sell the items etc. Make sure to do your research on how to sell your loved ones items.

7. Memories – Letting go of loved one’s items can be difficult to do, but keep in mind, they are possessions. You will always have memories of your loved one, whether you have their possessions or not. It is ok to keep some items, but you don’t need to keep them all. If there is an item that brings happy memories to you, but it takes up a lot of room, and you really don’t need it, consider taking a picture of it. Pictures take up a lot less space.

Going through a loved ones belongings who has passed away can be tough. It can be very overwhelming, tedious and exhausting. Don’t forget to reach out for help.

Until next time,

Kathy McEwan is a professional organizer and owner of Second Set of Hands. If you would like more information on sorting through a loved one’s possessions, or home/office organizing, feel free to Contact Us.

*** If you would like to join our free Facebook group called Organizing For Success, feel free to go to www.facebook.com/groups/organizeforsuccess and ask to join. We would love to see you there!

6 replies
  1. Janet Barclay
    Janet Barclay says:

    When my mom passed away (20+ years ago), I wanted to keep everything, but little by little I’ve been able to let some of it go. You have to be ready, as you say, and that takes time.

    • Kathy McEwan
      Kathy McEwan says:

      Janet, I am so sorry to hear of the passing of your mom. Yes, it takes time and not everyone is the same when it comes to letting things go. Sounds like you took your time and that is great.

  2. Linda Samuels
    Linda Samuels says:

    Oh, Kathy! I SO relate to this post and your excellent list of boundaries and suggestions. I’ve both helped clients and gone through this personally on more than one occasion. The number one takeaway that jumped out at me is to reach out for help. The process IS overwhelming because it’s so tied up with emotions. Family, friends, and professionals that are offering to help or available for hire will make all the difference. The other piece of advice that resonated with me was about allowing yourself to let go of your loved one’s possessions because they wouldn’t want you to be overwhelmed with their stuff. The memories will remain (or at least we hope they will.) Wonderful, timely piece. Your clients are so lucky to have your time, patience, support and understanding.

  3. Seana Turner
    Seana Turner says:

    It really is so important to go through everything. I’ve had similar experiences to your $1K find. The inclination is to just “pitch the whole box,” but that really isn’t a good idea. If there is time pressure, you can always tackle the furniture and larger items, and move boxes into a holding location until you can conduct a slow review. I also agree with Janet, that it is okay to keep those pieces of memorabilia, especially in the short term. Over time, the emotional connection to an object may wane, and that makes it easier to let go. It is important that POs not pressure people to get rid of things they really need to grasp for awhile.

  4. Jackie
    Jackie says:

    My Dad just went to a nursing home and my Mom had passed almost 2 years ago, anyways my Dad told me to take things, and my apartment is small, and I’m looking at boxes and bins and trying to go through things, but find myself starting one and not finishing and starting another. And I do feel overwhelmed but I don’t want to have boxes where I feel as if I am walking through a maze, and I think if I should get rid of my things to make room to keep my parents things. I’m just so confused. I am an only child with my parents. They have children from a previous marriage, but no one understands how emotionally and mentally exhausting it can make us.

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