3 Questions for Handling a Loved One's Things After They Die


After my great-grandmother passed away, our family gathered to sort through her things and determine who would take what, what to donate, etc. It was an odd experience, being surrounded by all her things but knowing she was not there.

While it seems obvious that we are not our stuff, it becomes much harder to separate a person and their possessions once they are gone. Each items takes on extra significance and can feel like a way to maintain connection. Giving up items may feel like giving up the person. The very idea of tossing something can be full of guilt and fear.

If you are in the process of sorting through a loved one's belongings, here are some questions for working through these memory & emotion filled items:

1. What would I enjoy looking at or using on a regular basis?

Is there something you can integrate into your life and enjoy?

2. Will I be able to give this item the love and respect I feel it deserves?

A memento of your loved one should have a place of value and be cared for properly. Not forgotten in a storage unit or stashed away in a box in the garage. If you realize you can't or won't be able to do so - consider giving it to other relatives who might be able to or donating it to a local charity.

3. What are other options for displaying or using this item?

Be creative. Just because this item was used or displayed in one way doesn't mean that you have to use or display it in the same way. In his book, It's All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff, Peter Walsh suggests cutting a piece from a well-worn garment and framing it alongside a photo of your loved one wearing the item and a short explanation/story.

Choose wisely, allow yourself to let go of the things that don't really fit your life and enjoy the items that do. Hold on to the things that you are happy to see and fill you with good memories (not guilt). Those are the keepsakes and memories worth keeping.