When a loved one dies, one of the most difficult tasks you may have to take on is clearing out their home. It can be a difficult and emotional time, but it’s also an important step in the grieving process and there are ways to make it easier to handle.
The art of death cleaning
The first way is to do what you can now to make it easier for your loved ones. In Sweden, there’s a tradition called ‘doestaedning’ or ‘death cleaning’, which involves getting rid of unwanted possessions while you’re still alive.
Decluttering has become big business here in the UK, as many of us strive to live more sustainable and minimalist lives. But decluttering also has a much bigger impact on our families when we pass away, as they will inevitably have less ‘stuff’ to clear.
Death cleaning is described as a ‘gentle art’; it can be very empowering and there is no need to rush the process.
There will be things you realise you don’t need and can donate to a local charity – anything from clothes to excess vases (things you don’t even think about that take up space) – and then items you want to keep in the family and can offer out to people now rather than leaving them to have the discussion after you’ve passed; this could be a piece of furniture, or even jewellery.
You should of course make a will, but can also really help your family out by talking to beneficiaries about the items in your possession. It’s a sad fact that many family feuds stem from arguments over items going missing, or indecision over who should get what. For anything not specifically mentioned in your will, think about having those conversations now with the relevant people to save stress for them later down the line.
The second way to make this process easier is to consider timing. We all have emotional attachment to inanimate objects; some of us struggle to let anything go, while others are happy to keep one or two things that remind them of the person they have lost.
It’s strange to think that a teacup or everyday watch can embody a loved one once they pass; but items like this can, and do. By waiting until you are emotionally ready, parting with a loved one’s possessions will feel like the right thing to do, rather than a secondary loss.
Doing it by the book
The next way is all about making sure everything is kept clear between family members. When someone dies, the distribution of their estate is placed in the hands of the executor.
Assets are distributed in accordance with the terms of the will, but when it comes to all of the smaller items that aren’t in the will, it’s sensible for the executor to put measures in place to ensure each family member can agree what is happening to each item.
The best way to do this is to go around the property and make an inventory of everything inside. Then you can sort items into categories such as; throw away, donate to charity and keep, ready for everyone to get together and make the final decisions.
If you jointly decide to sell some items, it’s sensible to keep a receipt book of all of the proceeds so that you can refer to it if questions are later raised.
The perfect keepsake
Finally, there are some lovely ways of making your loved one’s possessions into perfect keepsakes. For example, you may have a selection of their ties, which can be made into a cushion cover, or a shirt into a teddy bear.
You may want to create a memory box of possessions that you wish to keep, such as photos, certificates, newspaper cuttings and birthday cards.
Sometimes it can be as simple as keeping their old watch on your bedside table next to a photo. Do whatever works for you and, most importantly, take your time.