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Short and Sweet Summary: Deciding to remove your deceased spouse’s belongings is a tough job. It takes a tremendous effort to finally make a decision about what to remove and how to do it. However, there are ways to mentally prepare and process the job to help you in the best way possible.
You know that eventually you have to tackle one of the most gut-wrenching jobs of life post-loss.
Clearing out your husband’s stuff.
What do you keep after your spouse dies? How do you decide what do you do with a dead person’s belongings?
It’s a shitty job. Overwhelming doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling of sorting and reducing one’s life to a pile of “stuff.”
But you have stuff. And it’s important to clear out at least some of the stuff. Why? Because it’s part of your healing process. And because other people might enjoy the things you no longer need or find useful.
Some widows dig in right away and start packing and rearranging. Others wait weeks or months, maybe even years, before they begin. There’s no “right” way to declutter after a death. The only thing that matters is that you do it in your own time frame when it feels right for you.
However, there are ways to prepare and process the job to help you in the best way possible. If you mentally prepare yourself first, it might just make the task a little easier.
Are you ready?
DECIDE IF YOU WANT HELP
You might be the type who is comfortable identifying what to keep or discard after your spouse dies. Maybe you don’t need any assistance and can sort through the piles like a pro.
But, maybe you need help. The overwhelming task might be too overwhelming to begin. In that case, you need to call in reinforcements. There’s no shame in asking for help and your friends or family might be honored to assist you in the uncomfortable process.
The effort it takes to remove your husband’s stuff must be acknowledged. This is not an easy job. And, it’s not a job that can realistically be done in one day or even one week.
Again, depending on how you approach the task will determine how long it takes. If you decide to go solo it could take longer than if you convince friends to help.
Either way you need to pace yourself. Take it one day at a time.
There is no time limit, other than the one that’s self-imposed.
Because sorting through your husband’s things is such a monumental task, it’s important to separate what’s staying and what’s going.
The best way to sort through his stuff is to create piles. You can keep some things and donate or sell others. There will probably be some things that are too old, stained, worn, broken, or mismatched to keep. These items will, unfortunately, have to get thrown away.
If you’re like me you might not be able to actually throw his things in a trash can. It’s quite traumatic. When you’re done sorting, ask a friend to take the trash pile. Your friend can throw this stuff away at his or her house or somewhere far away from where you can’t see the items.
If we have to play little tricks on our minds, so be it.
Anyway, you want to sort things into one of four piles:
The keep pile might start out as the biggest pile. That’s OK. It’s hard to commit to getting rid of things. But give yourself the option of redoing the piles as many times as necessary. You will eventually get to the point where you’re comfortable transferring things into the donate or sell piles.
Click here if you need help figuring out the best places to donate your things.
GET RID OF GUILT
Your husband wouldn’t scold you for getting rid of these things. He wouldn’t say you’re doing it wrong. Or that you didn’t love him enough because you threw away his stained Detroit Tigers t-shirt.
If the self-talk in your head uses any words like the following, it’s guilt and fear talking.
- I should have
- how could you
- why didn’t you
This is a hard job, my widow peeps. Getting ready to remove your deceased spouse’s belongings and following through on the task takes tremendous determination. Please don’t add to the difficulty by putting undue stress on yourself for thinking that you’re somehow doing it wrong.
There is no right or wrong way. Only your way.
Will you make mistakes and give away a KitchenAid stand mixer because your husband loved to bake but you swore you’d never make another stupid ass cupcake again? But now that you have gotten your baking groove back (years later) you wish you had that damn mixer?
Yep. You will. And it’s OK.
You might give too many things away. Or sell something you wish you didn’t sell. So be it. We all make mistakes.
Don’t let guilt and fear control the process. If guilt works its way into your brain, tell it to fuck off by repeating some of the following suggested mantras.
REHEARSE THESE MANTRAS
You might need to get a few good mantras in your repertoire before you begin. Repeating these mantras will help you when the overwhelm gets to be too much.
Because let’s be real. Intellectually you know it’s all just “stuff” but emotionally you’re attached to everything because everything belonged to your husband. It’s the emotional part that stops you in your tracks.
When you’re ready to remove your deceased spouse’s belongings, ask the following questions, or repeat these mantras so you can make intellectual instead of emotional decisions.
Does it bring me joy?
Marie Kondo created the KonMari method of organizing one’s home by getting rid of physical items that do not bring joy into your life. One mantra or question you can ask yourself when your separating items into piles is does this bring me joy?
Remember the question isn’t about your husband or whether the item brought him joy. It’s about whether the item brings you joy right now. If it doesn’t bring you joy, place it in the sell, donate or trash pile.
Or consider taking pictures of items that have meaning, but you don’t necessarily want to keep. You can create a keepsake book of your pictures as a way to honor his memory.
Let it go
Channel your inner Elsa and remind yourself it’s OK to let it go.
His belongings don’t define you. They don’t even define your husband. Fear may be speaking to you here too and trying to convince you that you’re getting rid of something you might need later. Or telling you that you’re obligated to keep it. Don’t let fear worm its way into your brain. Keep reminding yourself it’s OK to let things go.
I don’t need to be perfect
Anytime you allow yourself to be imperfect, you allow yourself to grow. This cleaning out process is one of the first in a series of growth processes you’ll experience as a widow. The desire for perfection controls your emotional decisions. If you keep telling yourself you don’t need to be perfect or make perfect decisions, you’ll begin making intellectual decisions instead.
DECIDE ON AN INCENTIVE
Why not give yourself an incentive for getting through the excruciating task of sorting your husband’s stuff? Aren’t dreaded tasks easier when you know that there’s a motive for finishing?
What’s it going to take to help you complete the process and have something to look forward to?
Make a list of ten incentives and narrow it down to the top 1-3 things you can reward yourself with for completing the suck-ass job.
WIDOW WRAP UP
Deciding to remove your deceased spouse’s belongings is a tough job. One of the worst.
The emotional roller-coaster will likely make your head spin or make you feel sick to your stomach. And guilt will try to convince you that you’re a horrible person if you don’t keep everything. It takes a tremendous effort to finally decide what things to remove and how to do it.
Do yourself a favor and mentally prepare before you tackle the punishing job to help you in the best way possible.
You’ve got this.