Sorting Through a Loved One's Belongings After a Death

Coping with Grief / Coping with Grief : Litsa Williams

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When my grandmother died she had lived in the same house for over fifty years.  It was the house where so many memories lived . . . feeding birds in the backyard, rolling Easter eggs down the front hill, sitting on the screened-in front porch playing cards and drinking lemonade. 

In the weeks and months after she died, it was so hard to be in the house without her.  It was her house and it still felt like she should be there, just around the corner in the kitchen or in the TV room.  Every corner was filled with her life - her photo albums and books, her handwriting and her dishes; a place for everything and everything in its place.

There was a part of all of us, I think, that wanted to leave the house the way it was, like a perfect time capsule.  How could we change this house where my father grew up?  It was hard to imagine giving away a sing thing.  How could we even think of selling this house that no one else had ever owned?  This house was the only place we ever knew my grandmother. 

The answer to every question was that we couldn’t, but we had to. Just like you can’t imagine the world will go on without the person who died, yet somehow it does. You can't imagine ever moving your loved one's belongings after a death, and yet, you must. Most people don't have the luxury to leave things just as their loved one left them. And many people find, in time, that leaving their loved one's belongings fixed and unused isn't the right answer either. We would love to say take your time, do everything at your own pace, don’t rush. But sadly, the reality is that there are some items that need to get taken care of sooner rather than later and sometimes decisions--big and small--need to be made. 

So what do you do?  Each person and family is a little different, but here are some considerations and ideas on getting started when the time has come to sort through a loved one's belongings after a death.

A Note on Everyday Reminders:

One luxury we had when my grandmother died was that she lived in her own home.  Though it was difficult to walk through the door and face all of her belongings, when it got too much we could go home.  When my father died there were far fewer items to deal with, but we could not get a break from them. 

When you lose someone who lives in your home their belongings surround you.  From their toothbrush in the bathroom to their laundry in the hamper, to their books on the nightstand, to their keys by the door, everywhere you turn there is a reminder of that person.  Though some of these items may be comforting, many are just small and painful reminders of the absence in the house.  Yet often the only thing more painful than seeing these items every day may be the idea of seeing them in the trash.

If you can’t bring yourself to throw away those half-empty shampoo bottles, to-do lists, and medications, find someone who can.  Friends and extended family are often desperate to help but just don’t know how. Think of this as one way you can help them to help you. Tell them what you want to get rid of and ask them to throw it out and take the trash with them when they go, so you aren’t left staring at the trash bag.

While your friend is there, consider the “everyday reminders” that are especially distressing for you. These may be things that are particularly hard to see every day, but that you do not want to give or throw away. Grab a box or pick a room you don’t use often to put them in (or ask your friend to do it for you). These items could be anything – the scarf your wife was in the middle of knitting, your husband’s coffee mug in the cabinet, that dirty laundry basket in the laundry room, your daughter’s lacrosse stick on the porch – whatever.  Put them somewhere out-of-the-way until you are ready to face sorting through belongings.

Considerations for Getting Started: The 4 Ps

Like so many things in grief, there is no right way or wrong way to approach sorting through loved one's belongings after a death. But one thing that is almost always helpful is to make a plan.  Bagging everything up and trashing it without thinking it through?  Not a good idea.  Avoiding going through items for years because you just don’t want to face it?  Also not a good idea!  Whenever you decide you are ready to start planning, consider the following questions:

PARTICIPANTS: Do you want to do it alone or with support from others? 

If you plan to sort with others, who?  Think of close family members, but also consider friends who may be helpful.  Do you have a friend who is a good organizer?  Or one who is good at helping you make decisions?  If you are putting it off, tell a friend a goal date to get started so they can help you face the task.

PEOPLE:  If there are people who can’t be present, what items do they want you to keep?

Make sure to ask in advance and be very specific.  Throwing or giving away items that were of value to other family members can become a source of conflict.  Often one item that has little meaning to one family member can have significant sentimental value to another family member.  Don’t assume you know what might be important to other members of the family.

PRIORITIZE and PLAN: What order do you want to go through things? 

Sometimes the hardest part of sorting through a loved one's belongings death is just knowing where to start. Try your best to think through a loose order for approaching things dependent on priority.  For example, if your spouse owned a small business or took care of all the household bills, going through the office first will likely be a priority.  Room-by-room often makes sense, but decide what will work best for you.

Though the practical items may have deadlines and consequences if not quickly addressed, equally as important is to prioritize those which will help maintain your sanity.  That will vary from person to person.  Some people are going to feel like they are losing it if they can’t bag up everything immediately and start getting rid of it.  Other people are going to want to keep everything in its place for as long as possible. 

PACE YOURSELF: How much time will you spend per “session” going through items? 

Sorting through a loved one's belongings after a death can be an overwhelming process. Keep in mind you will probably stumble upon objects you haven’t seen in a long time and continuous reminders of the person you’ve lost.  It may be tempting to want to do it all at once, but taking breaks is important if it gets too overwhelming

Save for Me, Save for Others, Sell, Donate, Throw Away

Now that you are ready to start, keep five categories in mind:
  • save for me
  • save for others
  • sell
  • donate
  • throw away

You may want to get color-coded Post-It notes to place on larger items reflecting these categories and start bag/boxes with the five categories for the smaller items.  Almost any item should fit in one of these categories.  Focus on being realistic.  Though it was dad’s favorite suit, if no one in your family is going to wear it, it probably does not belong in a keep box.  Though your grandmother may have cleaned and kept every margarine container she every used (like mine did) they probably are going to need to be recycled.

Possible 6th category: The Not Sure Box

You may want a sixth category for items you are not sure about.  It can be easy to hit a block if you get stuck on an item you really don’t know what to do with.  If this happens, put it in the “not sure” box and keep moving. Set a limit to your “not sure” box so it doesn’t become out of control. For example, your limit is 10 items, once there are 10 in the box you will need to revisit something and make a decision on it before you can add something new.

belongings after a death

Potential Challenges when sorting through belongings after a death:

The Keep Pile

Ultimately several challenges arise when these boxes start to fill.  First, the keep piles become huge.  It is so hard to part with belongings after a death. Especially when it feels like they're all we have left.  When the keep-pile has gotten out of control, consider the following:

1) Do you have space for it?
2) Have you kept multiples?

If your wife collected dragonflies or salt and pepper shakers it may be impossible to imagine parting with that collection.  Consider keeping just a few favorites, sharing others with friends and family, and selling or donating those that remain.

3) Can you take a photograph of the item?

Some items will be extremely painful to part with, no matter how much the rational part of your brain tells you that you need to.  Consider photographing items that are hard to part with, so you can create a memory book of photos.  For especially meaningful items, such as a house your family may need to sell, consider bringing in a professional photographer to ensure that you get high quality images.

4) Can you create something meaningful from a subset of items?

Keeping your sister's clothes when no one will wear them or books when no one will read them may not make sense.  Consider ways you can keep and display a meaningful subset items while letting the rest go.  A more extensive blog post on this is coming, but one example of this may be taking swatches of your loved ones favorite clothing items and creating something to keep in your home, like a quilt.   If your loved one had hundreds of books, perhaps frame the title pages from her favorites in high quality frames and hang them in your home.  You get the idea.

Selling and Donating

The sell and donate piles may become overwhelming.  It can be hard to know where to donate so many items that we want to ensure go to a good place and a good cause.  It is also hard to know how to go about selling items.  Read our post on how to go about selling and donating items, including a list of great organizations to which you can donate items.


When cleaning out my grandmother’s house we found dozens of letters my grandparents had written back and forth when my grandfather was in the war.  I found a newspaper my grandmother saved from the day I was born.  We found more photo albums than we could count.  All of this can be overwhelming.  Be ready to take breaks.  Be ready to put things into a keep box and sort them later – we knew we were keeping those letters, but during the sorting process was not the time to read them, no matter how much we wanted to!

Good Luck and Get Going!

Our best advice is to approach the experience of sorting through a loved one's belongings after a death with patience and flexibility. If doing it with others, surround yourself with people who love and support you. Though this can be an overwhelming task, it can also be healing. Though there may be tears, there will likely be just as much memory sharing and laughter.

We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.

We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.

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187 Comments on "Sorting Through a Loved One's Belongings After a Death"

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  1. Tianna  April 19, 2024 at 8:20 am Reply

    Hello –

    My 19 year old son passed 11/11/21 from an accidental fentanyl overdose. He passed at a treatment center and was not found in his room for four days. The police report and medical examiner report both state there was a diary/sketch book and they took some pictures and left the book with his other belongings. When I finally received the report and read this I knew the book was not in all of his belongings given back to us of his. So I called and spoke with the Director and they say they can’t find it and they are sorry. This is not acceptable to me. I did receive a disc with the 6 pictures they took last week from medical examiner. I am just heartbroken I do not have his book containing the last days, months, of his life. I do have an attorney and I have an appointment next week. I just felt like I needed to type this out and share my feelings openly. His death has changed me and I feel still like it happened yesterday. 🙁

    • Litsa  April 26, 2024 at 8:58 am Reply

      Ah Tianna, I am so incredibly sorry. It must be so painful to know that existed and not to have it. I am sure his death had changed you, as grief does – we cannot lose someone who meant everything to us and not be forever changed. One thing I would encourage you to consider, from working with many people who have been in a similar space to you seeking a particular item, is what you hoped it would bring you and what you are grieving not to have it. This can be important for a few reasons – first, to grieve the secondary loss of not having this item, you must really understand all it represents. And also, it is important to know what we think it would bring. Often we hope it will ease the immense pain. Though we can never know (unless it is found) what it will bring or not bring you, I can share that for many when things are found their is a brief relief of the recovery of the item, but it often doesn’t fundamentally change the deep pain of grief. I imagine that one thing you may hope for is just a closeness and connection to your son’s thoughts in those last months – I am heartbroken for you that you don’t have them through that sketchbook. I hope you can find space to cconnect with the many other points of connection you had to him over the years of his life. It is not replacement for what you don’t have from the book, but sometimes when our focus on what is missing consumes our energy and thoughts, we miss taking time with the other things that live in our heart and memories. Sending many good thoughts.

  2. Dale  February 21, 2023 at 7:05 am Reply

    I’ve started to need to face my mortality, won’t go into reasons as that’s not the point, but I know that when I am gone, my wife will want to keep everything. We have a lot of stuff but I don’t want it to become something that could lead to her hoarding things.
    For example, I have a lot of teddies from when I was a child and we occasionally pick up new ones when we go on holiday as keep sakes. When I’m gone, the thought of being buried with any is horrifying as the thought of them being buried is terrifying. I also feel like she wouldn’t want them being donated in case someone bought them as dog toys and they got destroyed. Is there a way we can “retire” the teddies or some such?
    I also have a lot of books which I love, but she has no interest in. I don’t want to just get rid of them as they’re a lifetimes collection, what might you recommend?
    I want to leave a plan for her so that she won’t stall. I want her to enjoy her life and not feel crowded by me if that makes sense. Once I am gone, she still needs to enjoy life.

    • Gem TV Usa  December 19, 2023 at 6:56 am Reply

      Sorting through a loved one’s belongings after their passing can be emotionally challenging. Here are some steps and considerations that might help you navigate this process:

      Give Yourself Time:
      Take it Slow: There’s no rush. Give yourself time to grieve and process your emotions before diving into this task.
      Seek Support: It’s okay to ask for help. Invite family or friends to assist you; their presence can provide comfort and support.
      Practical Steps:
      Start Small: Begin with less emotionally charged items like clothes or paperwork before moving to more sentimental belongings.
      Organize: Create categories like “keep,” “donate,” “sell,” and “unsure.” This will help you sort items more efficiently.
      Respect Boundaries: Be mindful of others’ feelings and attachments to certain items, especially if you’re sorting with family members.
      Consider Timelines: Some items might need immediate attention (like bills or legal documents), while others can be dealt with later.
      Emotional Support:
      Memories and Sentiments: Expect a flood of memories. Take breaks when needed and allow yourself to reminisce.
      Handling Emotions: It’s natural to feel a range of emotions – sadness, nostalgia, or even guilt. Be patient and gentle with yourself.
      Personal Items: Certain personal belongings might be challenging to go through. Consider keeping a few meaningful items and finding a special way to honor their memory.
      Disposal or Distribution:
      Respect Wishes: If the deceased expressed specific wishes or instructions for their belongings, try your best to honor them.
      Donations or Gifts: Consider donating usable items to charity or gifting special belongings to friends or family members who would appreciate them.
      Legal and Financial Matters: Consult legal professionals regarding wills, estate settlements, or any legal obligations related to property or assets.
      Taking Care of Yourself:
      Self-Care: Engage in activities that bring you comfort and relaxation amidst this emotional process.
      Support Networks: Seek help from counselors, support groups, or therapists if the emotional toll feels overwhelming.
      Closure: Find ways to commemorate your loved one, whether through a memorial, planting a tree, or creating a memory book.
      Time to Heal:
      Remember, healing is a gradual process. Allow yourself the space and time needed to cope with your loss. Be patient and kind to yourself as you navigate this challenging period of grief and adjustment.

    • Jeri  December 30, 2023 at 9:44 am Reply

      A little late responding……I found in WV an organization called Appalachian Prison Book Project and have donated several boxes of my son’s books. I could not donate them wholesale to Goodwill, or my local library, not knowing they might be discarded. This was very hard, because we shared a love of books, so I only donated ones I guessed were not his favorites.

  3. Christy  August 30, 2022 at 10:06 pm Reply

    My Dad died due to complications of a bad car wreck in November 2021. My Mom had died from Alzheimer’s in July 2018. The impact of the fact that they were both gone was almost too hard to endure. I have only went through half of their belongings. It is absolutely one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I feel like I am robbing them everytime I attempt to sort through their belongings. Unfortunately, the biggest thing that has been slowing me down is the fact that I will start to get emotional as I look through everything. Deciding what to keep and what to get rid of has been a very slow process. To a degree, I think I am still in denial about my Dad being gone because I think the longer I put it off, the longer I can ignore the fact that he is gone, now, too. It has been much harder than I ever could have anticipated. Even though I am 49 years old, I feel like I have finally grown up because I am completely on my own, for the first time in my life.💔

    • S.K.  October 21, 2022 at 11:37 am Reply

      I know just what you mean when you say you are finally an adult. I’m 44, have lost both of my parents to cancer. We are moving next week and I’m trying to go through my mom’s things. It’s very hard and I feel like I want to keep everything

      • Jackie Birchfield  October 29, 2022 at 3:59 pm

        I really know what you mewn. My sister and I lost both of our parents also to cancer. Within 8 months of each other. And we have sold one of the houses and one of the houses is one that we grew up in. It is very sad and very hard to part with alot of the things. I know exactly how you feel and what you are going through.

  4. Susie  August 22, 2022 at 7:28 pm Reply

    This is a helpful post. Although I didn’t thoroughly read through it top to bottom I will go back to it. My Mom passed away on Nov 9, 2021. She lived in a condo that we rented to her so I have the luxury of taking my time to clean out her things. I’ve not been able to do much at all. Anytime I go there to fetch her mail and water her plants I just cry. I tend to avoid going all together because it’s like a slap of reality that she is gone. I still can’t believe it.

    My mom LOVED to shop, especially for clothes. She has dozens of really lovely tops that I just don’t know what to do with. At first I thought I might sell or donate them but I don’t think I can. They’re not my style now, but maybe they will be in 25 years when I’m older. I’m afraid of getting rid of them (and lots of other things) for fear that I’ll regret it years down the road. But it doesn’t make sense to hold on to them for that long. I was thinking of putting them in storage. I do particularly like the idea of making a quilt out of them and might explore that. That way I have something that I can use and treasure.

    It’s coming up on a year that she’s gone and I’m wondering if sometime a switch will just flip and I’ll find space in my brain to go through her things. I think so, but I just don’t know.

  5. Taylor H  April 29, 2022 at 4:44 pm Reply

    My dad just died and he had a lot of personal items. Thanks for the tips about sorting through belongings. I’ll be sure to find a professional to help with the legal side.

  6. Greg  April 15, 2022 at 1:27 am Reply

    Thanks. A well thought out article.

    My wife, who passed away about a year ago was great at record keeping, that is she wrote down what meals we had, she meticulously sorted out photos, digitised them and put them in order, and she recorded many hours of oral history.
    She had a very interesting life.

    I’m now enjoying putting these various records up into a website I’ve created purely for that purpose.

    I’m also writing up many of her stories and matching them with the appropriate photos. I’m finding it a great outlet, and it makes me feel that her stories live on a bit longer.

    Understandably, some websites don’t allow links to websites, as an anti-spam measure, but I will try to link to the TrennaMahney site anyway, so you can get an idea of what I’m trying to achieve.

    It also keeps me busy! The site is [link redacted]

  7. Peter  March 20, 2022 at 12:24 am Reply

    I really miss my Dad and I still have a lot of his stuff around and just can’t get myself to let go of them. I already have a necklace for Dad’s cremains and I still feel him around everywhere. I pray that wherever he is, I hope he is at peace.

  8. Kathryn M  February 17, 2022 at 12:05 am Reply

    My fiancé passed away three days ago he was ill for two years with Cancer. He was very successful in his career and had a large collection of art and items but also he was a hoarder. Not the order that you would see on TV but he would have stacks and stacks of things in each room and a lot of it collections of different items
    He was previously married and had been For over 20 years but the issue is when he moved into the home a lot of his belongings in the basement we’re never cracked open he simply left them
    At some point we were going to go through them when he felt he had enough energy and then when the time came he was in denial and didn’t want to look at anything
    So even though it has only been three days I decided to just start sorting his huge home filled with stuff in one small area I started with a four drawer dresser lots of business cards sunglasses old medicine socks and then came across private pictures With his than wife and it upset me
    The crazy thing is he love me and we were planning a future and he got sick. I know he had a life he lived a long life was married dated etc. he picked me he love me treated me wonderful and yet why should I care that I come across something like this?
    My question to you is that I’ve only gone through this one dresser and I don’t know how to address my feelings as I have to go through everything
    How do you separate yourself from who they were years ago or what they might have in their personal clothing drawer without being upset or surprised?
    You must give some advice to me since all the advice you’ve given to people has been so realistic and honest I appreciate your help

    • christopher  June 14, 2023 at 7:59 am Reply







  9. Renee Peters  January 31, 2022 at 9:49 am Reply

    My dad passed away a year ago and my mom just last month. I was named trustee and the personal representative, so it gives me the authority to say who gets what. My folks kept a lot over the 60 years they were married; my brother has helped go through some of their things with me, but I feel we have let my nieces and nephews in too soon. I am feeling that I should have looked through their things more before letting others choose and pick. I feel guilty if I take too much, but upset seeing things go. It is soo overwhelming, I feel like some are claiming too many items, and some items I wish I had claimed first. I don’t have the luxury of time; we have to sell the house on our own within 3 months and then put it on the market if we can’t because my folks were on the estate recovery program and we owe the state too much money that can be only paid off when we sell my folks house.

  10. Christy  January 2, 2022 at 9:05 pm Reply

    My Dad just died from the injuries that he sustained from a head-on collision, in November ’21. My sister and I have been cleaning out his house. It is very hard to do this when he grew up and renovated the house that all of us lived in. He was 76 years old and saved everything. He saved filing cabinets and boxes worth of copies of every bill that he ever paid. He saved stuff that he never used and stuff that did not work. In other words, my Dad was a “pack rat” but extremely organized. Of course, what is the worst thing of all is the fact that my sister and me grew up in that house. Everywhere we look, there are memories and ,in turn, reminders of the fact that both my Mom (who died in ’19) and my Dad are gone. I am still in shock about my Dad’s passing but, I am coming out of it as I sort through all of his belongings. Most of it my sister and I don’t want so that will be donated to local thriftshops. However, we are finding that a good chunk of it we could use for ourselves. Our Mom and Dad had a cat named Isaac, for 9 years, so we are going to take him in. My Dad loved Isaac and I have no doubt in my mind, that Isaac loved him even more! In the end, I just want to make my Dad proud of me. I am handling his financial affairs and cleaning out his house. In a way, I feel like I am doing this to honor the responsible man that he was. I feel, in my heart, that he approves. I miss you Dad.💔

  11. Hamta  December 27, 2021 at 8:20 am Reply

    I have had the luxury of time to deal with many of my late husband’s belongings.

  12. moferferi  December 17, 2021 at 3:14 pm Reply

    I understand how you feel. I was my mother’s caregiver, except that I moved into her home. I also feel paralyzed in the house.

    • Gregory S Torzillo  January 6, 2022 at 12:20 am Reply

      Hi there
      I was looking for help with grief when removing loved ones things and found your post.
      I spent 16 years in my mothers house. I moved in when she turned 70 to get set up for her years to come i lost her 2 years 8 months ago and thought i was strong enough take her clothes away today. But was certainly not, i feel like i should have locked the closet shut for good,
      The grief now is so overwhelming all over again from seeing the clothes she would wear when we were together or bought together and in a pile the scent of her perfume grows stronger and stronger.
      Lucky for me i have to cats to keep me company in this quiet house.
      Every time i look for help with grief theres no advise that helps, i just thought if a realistic saying for this” Only death is the cure for grief” I wish you all the best possible
      Greg Torzillo

  13. Kathryn  December 13, 2021 at 12:55 pm Reply

    My husband and I are drafting our wills with an estate attorney. We decided to make her our executor. We don’t want to burden our family members with this job. However, if my husband and I both die at the same time, we don’t want the attorney to be the one who enters our home first to sort through our belongings. My husband doesn’t want my family, or his, to do this first/independent of each other, because he says, knowing them, whoever got there first would pick through everything and take whatever they want. We are each naming specific bequests, but what about all the other “stuff” in our home? There are many things I feel would be sentimentally important to my sisters and my sister in law to be able to keep, but that I may not be aware of before I’m gone. For example, decorative or lovingly used household items, letters/cards, books, inexpensive jewelry… in other words, the residuary items after the specific bequests. I would want these relatives to have a chance to claim these items before the executor duties result in liquidating everything into cash (which the executor refers to as the “Residuary Estate”).
    MY QUESTION: If my husband and I both die at the same time, how can I assure that my relatives have the chance to do this?

    • Litsa  December 13, 2021 at 4:14 pm Reply

      This is tricky, as next of kin rights vary depending on the state. We are not lawyers so we can’t advise on things like this. But one thing I would encourage you to do is include this request in the legal paperwork with the lawyer and then tell your relatives that you have included this in your end of life wishes. Though there may be gray area as to what is legally binding, people knowing that it is in there in advance and having that as an expectation will hopefully make it more likely that it will happen. A lawyer could better advise you, but just on a human/family interaction level, I imagine if you send a group email to all the relatives who might be involved outlining this wish, if they all know that the others have received something in writing (and that others would have that email to point back to should someone ignore the wishes, it may help people to better honor and respect.

      • Kathryn  December 14, 2021 at 3:05 pm

        Thanks so much, Litsa! Your advice sounds encouraging and realistic. It’s been hard for me to make some of these decisions because I’m having a hard time imagining how things actually happen when the time comes. But, I know I need to go ahead and decide, so I can include my wishes and complete my will. I just want it to be done right, so I don’t have to go back and make changes any time soon due to not having given everything the consideration I should… At the same time, I know I HAVE to at least have a will in place.

  14. asre.hajar  December 8, 2021 at 1:36 pm Reply

    Maybe I am one of those people who are against selling the souvenirs of a loved one …

  15.  June 21, 2021 at 1:59 pm Reply

    Thank you so much for this article! My grandmother passed away February 2013 and it’s been rough on my mom who lived the closest to my grandmother. My mom’s two sisters are too far away to help and my mom gets very overwhelmed when we start to try and help to clean things up. I think the memories can be overwhelming along with the amount of stuff that was accumulated over the years.

    Is there a certain time frame that you have to sell a house once a loved one passes?? My grandmother passed in February and we’ve been told to have the house up on the market by November. Is that too soon, or the standard amount of time to have things cleaned out? I’m not sure of the protocol. Thanks again!!

  16. Ann Ayres Hencinski  April 28, 2021 at 7:26 pm Reply

    My Mother at age 80 fell & broke a hip. Being a nurse, although I lived out of state provided the additional care needed. The hip didn’t heal properly so a year later it had to be replaced. She was scared and asked if I would promise to be with her for surgery, rehab, and then after discharge promise to take care of her. I followed her request, left my family in VA to care for her in PA. I stayed with her for over 5 months. A year later received a call from my sister telling me that Mom fell & broke her other hip. I arrived at hospital, her pulmonary status caused the surgery to be postponed until crisis passed. Stayed with her, even through the nights until she was finally cleared. Again, I stayed with her through post op, then Rehab. Facility, until able to be discharged. Again, stayed and cared for her for months. She refused to leave her home, or come home with me. Hired a companion, set up meals, scheduled Home health visits. I drove from VA to PA to check on her, stay with her several days on end. But when told I should move in with her, it was impossible for me. I have a sister that lived 2 hrs. away, but only visited… “couldn’t do what I could.” She was named POA, had to deal with financial position my Mother put herself in without our knowledge. Over $25,000 in credit card debt alone. The Reverse Mortgage she took, without asking any advise. And her Medical costs. I helped financially, found out she was entitled to VA benefits. Told my sister, she made an appt. with VA Benefits Office I wasn’t told about, even though I was at my Mom’s with her. When told who she was meeting with, asked why she was going by herself..”two heads are better than one” I said, she replied not always. Told she “was in charge” because of having POA.
    I continued traveling back & forth for about 3 yrs. During that time, my cousin in Texas suffered a severe stroke and I was asked to come not only to care for her but her live-in
    In-laws as well. While I was there, was told Mom would be going into Assisted Living!
    A decision my sister made without any discussion with me or my brother. Returned from Texas to meet at my Mom’s and talk about her decision following weekend. I arrived on Saturday, and instead of getting any details she was packing things for my Mother to take to Assisted Living Facility she chose minutes away from her home. I was in shock!
    On Mon., morning I took my Mom to dentist and when we returned home my sister was on the porch instructing me not to bother bringing her in house, just put her in the car because we’re leaving!!! I don’t think my Mother actually understood where she was going, more importantly never told she would never go back to her home.
    They left and I stood in the house alone “what do I do now?” Due to the Reverse Mortgage and the fund that were provided, well over her limit, there was a limited amount of time to get what we needed for her and take what we wanted before the Bank assumed ownership of house. She was fully aware of what my Mother wanted me to have and what was meant to go to my daughter as well. She had all my Mothers jewelry at her house (I knew from my Mother how it was to be distributed). I started packing up the stuff meant for me, my sister, living so close, would go to the house and essentially took Family heirlooms, anything she wanted… no discussion. Before I was even able to go through the house, I had some very sentimental items that I kept there, she brought in someone(?) to
    buy almost everything just to be rid of the house. Got a total amount of $2000.00 for everything left behind by my sister, including my Mom’s car!!!! She left behind my parents Wedding Album, knew exactly where it was, didn’t bother. Enormous amount of Christmas decorations, didn’t consider if my brother and I would want any of them.. never asked.
    My Mother’s bedroom suit was mine.. left to me by my Grandmother. Told me after a week or 2 she decided she could use it…. I was ok with that because I never knew how much more she took. There were specific items designated for friends, not only did she never inform them, just left behind. So hurtful. She had an Agenda… chose not to let us know what it was. Anyway, she placed my Mother in the Facility…. knowing she didn’t have enough to pay for all charges until my Mothers VA benefits were available. But, the amount designated would be retroactive from time she made application.
    She informed me of this weeks after my Mom was placed. She couldn’t afford it, made that clear, but she knew me well and I offered to help out, over & above what I chose to pay for
    all amenities offered. But, she explained I would be reimbursed as soon as VA benefits began. In total, I lent her over $10,000. Even though she lived only minutes away, she visited no more than 3 times a week…. for no longer than 10 minutes. I drove up, sometimes alone, others with my daughter or husband. My son & his wife brought her Great Grandson up to meet her… he was month’s old. She knew me & my family would always be there for her. My sister & husband owned a beach condo in Md. they went to EVERY WEEKEND.. no matter what!
    I’m sorry this is so lengthy, but I feel it should be stated so I could possibly be advised how to handle or confront her about all I’ve learned she did behind mine & my brother’s backs.
    She received a call from the Care Facility my sister needed to transfer her to at 10 AM ON Sat. AM while still at the beach that my Mother had taken a turn for the worse and should come ASAP. She never bothered to call and let me know. The facility called me around 2 PM, informed me of my Mother’s condition. Said they already notified my sister but she hadn’t arrived. I dropped everything, jumped in my car, drove the 3 hrs. arrived no later than 5:45. 10 minutes after my sister. My Mom was semi comatose, and getting worse.
    I wouldn’t let her die alone! My sister left within 15 minutes, long to remind me “she’s in charge!” Whenever she told me this, I gave no reaction. I am the oldest daughter, if she needed to “be in charge” let her. My priority was my Mom. I sat by her side until she took her last breath. I felt privileged. The nurses called to notify her and was told she would not be returning. She never tried to get in touch with me… see if I was ok.
    When it came time for me to leave, about 3 AM, I-had nowhere to go except home to VA.
    After the Funeral Home came to take my Mother back to her home town talked with my sister regarding funeral arrangements. Would meet at Funeral Home, appointed time, together. I arrived and found out she had already made the arrangements. Excluded me.
    Let it go… I was assigned to plan the breakfast following her burial. Still had contacts in my home town, and was able to plan a beautiful gathering. But, as usual, since she never asked for a bill, my husband & I just stepped up. She went back to her home immediately following and I never heard from her for weeks. A text here & there. Only 2 calls in two years. I continued to reach out, my brother as well. No interest. The 3 of us are all that’s left of our family… still don’t know where her cruelness, lack of kindness or regard for us went. My brother & I have given her enough time before attempting to confront her about her behavior, the items she took from Mom’s house without our knowledge….
    Cherished items, some from family that they brought when they immigrated from Ireland.
    We’d like to get some answers and also what she took that weren’t hers to take.
    I was never reimbursed for the money I lent her…. that’s gone. But, we want certain items returned to us, the item left to my daughter, she was fully aware of what my Mothers wishes were yet did as she chose. I do know my Mother had a Will. She showed it to me and had me read it so there wouldn’t be any questions asked. I knew she kept it in a small Lock Box at home. Since her death, was never to us. Sister claims she didn’t have one anymore. My brother & I feel we’ve given her enough time. We want to work everything out but, she difficult to even talk to..get in touch with. Won’t reply to an email, or text, if you call her and ask to talk about how we feel … “do the right thing”. She’ll just hang up the phone. What is it we can do to get her attention, how do we even get her to agree to discuss our issues and possibly get the truth so we can all move forward together?
    There’s so much I’ve shared that needs to first be processed, I’m sure.
    Can you give any advice for my brother & I …. don’t know where to turn.
    I truly appreciate your time and attention. Thank you and hope for a reply.

    • Michelle K  September 28, 2021 at 3:41 pm Reply

      I am so sorry Ann. I don’t know if you will receive this reply to any good but I suggest you have a talk with an estate or probate attorney. If there was a will, it needed to be probated or at least filed with your local court house. You would receive notice and a publication to creditors. If there was no will, notice and publication still needed to happen. If this was not done, your sister would be in violation of state probate rules. This would be a basis to make her responsible for all the things you wrote about. If she did properly probate your mom’s estate, her actions are still not without remedy. Its unlikely these heirlooms are of significant financial value (even antiques get nothing these days) but you can seek a return of specific items. POA doesn’t mean you get to disregard the wishes of the person you make decisions for. Also, did your mother specifically sign over POA? If she did not, you can’t get POA without a conservatorship hearing which is a lengthy process and needs all financials and decisions to be accounted for in court. I hope some of this helps. My best to you and your brother.

  17. Heather  January 19, 2021 at 10:26 pm Reply

    I gave my mom an expensive watch before she died. Can I have it back or does it have to go through probate with her other belongings to split between my siblings?

    • Elaine  March 9, 2021 at 10:27 pm Reply

      Heather, I’m very sorry for your loss. We lost my Mom about a year ago.
      My sister and brother and I had a mutual agreement that each of us could receive back from her estate items that we have given her over the years.
      Since my mother had a will and had named the attorney who drafted the will to “execute” her will with the probate court when she passed, we needed to talk with the attorney and see if he our agreement was okay with him. In a many instances, a family member is named or appointed by the court to do what an attorney would do. In our case he agreed and so we were each able to take back the things that we had given her.
      Also, since there were items that more than one of us wanted, we came up with a fair way to decide who would get hem. We “drew straws” and went in a circle, taking turns, each of us getting one choice of an item that we would like to keep during each round. We kept going around until we had touched on all of the items that more than one of us had wanted. This was okay with the attorney.
      What is important to note is that if your mother had many debts that were outstanding when she passed, such as medical bills, they will all need to be paid from the estate. If there isn’t enough money in the estate from other sources such as a sale of a home or bank accounts, the attorney or whoever is “executing” the will, they may decide they need to use some of the other items in the estate to pay the debts first. For any expensive items, they would likely need to get an appraisal.

  18. Hannah  January 6, 2021 at 10:51 am Reply

    i have been sad recently.

    • IsabelleS  January 7, 2021 at 10:56 am Reply

      Hannah, I’m so sorry to hear this! My heart goes out to you.

  19. Jb  December 16, 2020 at 2:35 pm Reply

    Just wanted to stop in and say thanks for this post. My dad passed a few months back and my mom has been struggling to remove any of his belongings. The other night she broke down telling me how she tried to pack up old jackets to donate and couldn’t. I told her not to put pressure on herself if she’s not ready and promptly googled various articles about dealing with a loved ones belongings after they pass, and I came here. One thing you said was to ask people for help if you can’t do it yourself. Holy Crap I feel so selfish for not thinking to offer to help my mom. So I went in and asked her if there is anything maybe she is ok removing but just cant handle it herself? And she Cried and was so grateful for my asking that because no one else in the family offered. And we aren’t a-hole kids, we just didn’t know better. So she confessed she would love to clear out his old medicine cAbinet as a starting point. She was touched and I felt glad to be able to help. That small part of your post had a big impact, so thanks!

    • IsabelleS  December 17, 2020 at 9:44 am Reply

      JB, thanks for taking the time to comment and to share your story. I’m very sorry for your loss. Don’t feel guilty or selfish for not offering to help your mother at first–It’s so normal and okay not to know what steps to take to support those who are grieving. I’m glad to hear that this article inspired you to help your mother. It sounds like doing so had a positive impact on your relationship!

  20. karopack  December 15, 2020 at 3:17 am Reply

    thanks a lot for this post

  21. iros  December 12, 2020 at 4:59 am Reply

    In 2008, our son, only child, died at the age of 21 yrs after a 2.5 yr battle with a spinal cord tumor. Its been 6 years

    • IsabelleS  December 14, 2020 at 12:11 pm Reply

      I’m very sorry for your loss.

  22. David  October 11, 2020 at 12:33 pm Reply

    This is why I specifically say in my will that they shouldn’t feel guilty for giving or throwing my stuff away. I also say to not feel guilty about carrying on soon after my passing. Of course I’ll try my best to not have too much for people to sort through.

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  25. Mark  February 19, 2020 at 5:18 pm Reply

    Nice to see this article is still helping people 7 years on. I’m an only child with no other family, unmarried, no kids, and no aunts or uncles or anyone. My parents are up there in age but thankfully still around, and it has always been just the three of us my whole life. However I can see a quickly approaching future where they won’t be around anymore. They also have a whole lot of stuff from 50 years of marriage, actually two complete sentimental households worth, since they’ve been snowbirds for 25+ years.

    My parents are the type who rarely redecorate or change things, and most things are just as they have been for 50+ years, and for me it’s all the surroundings and stuff I’ve ever known. I in turn ascribe value to their things as a reflection of how I perceive them to ascribe value to their things. And this is what makes it so hard to change things, or donate or sell or things, or especially dump things – since it feels like I would be directly opposing and disrespecting and trashing their own very lives, along with their values and likes, not to mention simply erasing their memory.

    And so I think I should really start to address this situation now, and talk to them about it, find what they would do in my shoes, and in a sense gain some semblance of permission from them while they’re around that yes, it will be ok to get rid of this or that, that yes it is ok for me to follow my own direction untied from their own personal material world and how they set it up. By talking to them personally while I still can about what they most value or don’t hugely care about, it gives me a more stable view of how I can still respect their legacy while eventually having to clean out and undo a lot of it, so I’m not left painfully wondering if I’m disrespecting their memories and lives with anything that doesn’t make it into the “keep” pile. It’s not an easy conversation to bring up and have, but I think it can save a lot of future difficulty.

  26. sara  February 10, 2020 at 2:22 am Reply

    Is it ok to ask for things back that you bought your best friend after she died

  27. alimo  January 30, 2020 at 10:10 am Reply

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  28. ahang  January 30, 2020 at 10:09 am Reply

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  29. Cynthia Gonnella  January 10, 2020 at 4:00 pm Reply

    My sister passed away the week before Thanksgiving and unfortunately her fiance didn’t allow us to a dress sorting her items as tenderly and respectfully as we wanted so my other sister and I watched in horror as he collected all my deceased sisters treasured items photographs everything and threw them in I trash dumpster. I do believe that part of the grieving process is to be able to tenderly touch the belongings of the deceased as we say farewell.

  30.  December 14, 2019 at 3:24 am Reply

    This article reminds me of old. Those days were pretty much everything with Safa and everything was fun

  31. rose  November 3, 2019 at 9:44 am Reply

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  35. Karen Miller  September 22, 2019 at 8:14 am Reply

    Is it ok to ask for things back that you bought your best friend after she died

  36. sandi  September 15, 2019 at 11:33 am Reply

    I feel blessed to have come across this blog. My dad and mom passed 9 years ago. I have somem dear possessions that they owned, but wish I could go back and keep somuch more. The worst thing and very worst thing is to drive by their home. They both wanted me to buy it before they died to keep it in the family. It wasnt a nice home, but their home, they worked hard to buy it. Oh everytime I drive by that home, my heart breaks. I just couldnt afford to buy it as a second home, and we live out of the area. It breaks my heart to know I can not visit our family home ever again. I wonder each day if their spirits visit that home and if I bought the home, would I feel them there. I wish I really understood what happens when we die. There is no way that there is billions of people roaming around in so called heaven. But yet, i know they come around me sometimes, I just dont know how and where they are? If they come around me, why don’t they touch me…If they have the power to send a butterfly, why cant they have the power to touch me to let me know they are really really here?

    Do you think they know that we kept some of their belongings? I hope they do as I wont let go of their hard earned furniture that they kept so nice and worked so hard for. I wish there were real books that talk about if they are with us, where they are, and what they see and know. I’ve read so many …too many conflicting stories. That they are just spirit, happy and free and have no memory of any belongings, etc. If that is true, I am breaking my heart every day looking at their chairs, wishing they were sitting there.
    I have a very healthy life, but missing my mom and dad so much all the time just breaks my heart. There will never be anyone like them. They had alot of faults, but I still loved them so much.
    I wish someone could reach out to me here and help me to understand death so much better. Someone that is spiritual. I’ve talk to a medium, but she only talks about yes they are here, but not how and how she knows and where she gets her info. Mediums are always so private about their knowings. That’s what makes me distrust their guidance.
    Well, I could go on and on here. I am so sorry for all of you who have lost someone dear. Getting rid of “things” is the very hardest so my heart goes out to you. I will keep some things, and every year, part with a little more. I do regret some things that I parted with, but my personality just likes to keep memories and hold on to them forever.
    I know it is best to live in the moment. I am learning that, but I dont want to let go of the past too much and then find out in research down the road, it could have been better by doing this and that instead… I hold on and dont want to forget or let them go….thanks for letting me output on this Sunday, beautiful Sunday, missing my Mom and Dad so much.

    • Anna  September 16, 2019 at 9:55 am Reply

      Im feeling everything you are saying. Exactly. Take time for yourself. What we are feeling has to be normal right?

    • Meagan  November 25, 2019 at 6:28 am Reply

      I have lost my mom and dad too, 10 years apart, and both to tragedies. Both were very unexpected and there were no opportunities to come to terms with them leaving ahead of time. I think that if it breaks your heart or continues to upset you, they would want you to part with those things. Spiritually, God gives us death as the ultimate victory over the enemy. There is no pain or suffering, or grief or sadness. But I know from experience that our loved ones would want to see us flourish and find closure and be successful and happy more than anything else.

    • Patrick  August 20, 2022 at 3:10 am Reply

      Re. your driving past your old house and feeling sad, My mother and I drove a few 100 miles to the village where she was born and grew up. She took me around the village, reminiscing about her childhood, and showed me the home where she had lived. On an impulse I stopped the car and went up to the door and knocked on the door to ask who was living there now. I was staggered when the guy at the door opened it wide and said “Hey, this is amazing. Bring your mother in. She’s got to see this”. He took her all around the house which had hardly been renovated in the 60+ years since my mother had lived there. He allowed her to inspect every nook and cranny and was constantly noting her reminiscences. It became clear that to the present owner, a newcomer to the area, the house’s history was very important and he was hanging on my mother’s every word, taking notes, even asking which local masons had built the natural stone walls or put an elegant plinth over the doorway or which carpenter had done the beams. He was fascinated and insisted on taking my mother’s contact details before we left.
      The moral of this story: if passing your old home stop and knock on the door. The owners might tell you to go away but you might get a surprise.

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  38. JAY G WENDELBURG  August 9, 2019 at 10:05 pm Reply

    19 days ago my wife passed away. We’ve been battling triple negative breast cancer for 2 years. I watched her suffer so much so trying to organize, donate and give away her things is so much harder than I ever imagined. I walk by the sofa she had been taking her naps on and I could not put away the pillows and blankets she had been using for the last 6 months. My heart just hurts every time I walk by but I don’t want to forget how much she meant to me.

    Thank you for the article. I knew…. however facing the facts right now….. thank you.

  39. Demps  July 20, 2019 at 6:44 am Reply

    I lost mum just over 2 months ago, she lived with use. I a teacher with 2 children, so her rooms have stayed as they were. Her washing in the washing basket on her bed, her Remote control on the armchair . Yesterday I broke up for the summer, so it’s time to start sorting. Thank you for your advice. I think I am going to start sorting her bathroom, not so many personal items in there. However it’s the smell that his me, mostly, I now that by getting rid of items I will lose the smell.

  40. mehrab  June 30, 2019 at 4:20 am Reply

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  42. Mrs. Leslie Allison Shortell  June 9, 2019 at 3:57 pm Reply

    This post was very helpful. I have lost both my parents and I alone have the honor of taking care of their belongings and such, so this is very informative. I was just wondering where the follow up post or pod cast you stated that it was coming. it’s really hard to explain my situation besides complicated and overwhelming. basically the more information I can get the better. I need ideas on how to organize this whole disaster but there’s so many memories and so much emotion I don’t know what to do with things. Is there other ways to memorialize belongings and such besides the title page and quilts. thank you Leslie

  43. Todd  June 5, 2019 at 10:54 pm Reply

    My ex-partner died a few weeks ago. We knew each other for over 45 years, were a couple for 6 years, though that relationship ended over 33 years ago. That said, we were important in each other’s lives. His death has left me in shock. I am now wondering, not wanting. There are a few items that are important to me, including specific anniversary or Christmas gifts from our early years, along with personal cards and letters, from me. I would appreciate having those returned. My former partner left no will.
    His niece has been handling everything. But, how do I appropriately ask? Thank you.

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  47. Anita Marshall  March 14, 2019 at 2:52 am Reply Ann Marshall and I was wondering how to go about organizing my stuff and everything in between for when I pass on.all this is stressful for me.i want to start now to get affairs in order but so far everything seems so do I go about this step by step.ty.

    • Lou R.  March 27, 2019 at 6:52 pm Reply

      One thing that I have read and is something I just did, was I thought of what are my valuable items…like both physical & emotional. Make a list…like photos, jewelry & say money tucked away. Then decide whom outta those people that are closest to ya (say: sibling, aunt or best friend) should get what. Like I have two very dear friends…I’m authorizing they both get first pick of my jewelry then the rest goes to one other person. You get the idea. Hope that helps ya, at least to get started 😉

  48. Stacy Cunningham  February 9, 2019 at 5:19 am Reply

    This was really useful for me. In aug 2017 my dad died and I had to clear out the family home ( it was rented so had limited time) mum had died 14 years prior and dad never threw anything of hers away. I had some good friends help to clear it out but I did take some of my parents things back to where I live..which was 300 miles away. I live in a small apartment and whilst I have sorted through some stuff , I need to really continue the process but it is so hard ..these items are the last things of my parents and I’m an only child and I am not yet married or have kids so I want to make sure that in the future I have things of theirs. It’s really tough but this article was so useful. Thanks

  49. Jennifer B  February 4, 2019 at 9:16 pm Reply

    My husband passed away 6 months ago today August 4th, 2018. He was only 52 years old. He was perfectly healthy and very active. He mowed the lawn and died of a sudden massive heart attack 1 hour later. My life forever changed that day. We were married 24 years, and together 27 total. We had no children, just a cat whom was our baby. My husband and I owned our own business so the day he died, the business went as well. Two months later our 9 year old cat died from grieving. She to was perfectly healthy. She could not cope with my husbands passing and quit eating.
    I truly feel like I have lost everything. I have just in the last couple of weeks starting thinking about going through some of my husbands things. As of right now everything is just how he left it. His glasses, chapstick, everything is laying on his desk right where he played it down. I dont know where to start or even if I want to. There is a part of me that feels like does it matter that it stays the same and I live in a time capsule. Getting rid of his things feels like I am getting rid of parts of him and being disloyal.
    I could never forget him. He was my world and I still feel married. I just don’t know what to do. Any thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated it. I dont have anyone in my situation close to me so there’s no one to talk about this with.

    • Shari  February 5, 2019 at 1:45 am Reply

      Jennifer, I am deeply sorry for the sudden loss of your husband, particularly because he was so young and it was so sudden. And then your beloved cat dies of a broken heart. And your heart is broken too. I wish I could say something that would help.

    • Lori  March 27, 2019 at 10:57 pm Reply


      I’m so sorry for what you are going through. First, go to the animal shelter and see if you can find another wonderful kitty to love. You will help each other. You have started your process just by thinking about what to do with his things. In time, when the time is right for you, you will know what to do with them. If I didn’t have a time constraint, I would still be right where you are now. Do only what you can, when you can, and only when you are ready.

    • Barbara Bossard  September 6, 2019 at 4:30 am Reply

      My 60 year old healthy husband died of a massive brain hemmorage out of the blue in early July. We were married 35 years with no children, just various furbabies over the years. Our cat Frankie is a source of great comfort and companionship to me. He is about 5 years old and we adopted him 3 weeks after our 18 year old Hamlet passed away. I’ve never lived alone till now and without my cat I don’t think I could cope with the absence of my husband who was my best friend. Wishing you peace and comfort in your new life.

  50. Elaine  February 1, 2019 at 10:48 am Reply

    My father died a month ago: 92 years old, Iwo Jima vet, NASA space program engineer, world traveler, loving father and a lot of fun. I am heartbroken, but I know he wants me to live a good life, so I’m taking care of this estate as he wants it done, while figuring out, what next for me? The above post helps me to organize my thoughts and make a plan, as I am his executrix. He had little in the way of possessions, but the ones he had are meaningful for our family. He downsized, as he aged, to the treasures. Thanks, Dad! Still, a role model, even after death. I have a house to sell (have a buyer already), a loan on a car to figure out, and a few other things, but not too much. I moved all of his things into a storage unit where they fill up about half of it, and I’ll work out of there to sort through his things. It was difficult to “see” things where he lived because it was his home. In the storage unit, I am not attached to his electric toothbrush or razor (although my brother may want the latter) like I was when they were in his bathroom, and I am finding it easier to identify what is worth holding onto, for now. One other help for me is that I email the heirs about things as they come up: Do you want this? Anyone want that? If the answer is no for us all, then I donate it or put it into the estate sale pile (a small pile). Any yeses go into the distribute pile that will eventually be shared. I have a plan for that so there are a minimum of arguments. Thank you for this site; I’ll be coming back to read it often.

  51. rh  October 16, 2018 at 12:14 am Reply

    Just finished this process, we were lucky to find someone who would get rid of the excess junk.
    Those who are worrying about getting rid of a few pictures, or collections – my parents were both packrats and had ridiculous things like recipes from the newspaper or photocopies of random articles interspersed with treasured family mementos – many of which we had never seen in our fifty or so years on Earth. We at first blamed my dad because he never cleaned up after my mom died, but she clearly had started being a hoarder even before us kids were born. So…many…clipped…recipes…never…cooked.
    On our last day, we found a colorized 12 x 7 photo of my dad in Navy gear before he got on his ship in WWII, at 17. It was under some empty plastic tubs on top of a closet. We also found a gun in a closet among old cameras and journals. Found yearbooks and diplomas among rotting newspapers.
    If you aren’t dealing with literally a hundred boxes of junk and papers and books with new-to-you family photos interspersed, you are lucky.
    The other advice I can give is if your loved one does have a collection, have one or two people appraise it and make offers. If you get $100 for it and they sell it for $1,000, that’s still better than keeping it around to let it rot or get bequeathing to your heir.
    Please people, get rid of your trash and keep your family photos together! And if you are an executor and can’t handle it, get someone to come in and look at the stuff, they may want your folks’ or spouse’s junk.

    • Kimberly  October 20, 2020 at 2:46 pm Reply

      I am at the very same place. It moved me when you talked about the recipes from the newspaper. Both my folks had “collections” of so many things. Here I come sit in their home by myself and don’t even know how to rid myself of their belongings. Especially with covid no estate sales are happening inside the house. Would love to talk to you as the way you described your folks home fit my parents to a tee! My only sibling, my brother, passed six months after my 92 year old dad passed which if he was still here all of it

      • KR  April 25, 2023 at 10:13 am

        Wow, these comments really resonated. I’m very sorry about the situation with your dad and brother passing so quickly, Kimberly.

        Both of my parents died within weeks of each other (one very unexpectedly). They had lots of stuff and just the amount of paper has been just overwhelming — and exactly as RH described — old checks and receipts and coupons and junk mail (dating back to the 1960’s) interspersed with important documents and heirloom photos. My dad also had his own business which only added to the amount of paper (every check, every bank statement, etc.).

        On top of it, neither seemed to be able to bear to part with boxes of things from their own parents or other deceased relatives. I have additional boxes of unopened bank statements, insurance documents, etc. dating back to the 1950s.

        As you said Kimberly, I sit almost every day at my parents eerily quiet house, alone, sorting through massive amounts of stuff. Luckily we are able to have an estate sale, but the preparation and pre-sorting is utterly overwhelming.

        This is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done and just can’t wait for it to be over.

  52. Chris  July 13, 2018 at 9:13 am Reply

    I’m facing this problem now. My father left everything to me. The house is in need of renovation and I have decided to sell it. However it is full to the brim of his stuff. He has a stamp collection, model railway collection and model airplane collection. Books, CDs, DVDs. I don’t have space in my own house to store it. I really don’t know where to start and it’s starting to stress me, I have a history of anxiety and depression. I find it hard to relate to people and have few friends. My wife is a great support to me but I find it hard to go through this alone. First the shock of his death and now the headache of clearing the house. I’m not going to rush but I don’t want to procrastinate either and I want to make the right decisions.

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  54. Peggy Csiacsek  April 19, 2018 at 1:32 pm Reply

    I have been dealing with this for over a decade. Seriously one of the hardest things to do and the emotions at first I could not throw even a hairbrush away of my mothers for the first 5 years after she passed. Then my father lived with me after she passed and he passed over 5 years ago, and still its hard. Due to some issues with family members that happened at both funerals, I put my foot in concrete as my emotions and said nope not reading the will, I will give out any $$ that is left and split evenly but as for items they are staying in storage until later on in life.

    Now its 10 years from my mother passing and close to 5 for my father and I have slowly went thru items, clothing mainly and a few furnishings but still have it all.

    Most of the items that were in the will were given out before my parents passed to each child by them, and then I have several items that I was willed that I do not want but its still hard to say I am going to give them away or sell.

    How do you handle the family drama and how do you let go of this so you can move on in life with no hurt feelings or regrets.

    Any comments would be greatly appreciated.

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  56. Brooke  March 7, 2018 at 3:55 pm Reply

    My father the collector passed away suddenly on Feb. 18 2018. My niece and nephews and I did ok going through his house on our first day. Then I offered a family friend to come in and pick a couple items as well. THAT WAS HARD! She truely is lovely but it felt like she was cleaning out the house. I know my own fault for asking her but I didnt realize that I would feel so possessive of my dads things. Anyone had this experience before?

  57. Lovey  January 30, 2018 at 2:07 pm Reply

    My beloved husband passed away suddenly July 18, 2016. Here it is, over a year & a half later, and I cannot get myself to go thru his things yet, to decide what to do with them. I gave away a few items to some family members (we did not have any children) a couple of weeks after he passed, but the bulk of his things are still stashed away in a spare room downstairs. I was going to turn that room into a spare bedroom in case I had guests, but no one visits me anyway. At least the room could be used as a hobby or plant room, but all grand designs crumble when I even think of going in there & getting rid of things. His medicine sorter half empty, the rolling cart he kept by his couch for his convenience, stashed with all his guy things, even his capped “iced” tea bottle that he was drinking from that terrible day, now turned green. All his clothes, still hanging on the garment rack. I know he’s not coming back, and this winter – warm clothing could have been donated, but when I think about going thru the stuff, I freeze in my tracks, and get a sick feeling in my stomach. His other belongings, including his computer, CDs, and big screen TV in his man room, I can’t really quite convince myself that all these things are mine now, and I couldn’t care less. He used to love to order things from Amazon Prime. A few things were delivered to the house after he passed, that he had ordered – I was able to send those things back. The real heartbreaking last purchase he made was a pressure cooker, cause I knew he was thinking ahead for us, he loved to cook, and was thinking ahead to all those wonderful meals he would cook for us in his little kitchenette next to his man cave. Managed to send that back, too, no need for it now. That’s another thing – all his pots & pans he accumulated – I can still see him cooking at his stove. So many things left unfinished – we had no idea when I rushed him to emergency that night, that he would never be coming home again. I guess I still cannot believe he is really gone, don’t know if my mind & my heart will ever really believe he’s gone. It all happened so suddenly, like the name of that old movie re-titled to “The Day My Earth Stood Still”. I know enough now about losing a spouse you were madly in love with, that you just will never be the same person again, nor should you expect to be. A part of your identity is missing, your other half just vanished into God knows where. Your soul mate, confident, lover, companion, and so many other descriptions, is gone – poof – and the finality of it is suffocating. Never could understand it – these inanimate objects are still here – WHY isn’t he??? A dear friend, a widow herself, said that it was 8 years before she could go thru her late husband’s desk drawers in his home office. So I guess I am not that strange.. In a way I have picked myself up from the floor – so to speak, but I am living every day with the black hole of his absence, that every now & then, pulls me into the abyss of him not being with me anymore. My only hope is that one day – I will be somehow reunited with him.

    • Kathryn  December 13, 2021 at 1:40 pm Reply

      I’m thinking that you may be able to get some help and comfort from talking with a grief therapist. Call your insurance company and ask if they offer this. If so, it may even be free under your policy, especially now with people having so many issues due to COVID.

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  60. Ricky B  December 10, 2017 at 3:19 pm Reply

    as another mentioned. sometimes you have NO choice but to go through and decide what to do with a loved ones belongings in a very short time! in my case it was 3 days. my mom was 4 days shy of 82 and passed away after a very (5 day) brief and sudden illness. once hospitalized she passed in 16 hours. due to a untreated/unknown UTI. that turned Sepsis and Septic Shock very quickly! then she was gone. she lived in her one bedroom apartment 17 and 1/2 years. the day of her passing I was at the funeral home signing papers for her pre-arranged cremation. (would have been another horror to deal with had she not) then to her apartment to see what had to be done. next two days we went through (with the help of a neighbor with a truck) everything began bagging up this n that while I had to decide what to keep or donate. or toss. I live alone in a small one bedroom myself. I functioned in remote control mode. I wanted to scream and cry but could not. all sentiments had to be held aside for another day. I was the only child close to my mom. the only one she saw and I loved my mother dearly. one family member told me in a round about way I was COLD.what SHE does not know it was killing me inside. looking back there are things I wish I had kept. I kept her treasured purse, and a few knick knacks. her cook ware. some blankets and sheets and her blouse that has her grandma smell on it. all the pictures of a lifetime. her journal. written in 1984! she gave me that in 2014. she passed May 24 2016. I still can not read it as it depresses me. mom suffered a stroke in 1997 and lost her ability to ever speak again. very sad. it has been a year and a half and I miss her so very much. and I believe having to do it all so quickly has extended my grief. even picking up her ashes alone at the funeral home still haunts me. I can’t even look at her picture. some days my heart is filled with pain and longing for the woman who was my mom for all my years.. she was the last of my family. I have relatives. but we are not close. and I do not wish to see them… it all swept in like a tornado. leaving behind a torrent of emotions. pain and even guilt.

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  67. Toni Johnson  July 18, 2016 at 7:13 pm Reply

    I lost my husband 12/14/14. I am still living in our home and I have no family or friends around to support me or help me. I have decided to sell, but I am truly lost in where to begin. My husband was a model train collector, music collector, model car collector and a major tool/automotive collector (2 – 2 car garages full). I do not know where to begin to start decluttering and preparing to get our home ready to sale. I am on my own to do this and I really don’t want to have to spend another winter here. The memories are hard to deal with on your own. Can you please provide some advise on how to get started? I don’t know where to begin or what to do. I do not want to face it at all, but I know it’s something I have to do. I wish I could just pick my home up and move it and everything in it and take it with me.

    • Litsa  July 21, 2016 at 12:09 pm Reply

      Hi Toni, we have a whole series on this topic, so my first suggestion would be to check it the other posts on this topic too. For the collectibles, I would suggest starting with asking another collector or ‘expert’ to help. Did he have friends who were also collectors who might be able to help you? My dad was a rare coin dealer, so when he died we asked some of his friends and colleagues to help us go through his coins to determine value and make a plan to go about sorting and selling. Even if they can’t come over and help you directly, they may be able to give you the name of a reputable store or other professional who can help. As we mention, there are also professional services who can help you with sorting and selling items. The of course have a feel, or take a commission of the sales, but if you are feeling too overwhelmed to handle the task on your own they may be a good option. Best wishes!

  68. Diane  July 9, 2016 at 3:50 am Reply

    Hi Roberta, I am so sorry to hear of your loss and of the pain you are suffering. My Mum died over two years ago and I feel her loss now more than ever. We were so close, I really don’t think many of my friends understand that very special close relationship we had. I inherited my Mothers house and live here now. I am trying to move on but like you find the process of sorting through my Mum’s clothes and possessions unbearable. This was supposed to be a temporary move, do the house up and move on. I think you just have to do everything in your own time. Treasure the love you both shared and in time maybe these things will be easier to let go. I am going to ask a friend to help me sort out my Mum’s wardrobe. She wouldn’t want me to be sad and I honestly think I’ll feel better once it’s done. We put such importance onto these things as they are all we have left of the person we loved so much. I understand totally what you are going through and wish you peace, love and understanding at this very difficult time. X

  69. Roberta Miller  July 8, 2016 at 5:59 pm Reply

    I’m struggling! I lost my mother to lung cancer on July 12th 2015, she was 88 yrs old. My mother was my best friend my entire life!
    She lived with me the last two years of her life.
    Since Her passing, I try going into her room to begin to go through her clothes and things and I just can’t do it! I just sit in her rocking chair and cry.
    I know there are people who could wear her clothing at her favorite beauty shop, but how do I begin letting go? So I just leave her room and close the door. Missing her dearly.

  70. Toni Lepeska  July 5, 2016 at 10:38 pm Reply

    I’ve experienced the dilemma of what to part with for almost seven years now. I still have my mother’s house, full of her clutter, and full of my Dad’s stuff. He died 10 years ago this year. I know this is a difficult task for us who’ve lost loved ones, but I’ve found the rewards of personally going through each and every thing to be priceless. Granted, I’ve been able to keep their home and property much longer than most people could afford, but to what extent you can, go through these things. Especially if you’ve experienced a good relationship with your loved one, their belongings will bring great rewards. Sure I cry. I ball my heart out. Their things are here but they aren’t. Tears are healing, especially in small doses. You don’t have to go through everything at once. Box the belongings up if you can’t handle it now, but don’t put it off forever. There are good memories, too, and discoveries to make. I got to know my parents better after they died. It was all in that house, in their letters, their trinkets, in little things they kept and cherished. As a writer, I share these discoveries and the lessons I’ve learned on my Facebook page and on Twitter, hoping others can find joy in the mourning.

  71. Carol  July 4, 2016 at 10:56 am Reply

    When my grandmother died, my parents went to her home to clean it out. My mother told me she found a stack of letters I had mailed her throughout the year. They were tied in a ribbon. I asked for the letters and my mother told me she threw them in the trash. This has haunted me for all these years. Please don’t do that. When my husband died 2 years ago, I got rid of things way too quickly and kept some things long after I should have, there is no way to gauge this awful task.

  72. Laurie  July 3, 2016 at 2:26 pm Reply

    Accept that you are going to cry during this process. I put off going through my late husbands possessions because it was such a painful reminder of his passing. In the end, it helped me let go little by little. It’s still hard, but I am not as afraid to face the task. I agree with your advice. Don’t think you are going to get this all done in one weekend. You will burn yourself out emotionally.

  73. Melissa Allen  April 18, 2016 at 7:34 am Reply

    I am currently in the process of helping my best friend at the moment with his childhood home of 52 years &clearing his mothers things from the master bedroom & redesigning it specifically for him. Ive now assisted several friends in this process, including myself when I lost both my parents 3 months apart 4 years ago.
    Im very practical, very sensitive to the situation, very trustworthy, organized and getting pretty good at insuring specific items get to designated family members who are not near.
    My friends are telling me I have found my calling and should consider a business in grief assistance because Im really good at it, sympathedically, tactfully, tastefully, organizationally and with heart felt understanding.
    If you are interested in possibly being my very first “client”, are able give me a couple weeks to complete my current and already in process project, I would be willing and able to help box your grandmothers things as you specify and wish.
    Feel free in contacting me if you should have any questions and/or are interested.

    • Melissa Allen  April 18, 2016 at 7:40 am Reply

      Whoops, just realized the date of your comment. Im probably guessing you may have already found someone and are no longer in need of assistance.
      My apologies and condolences.

  74. Douglas Madden  March 4, 2016 at 1:41 pm Reply

    I need someone to pack my grandmothers belongings and separate things to donate vs. things to sell or keep.

  75. Samuel  February 8, 2016 at 10:30 pm Reply

    My mother passed away in 2012. I am living in her home and going thru her things has been extremely difficult, not to mention donating or selling her memories. All the house used to have while walls and using live colors has helped a little bit.
    I guess the most important thing that we can learn from the testimonies is that we need be ready for our own passing and as much as possible donate/sell/throw anything that is not essential to us. Making a will is a must

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  77. Nancy  January 8, 2016 at 6:53 pm Reply

    Oh, wow, Bob, never mind! I found them on Yelp! Going to give them a call. Thanks so much for sharing!

  78. Nancy  January 8, 2016 at 6:47 pm Reply

    I just saw Bob Maxell’s post about the hired helper. Bob, would you be able to share how you found this helper? I’m living in Orange County, so maybe I could contact the same place? Thank you so much!

  79. Nancy  January 8, 2016 at 6:43 pm Reply

    Thank you so much for posting this helpful checklist that gets to the heart of it all. I am sorting through a 3-bedroom house of stuff after moving my dad to a senior retirement home that is an airplane flight away, and the house also has all of my mom’s and sister’s stuff (both passed away). I do not live in the area any more, and any friends are an hour drive away, or they can’t get away from work or kids, so it’s not very practical to ask them to come to help for more than a weekend day. It’s a bit awful to be in the house all alone, so I’d like to ask if anyone has any advice on finding home helpers who are experienced with being sensitive about sorting through the belongings of loved ones and who can be hired for, say, a month? Maybe I should just get a foster dog during the period? Just some company would help so much. Thank you all for any tips.

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  81. Tess  June 16, 2015 at 5:23 am Reply

    Thank you so much Eleanor,
    You’re right about letting go of a family home it’s like losing your loved ones all over again. I’ll check the site you suggested and see if I can get some solace from others who have travelled down the road I’m about to go on:(


  82. Tess  June 13, 2015 at 7:45 pm Reply

    Thank you Litsa for having this site and to everyone who shared their experience with grief and letting go. I have been searching for help and answers and here is where I’ve found some real love and guidance. It’s hard to talk to others who haven’t been through it and I don’t want to bring down happy people either with my problems.
    Letting go of my parents, their home of 55 years and everything in it whilst I’m living in it is I feel traumatic. They never wanted to go into a nursing home so I felt privileged to look after both of them until each passed away, My Mom 24th March 2013 aged 84yrs and my Dad 13th April 2015 aged 91yrs. Both were such loving caring and happy people, the house was always a great place to come for everyone for a chat and a cup of tea! It’s not just inside but it’s outside too, Mom’s beautiful rose garden, Dad’s cherry trees the nectarine and peach trees we planted together, then there’s all the pet’s graves and the living pets! Dad’s fish tank and avery, oh how I wish I could afford to save it all. I buy lottery tickets in the hope my late father could help me save the house. I have siblings who all need the money so, there’s not much I can do. However, this site has given me the tools to work through it all, face the pain and let it go. I don’t know where I’ll go but I know my parents and siblings wouldn’t want me to live in a mausoleum either. Thank you again for all your soulful and moving stories it really has made a difference to know you’re not alone.

    • Eleanor  June 14, 2015 at 11:52 am Reply

      Hey Tess,

      I can tell you, you are not alone in feeling this way. We’ve had many other commenters come and say they know they need to let go of a home but are just struggling so much to be able to actually do it. It’s another loss and it is especially difficult when it feels like you’re letting go of the place where your parents memory (and your own history) resides. I’m not sure how much you looked around the site but we did also write a post on saying goodbye to a home and grieving places past. Some people don’t get all that emotionally attached to places, but I personally feel like homes (real homes) sometimes have a bit of a soul. Letting go is a challenge so go easy on yourself as you work through it.


  83. Bob Maxell  February 25, 2015 at 3:22 pm Reply

    Follow-Up to 3-Feb-2015 post.

    On 13-Feb Michelle the “hired gun” showed up to help my wife Laurine and I with the process. Since the day we had first contacted Michelle, we had been chipping away at Mike’s room — and significant progress had been made — but there was a long way to go.. Michelle’s process was to remove boxes of things or collect a bunch of stuff and move it outside the room to be sorted into donate, discard, delegate piles. (First two piles are pretty much self explanatory, the last pile was for giving to a specific individual or for keeping in a designated place.) Michelle frequently picked up an item and said “Tell me about this.”. I think she did that especially if I showed a strong reaction to something. I found that after I told her the story behind the item, the decision became clearer and easier to make. Tears were allowed, as well as the smiles. It was not all pain. In some cases, I found that I was okay with simply taking a picture of something before letting it go. We made a lot of progress that day. The difference is night and day. Looking at the before and after pictures emphasizes the value of what was done. Michelle made sure to cart off the things for donation when she left. We are continuing the process in Mike’s room, and in other rooms and the garage.

    It is not easy, but it is not as bad as I feared. More importantly: it is worth it.

    • Litsa  March 1, 2015 at 11:52 am Reply

      Thank you SO much for taking the time to come back and give us an update. It sounds like you got a great person to come in and help, and I agree so much with what you said about sharing the stories behind things bringing some clarity as to whether you want or need to keep them. Best wishes as you continue in this process. I am sure your comment will bring others hope that what seems like an impossible task can be doable once you start.

    • Stacie  December 19, 2016 at 3:44 pm Reply

      Bob, I appreciate your comments and that you came back on and shared you experience with the professional organizer. We lost our 9 year old son to cancer in May 2016. We have been able to do very little with his stuff so far, but it is also very difficult for me to see his room the same everyday. Most of the time I just avoid going in there or looking at it. He collected Legos and over the course of his 2.5 year cancer treatment, collected A LOT of Legos. They became a sort of therapy to him when he was hospitalized or in bed because he didn’t feel well. It’s so daunting to even know where to start.

  84. Tea  February 11, 2015 at 1:48 pm Reply

    This is in response to Sally Banks – I wanted to post as a direct reply but couldn’t figure out how.

    Do you have any children, or nieces/nephews? I am asking because if there are going to be future generations of your family, I urge you to keep the diaries for their sakes. I would not want to read my own mother’s diary either – it would almost feel like a violation of her privacy, and for all I know I might find out things I didn’t want to know – but I would LOVE to have the diaries of any of my great-grandparents, who I did not personally know. That would be a wonderful connection to family history, while not feeling over-personal. Your mother’s diaries may someday help to keep her memory & wisdom alive for relatives who never even knew her. Just a thought.

  85. Jennifer  February 11, 2015 at 11:59 am Reply

    Thanks for the inspiring information. Thankfully I am not going through a death but have to move myself. I am 40 and my home has been making me Sick due to mold. I am so sad as I thought I would be here forever. I’ve come to love my home. Unfortunately I just can’t keep up with all the maintenance by myself. Strangely it feels like a terrible sadness I’m going through. I’m getting rid of everything. I just don’t know where to start. I am on disability and have so much stuff. My crafts and gardening stuff and oh I just don’t know where to begin. Your article gave me a different perspective on how to approach it. I pretty much can take what fits in my car. I have a 2 bedroom home with 2 sheds. It is so overwhelming. I guess when your health is compromised those small items don’t have any meaning anymore.
    I’m going to do your steps exactly as you said and hopefully be done less stressed and healthier.

  86. Diane  February 10, 2015 at 8:58 am Reply

    My lovely mum passed away on 2 Noveber 2013. She was the centre of my life, always so energetic and happy. I felt so loved. After being diagnosed with leukaemia she passed away 18 months later. I now live in my mothers house and I can honestly say the most painful thing I have face is dealing with her possessions. My brother has told me point blank he can’t deal with it so I have been left to do this alone. My attic, garage and two bedrooms are stuffed with boxes and belonging I cannot face. The thought of sorting through things again makes me feel so anxious and upset, the doors stay closed. I long to be free of these items that I know are not her. I have felt angry that it has been left to me to deal with this and this leads to paralysing guilt. I hope in time I feel strong enough to move forward.

  87. Amber  February 8, 2015 at 11:06 pm Reply

    Where do I even begin? My aunt and grandmother lived together and sort of took care of each other. On December 19, my aunt unexpectedly passed away in a traumatic way Infront of my grandmothers feet. My grandmother is handicapped, Couldn’t give her CPR and is absolutely traumatized from the experience. She couldn’t bare to stay in the house by herself. It wouldn’t be safe for her either. Two days after my aunt passed away, my husband and I took my grandmother in to live with us. I’m only 28 years old and I have no idea what I’m doing. I have no family help. My mom passed away 4 years ago at 45 years old. My sister, (who just turned 21) lives in a different state. I have been left to sort through their gigantic condo alone with my husband. The insurance company wants to change me a fortune to insure a vacant condo, so I just busted my butt all weekend clearing out the house. They have a mortgage and since my grandma can’t afford it, I have to get the house up for sale ASAP. I’m trying to afford my own bills, help my grandma pay hers etc. I am so stressed out and depressed that I haven’t even had any time to grieve. I feel horrible like I made bad decisions throwing most things out, but I don’t have the time to go through the amount of stuff they have. It would have taken me 5 years to properly do that alone! I have also donated tons of things. At first glance in their house, you wouldn’t have know my aunt was a hoarder. She had so much stuff piled up in closets, under beds, in dressers. This has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do and I just feel like giving up.

    • Angela Goins  February 9, 2015 at 7:00 am Reply

      I am so sorry for your loss! I would honestly recommend you call an estate sale company in your area who can help you sell and clean out the house. If you need help finding someone in your area to do that, feel free to email me at: These companies usually only charge a commission on the sale so you aren’t having to come up with major bucks to clean out the house. (((( hugs!!!))))

  88. Bob Maxell  February 3, 2015 at 6:14 pm Reply

    I originally posted back on 9-Aug-2014.
    Five days ago, my wife and I contacted a “clutter & hoarding professional” local to Long Beach to see if she had advice for us. Though we were not the standard case with which she typically works, she came by to assess the situation. She made several suggestions such as starting with the hardest area (Mike’s bedroom) and to start with the “low hanging fruit” — those things that most obviously can be placed alternately (either garbage or donation). She also framed the experience as “embracing the grief rather than trying to hide from it.” We did ask that she come back to help us with that process in two weeks. I have found that the thought that a third person will be involved has prompted my wife and I (though I admit I have been the major malfunction in this situation) to start the process on our own while we have sole control of the process. When the pro comes back she will be making suggestions on how we can proceed, she will also have resources to enact decisions immediately. She has assured us that the objective is to accomplish the process in a manner that we respect our son’s desire that we carry on with our lives, we minimize risk of regret, we move forward to get his room to a state we want it to be in.
    The tears have been flowing freely over the last 5 five days, but we are not devastated. Along with grief we are remembering good things, as well.
    I will post back as this unfolds.

    • Litsa  February 3, 2015 at 10:55 pm Reply

      Thank you so much for sharing this update, Bob. Please keep us posted on how this process goes for you. Though hoarding is of course very different that grief, I can see a hoarding professional being a good option in that they will be able to recognize and support the emotion pieces of this process. Thinking of you and your wife . . . I am sure this will not be an easy process.

  89. Timothy ward  February 2, 2015 at 4:56 pm Reply

    My mom died suddenly with no warning. I lived with her. All of a sudden I went from having a happy home with my mom to having just over a month to get rid of almost everything we owned and move into 2 rooms in someone else’s house where I couldn’t take much. There was no time to take your time going through things. It all had to be done immediately, decide know what I could be keep, what to give away, what had to be thrown out and what could be sold. All this while trying to deal with the loss of my mom. Our furniture was given to a neighbor who desperately needed it. I not only had to get rid of most of my mother’s things but most of my own as well. Of my mother’s things just about all I could keep was her collection of things related to the New York Yankees, including books, plaques, Magazines, and shirts. I also decided I couldn’t part with my mom’s chair. I just couldn’t let it go. It had too many memories. It is nothing fancy or worth much to anybody else but I could not let it end up in the trash. I had so little time to grieve. I just wanted to just lay in my bed and cry but everything had to be done immediately. I had to get out of the house. I had no choice in leaving but even if I had a choice I do not believe I could have continued waking up to an empty house. I had help from family and I couldn’t have done it without them but it was still so hard. Losing my mom, and then getting rid of almost everything we owned all in just over a month was almost more than I could bear.

    • Eleanor  February 3, 2015 at 4:21 pm Reply


      What a nightmare. Literally that sounds like a nightmare. I’m so sorry. I don’t think people understand how things like this can complicate, exacerbate and delay our grief. I’m glad you did manage to hang onto a few things. I’m sure they will be treasured.


  90. Julie  February 2, 2015 at 3:32 pm Reply

    my parents passed away within 3 months of each other. We hadn’t had time to process our grief over my Mom when Dad got sick, required palliative care and then also passed. They had lived in their home for fifty years. When Mom passed we just closed her bedroom door but when Dad died we had to deal with the whole house. I felt like an intruder going through their things. It was very hard to part with things they had taken such good care of. My sister made the decision to keep the house and in doing so we were spared having to watch it sell and strangers move into our home.
    For me it was hard/strange going back for the first time after my sister made it her home. There are still memories in every room and I am slowly accepting that it wasn’t about their things or their home, it is about two people who filled our lives with love and those memories can never be replaced.

    • Eleanor  February 3, 2015 at 4:23 pm Reply


      I had the same exact experience when my sister moved into my childhood home. It was left the same for many years after my mother died but then my dad moved. My sister has 4 young kids yet for some reason I just assumed it would stay the same! Anyway, I know exactly what you mean. I’m sorry you dealt with the death of both of your parents in such a short period. We wrote a post about Cumulative Grief awhile back that you might find helpful if you haven’t already learned about this type of grief.


  91. Sally Banks  January 27, 2015 at 6:07 am Reply

    I lost my mother over 10years ago. I have been passed a number of things that I know what to do with. Others I don’t – what do I do with her old diaries, I only have a couple but can’t bear to read them but they are so personal feel awful to chuck them away. What to do with a half written book she had started to write on having cancer, I can not even look at that one without bursting into tears but she poured her heart and sole into it. Any help or suggestions much appreciated

    • Beth  January 29, 2015 at 12:54 am Reply

      It sounds like you’re not really ready to let go of your mother’s diary; there’s nothing wrong with that. You might want to check out some of the cancer support groups online. Some have areas where people post their personal stories. If you feel up to it, you can scan her book (if it’s handwritten) and send it to them. I’m sure that her story would help others. Do you have other relatives who might like the diaries? It sounds like you might- I’d suggest offering the diaries to them first.

    • Eleanor  February 3, 2015 at 4:52 pm Reply

      Hey Sally,

      We actually wrote a post on whether or not to read your loved one’s journals and diaries. Right now it sounds like you know where you stand but in the future it may be helpful if you feel any different. I had the exact same feelings about reading my mother’s treatment journal that she kept when she was diagnosed and treated for Pancreatic Cancer; I ultimately read the first few pages and gave up. Personally, unless it’s causing you distress to hang on to them, I would keep them even if you aren’t going to read them. This hasn’t been a very helpful comment 🙁 Sorry.


  92. Angela Goins  October 15, 2014 at 12:11 am Reply

    As the owner of an estate sale company here in Atlanta, I have been the shoulder that clients can cry on often. Liquidating an estate is an emotional process, and as a professional, you can tell there are stages to this process, and clients have found it very helpful in knowing they aren’t alone in this process. Sadly, many people do not realize that there are professional companies out there to help! Usually there are no upfront fees, as we are commission based, so that just means the more money we can make for a client, the more we earn as well, so its a win-win type of situation. This can really be helpful to those who have to meet financial obligations. Once the family decides what is to be kept, the estate sale company will come in and determine what is trash or sellable. (Obvious trash/personal papers should be tossed). The average person does not understand where the real value is within the estate and tends to throw away hundreds of dollars of “junk” while thinking grandma’s china is worth a mint! (The reason it’s not is because its not microwave & dishwasher safe…. And no one wants to hand wash dishes!) Companies should know the current trends as to what’s hot and what’s not. Doing due-diligence on the company you hire is the second biggest task you should face. Make sure they are state certified, and insured. Many companies have appraisers on staff. It is important that more people recognize there are professional organizations to help those who are grieving with a loss.

  93. Beth  August 30, 2014 at 8:44 pm Reply

    Stacie, I saw your post and wanted to respond to it. I’ve helped a number of people deal with estates as part of my job as a professional organizer. Sometimes, I’ve acted as a touchstone- as an objective observer, I can ask questions and offer alternatives that will help my client decide what to do with a particular item. At other times, I’ve been more of a cheerleader- helping my client stay on track and stay motivated. I’ve also done house inventories- usually when the children didn’t live near their parents. I just posted the first part of a 3-part series on how to clear out the house of a loved one at Parts 2 and 3 are coming in the next few days and will have a step-by-step plan that I think you will find useful. Clearing out the house of a loved one is a difficult job. If you feel you need to do all the sorting and deciding yourself, that’s fine. But I suggest you invite someone along for company. Choose someone supportive and willing to not do anything. Best wishes. -Beth

  94. Stacie  August 20, 2014 at 11:21 am Reply

    Thank you so much for this article. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in my feelings as I attempt to pack my mother’s (and previously my grandfather’s) house. Several friends have offered to help, but I just don’t know what I would have them do because I feel like I have to sort through about 50 years of people’s lives. I know that there is no right or wrong way to do things, but I think a step-by-step plan would help. If someone could tell me where to start and what to do in each room, it would make the process a whole lot easier. Right now, I feel like I’m flitting from room to room clearing some stuff and making some progress, but I don’t have much to show for it. Very often, I step into the house and have no idea where to start or what to do. I am at the point where I want to be done packing the house, but my lack of direction keeps me from getting anything done. Any advice on this would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you,

  95. Bob  August 9, 2014 at 3:51 pm Reply

    In 2008, our son, only child, died at the age of 21 yrs after a 2.5 yr battle with a spinal cord tumor. Its been 6 years. We still have not been able to deal with his portion of the house. We have remodeled one half the house. The other half just feels so painful to even touch. I really do not know where to go to for help with this. We have been in grief support groups – talk therapy — but no real practical advice aside from “You have just got to do it.” We have tried. I admit I am the one to break down first. It feels like betrayal and loss, even though I know Mike (our son) would not have wanted it this way.

    Some of your advice sounds good. Taking pictures. The sorting rather than a rush to throw away. Do you have other thoughts? Are there professionals that could help us with this process? We live in Long Beach, CA — the other side of the continent from you guys.

    • Litsa  August 9, 2014 at 7:16 pm Reply

      Bob, I can’t even imagine how tough it must be trying to face going through things after such a painful loss. There are professionals who can help with this. Though very different, a therapist who works with hoarders could be a fit for this. Though hoarding is of course entirely different than holding on to items after a loss, the similarity is that there is an emotional or psychological connection to items that makes it difficult to part with them. Hoarding is actually related to anxiety and OCD, but someone who has worked with hoarders may have both the strategies and understanding that would be helpful to support you through the process of going through your son’s belongings. I did a little research online to see if there was anyone who looked like they might be a good fit in your area. This person is in Newport Beach and based on his website he may be a good resource for you. This is his site: This is in no way an endorsement – I don’t know him personally and cannot speak of his services, but he is clinically licensed and seems to have experience and expertise that may be beneficial based on his website. If he is not a good fit for you, he may be able to put you in touch with someone who is in your area. I am sorry I am not more familiar with the people and services in your area. I am glad there was some help in this post. We do have a couple other posts on this topic that may be helpful, if you haven’t checked them out yet:

      If you find something that ends up being helpful, please come back and share if you think of it. It may be of great help to the many other grievers struggling with this.

  96. ed  May 12, 2014 at 5:31 pm Reply

    my wife died in early February of this year. I’ve been able to get through most of the things you talked about but am having a problem with all the pictures I have of her on the walls and tables. Everytime I look at them my emotions take over. Should I take them down and only keep a few up for now or just wait a little longer

  97. Diane  May 9, 2014 at 1:17 pm Reply

    I have lost my mother 11th Jan 14 . We all are in shock Dad & my 2 sisters but my dad slowly was giving silly bits of clothing away to a lady at his church who wish of similar size. It was small an impact on the clothes she had. He then told us that when this particular lady came to church in one of mums items of clothing it upset him So was left alone. Then after just 14 weeks to the day of my mums death my father has had a serious stroke. We are all in bits and as he is 82 years young we at the moment can’t see him recovering enough to go home. So in my bad moment of judgement decided now was the right time to remove all of my mothers clothes from the wardrobe. Taking them to charity shops… But now in a moment of reflection have had bad feelings that I’ve done the wrong thing. If by luck he make a good recovery (doubting so) will it hinder his greif and recovery.. Not helping are my sisters who differed in opinions as to yes or no I’m at a loss as to his worsening greif I may now cause him. What have I done ????

    • Litsa  May 9, 2014 at 1:28 pm Reply

      Diane, I am so sorry about your mom and that you dad is now not well. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ when it comes to this sort of thing! You did what you believed was right for you and your dad in that moment and, if your dad does recover, he will likely recognize you were trying to do something to support him. You may find that your initial inclination was right on and that he will be appreciative of your help. If not, we can’t change the past. All we can do is move forward, communicate honestly, and be as respectful of each other’s grief as we can, while grieving ourselves. I hope your father is able to make a recovery. Take care . . .

  98. Carol  March 23, 2014 at 7:00 am Reply

    My husband passed Sept., 2013. I have two sons and they both work. I am going to have back surgery this week and after recovery, I need to figure out where to start. I guess with clothes and shoes.

    He was a very large man 5x and 6x (also have lots of smaller sizes) and would love to find someone that goes to church and could use the suits and stuff. I don’t know how to go about this. I kept buying him clothes right up until he passed. Who knows – maybe I thought he couldn’t go anywhere as long as he had new clothes to wear.

    There might be a missionary group that could tell me. If anyone has an idea – I am open to hear it.

    I guess I am overwhelmed. He has an office to go thru – a garage – a barn. Oh my. We were married over 48 years but only lived here 13 years. (that is long enough to accumulate a lot of stuff)

    Totally Covered Over. Whew.

    • Litsa  March 23, 2014 at 8:54 am Reply

      Oh Carol, it sounds like you have a lot on your plate. After the surgery please take your time!

      We have another post here with ideas about how to find organizations that do good work and will make sure the items find a good home. The link to that post is here:

      I actually just learned of a new organization for suits specifically that is called Career Gear. Their website if and they provide suits to men who cannot afford them for job interviews and to begin jobs that require suits. Here is their mission: Career Gear is a non-profit organization that builds strong families and communities by empowering low-income men to overcome barriers and achieve self-sufficiency. We promote the economic independence of low-income men by providing financial literacy training, a network of support, professional attire, career development tools, job-readiness and essential life-skills training that help men enter the workforce, stay employed and become role models and mentors to their families and communities.

      I will be adding them to the list in our other post, but haven’t gotten a chance yet. I know organizations like this often struggle to find less common sizes, so I am sure wherever you donate to will be appreciative.

      Good luck and take care of yourself through the process! Please let us know if you find any good organizations that we did not include in our other post.

  99. Petula  March 5, 2014 at 12:44 am Reply

    Wish I’d had the luxury of taking a long time to sort through
    my loved one’s belongings. But here is an angle no one is
    talking about: if you have been left no $ from them, and you
    still must clear out their apartment and you live in a small
    place yourself — you have to sort, clear, & give away ‘stuff’
    MUCH FASTER than the wealthy family who has time to
    sell the house at leisure, etc. Just cry your head off and
    get on with it: my only advice. AND: when you die yourself,
    be considerate and don’t leave your descendants huge piles
    of things/stuff/belongings. More is NOT better in 2014 where
    so many people stress over lack of living (and storage) space.

    • Eleanor  March 6, 2014 at 8:45 am Reply

      Petula, you are very right. Many people don’t have the luxury of time or of even considering keeping half the stuff they might want. I’m sorry this was your experience and we should definitely write a post from this angle for the many people who have to approach this situation from that perspective. Also, as someone who despises clutter, I totally agree about not holding onto a ton of stuff.

  100. Jenni - Heavenly Helper  January 18, 2014 at 7:12 pm Reply

    I sympathize with what you are going through. Especially since I have done it myself for my own family members and have experienced first hand how difficult and time consuming the process can be. I have a company that works with families to help them organize, pack, and liquidate an estate that they have inherited after the loss of a loved one. You can get further information at

    *** Forbidden. Contains links. Sender name with backlink. Request number 852c8d5d1fed6c49d4cc11a2e5d68323. Antispam service ***

  101. Kathy  January 15, 2014 at 12:37 am Reply

    Thank you for this blog. I was my mother’s caregiver so she moved in with me when my father passed away and then became ill herself. She passed in June 2013 in my house. Since then I have been somewhat paralyzed within the house, as everything she did and was for the past 2.5 years is all around me. To read your comments about the difficulty of seeing the half tube of toothpaste, unfinished knitting, etc validated that is a normal grief response and not just an overly emotional menopausal woman at work 🙂 I have begun to go through her things, hard as it is … when I run into something I can’t deal with, I take a break, watch something stupid on TV till the sadness passes, and try to get back at it. If I can’t that day, well, too darned bad … there will be another day. We must be kind to ourselves!

    • Cheryl  February 2, 2014 at 10:35 pm Reply

      I understand how you feel. I was my mother’s caregiver, except that I moved into her home. I also feel paralyzed in the house. But, at the same time, I take great comfort in being surrounded by her things. My challenge is in knowing what to do with her clothes and shoes, and am thinking about a consignment shop. It’s easy to toss old lipsticks, but what to do with the things that are good? And there are days when I decide not to think about it.

  102. Kiri (The Angel Zoe Kindness Project)  December 30, 2013 at 2:37 pm Reply

    This is timely for me to read. I spent all of yesterday avoiding the one task I had given myself – to remove the ad hoc hallway display of my daughter’s little achievements tacked to the wall, put them away and choose some photos to go on the wall instead. I have changed very little since she died, but now have some friends house sitting for a few months, so have to organise some things (which has mostly meant putting them in boxes and out of view).
    I did come across this lovely idea in a pin a few weeks ago – perhaps a project for the boxes I have of her artwork tucked away.

    • Eleanor  December 30, 2013 at 4:02 pm Reply


      Good luck with this project, I can understand wanting to avoid changing this wall for many reasons. I love this Pinterest idea though! I admit I have thrown away more than a handful of my children’s masterpieces and I always feel so guilty, but what do you do with them all? You’re right, putting them in boxes where no one can see them is almost just as sad. This project seems like a great solution. Thanks for sharing.


  103. Mary  August 29, 2013 at 1:19 pm Reply

    Thank you so much for this article! My grandmother passed away February 2013 and it’s been rough on my mom who lived the closest to my grandmother. My mom’s two sisters are too far away to help and my mom gets very overwhelmed when we start to try and help to clean things up. I think the memories can be overwhelming along with the amount of stuff that was accumulated over the years.

    Is there a certain time frame that you have to sell a house once a loved one passes?? My grandmother passed in February and we’ve been told to have the house up on the market by November. Is that too soon, or the standard amount of time to have things cleaned out? I’m not sure of the protocol. Thanks again!!

    • Eleanor  September 3, 2013 at 8:29 pm Reply

      Hey Mary,

      Sorry it took us a little while to answer this question. You know, to my knowledge there shouldn’t be a timeframe related to when you need to sell the house. Who’s name is the house in? Is there a financial reason why it needs to be sold? We can’t really speak to when to put the house up for sale when it comes to the housing market or other logistical matters, but we can tell you when it comes to grief there is no standard timeframe in which people are generally ready to do things like sort through, give away, and sell belongings.

      I would say if there is no pressing reason why you need to sell the house, give your mother a little time. Everyone is different and where some people are ready to get rid of things right away, others continue to find this task daunting for months and even years. Offer as much support as possible and talk with her about what would make this process easier for her.

      If you haven’t already seen this post about ‘How to Give Away the ‘Give Away Pile’ I recommend it:

      As well as this one on working with family when sorting through belongings:

      And of course please let us know how else we can help!

    • Erik  December 19, 2013 at 10:08 pm Reply

      Hi Mary,

      Did you decide if you were going to sell?

  104. Darlene Piper  July 16, 2013 at 3:09 pm Reply

    My mother passed away on 25 May, 2013. She was 84 years young. I am the youngest of 5 children and I believe to have been the closest with my mom taking care of her daily. My sister moved in with her and my brother about a year ago and periodically my sister would want to get rid of things that upset my mom as she confided in me to say ” Why does she want to get rid of that dresser just because its old. Does she want to get rid of me because I’m old” was her comment. I would of course say no and that my sister was only trying to organize. Now that my mother has passed away, my sister is wanting to get rid of everything and I am getting upset as I am not ready to part with Mom’s belongings. My sister had boxed most of everything and we got into a tiff about it. Now my sister put everything back to its original state as my mother left it. I am feeling the emotions my mom felt earlier and I do not want to cause any friction between myself and sister. When is the right time to let go of all the belongings?

    • Litsa  July 17, 2013 at 11:56 pm Reply

      Darlene, I am so sorry to hear about the death of your mom and also sorry it has brought about some tension in the family.

      Unfortunately there is no “right” time to give away belongings. It will vary for every person and every loss.

      What I would suggest is taking some time to sit down and talk as a family about your feelings about giving items away. One thing that can be a challenge is when one family member views these items as a comfort and difficult to part with while another views them as a painful reminder. There are many other examples of competing emotions from different family members. Discussing this may not solve the problem of agreeing on a timeframe, but will help everyone better understand each other’s perspective and needs.

      Though going through and giving away belongings may feel like and all-or-nothing task, you may want to consider starting with a few items everyone is comfortable giving away. For items people wish to keep but for which there is no space, consider if there are extended family members who may wish to keep the items or be willing to temporarily keep them. Consider if you could give away an item that is less sentimental that you own to replace it with an item that belonged to your loved one.

      This post may be of some help, if you have not read it already:

      Take care and keep us posted!

  105. Tamara Beachum  January 28, 2013 at 12:17 pm Reply

    Great post! I especially love your creative suggestions on taking photographs, creating memory books and utilizing clothing in quilts.

    I have had the luxury of time to deal with many of my late husband’s belongings. As the years have passed I have found that it is easier for me to handle in small chunks. For one group of belongings or another I have used just about all of the tips you list.

    One that I would add is calling in a professional when there are a great number or valuable items to be sold. My husband was a photographer by trade and had professional equipment that needed to be liquidated before it was no longer valuable. A colleague of his helped me catalog all of the items (many that I could not give a name to) and led the charge for creating an estate sale. I was able to use the proceeds in a way that helped my children and me in our grief and also supports their future education.

    Thanks for the thorough approach!

    • whatsyourgrief  February 10, 2013 at 12:49 pm Reply

      Thanks Tamara for visiting and the comment — was on vacation so a little behind on replies. It is a great suggestion about calling a professional. It is easy to not realize the value of certain items, or not know how to go about selling niche items, so it certainly makes sense to find someone to help with this.

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