The death of a loved one, whether it’s a child, parent, sibling or grandparent, is one of the greatest difficulties you will ever face.
While it is hard enough to accept the fact that a loved one is gone, sorting through that person’s belongings can be particularly traumatic for many people.
“Dealing with the belongings of a loved one who dies is part of the physical grieving process and can be very much tied to the act of letting the person go,” said Nicole Cutts, a psychologist in Washington, DC.
While everyone has their own way of dealing with such a loss, here are a few tips for navigating the process of sorting a loved one’s belongings.
1. Emotional Attachment
Packing up the belongings of a deceased loved one is about more than just storing things in boxes. Some people hold onto a loved one’s possessions in an effort to hold onto that person. Others discard everything immediately in an attempt to avoid the grieving process and move on.
Some may even feel guilty about getting rid of items that they otherwise would discard because they think they’d be letting down the deceased person by giving away items, Cutts said.
Before you do anything, ask yourself what those belongings mean to you and consider how sorting through them might affect you emotionally.
2. Identify Possessions
Nearly 9 percent of U.S. households rent self-storage units, according to the Self Storage Association. Your loved one may be one of them.
If your loved one gave you a key and the code to his or her self-storage facility, simply go clear those belongings out. However, if not, don’t expect a self-storage facility to automatically give you access to those possessions.
A self-storage operator won’t take your word for it that you’re the one who should claim the belongings, said Jeffrey Greenberger, a partner at Cincinnati law firm Katz Greenberger & Norton LLP.
“The operator doesn’t know that two days later some other family member isn’t going to show up and say the same thing,” Greenberger said.
If the person who is deceased made a will, the executor would be given access to the contents of the storage unit. If not, you may have to go to probate court–which handles property and estate matters when there is no will–to prove that you should have access to those belongings, Greenberger said.
3.Time to Heal
When you’re grappling with the trauma of a recent death, you may not be thinking rationally. Minneapolis health care system Allina Health advises putting off making a decision about what to do with the person’s belongings for a little while, as many people who give items away in the days just after a person’s death later wish they’d kept some of them.
While there’s no formula for determining the right time to start sorting through the possessions, you should try to give yourself at least a few weeks to process the tragedy before making major decisions about where belongings should go.
You also should give yourself time to actually sort through the loved one’s things. The act of sifting through belongings often brings up memories, and those can trigger feelings of sadness and grief, Cutts said. By sorting through those items a little at a time, you give yourself a chance to process your emotions bit by bit.
4.Ask for Help
Once you do decide to go through a loved one’s belongings, you may find yourself overwhelmed by your emotions, as well as the sorting work that must be done. If you can afford to hire a professional organizer, that person can guide you through deciding what to keep and where you should keep it, Cutts said. If not, ask a trusted friend or relative to help you.
5.Store It if You Must
While it’s a good idea to give yourself a little time before sorting through a loved one’s belongings, waiting too long can be a bad idea, Cutts said. People sometimes avoid going through and discarding the belongings of a deceased loved one for years because they want to avoid feelings of loss and sadness that might come up.
It’s normal to hold onto things for a while, but if you avoid sifting through and disposing of a loved one’s possessions indefinitely, you can remain stuck in our grief and fail to move on with your life, Cutts said.
If you’re unable to sort through belongings or throw them away, you can move them to a self-storage facility as a first step in separating from your loved one’s possessions. A self-storage facility also can be helpful if you want to keep some items but don’t have room for them at home.