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Sorting through a loved one’s possessions after a funeral

Guidance to help make the process easier

You have just said your final goodbye to your loved one, and now you’re left wondering, “what do I do next?”.

The post-funeral phase can be an especially confronting time. The hustle and bustle of organising a funeral sometimes distracts us from properly processing the loss, and the reality of life without that special person.

Settling into a new normal can be difficult, as you may be faced with a house full of their belongings -from their toothbrush in the bathroom, to their laundry in the hamper.

There is certainly no right or wrong way to deal with loss, but there are tips to help make life beyond the funeral a little easier.

Make a to-do list and set timelines

Prioritising and setting goals with realistic timeframes is a good place to start.

Some tasks such as those relating to financials are more pressing than others. Perhaps your loved one ran their own business or had a lot of bills and outstanding insurance paperwork. In this instance, it’s advisable to address these items first.

In saying that, if your house is full of belongings that are no longer sensible to keep, then perhaps dealing with those may be a better option.

Though the practical items might have deadlines and consequences if not quickly addressed, it is equally important to give precedence to anything that will help your mental and emotional health.

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Go room by room

Sorting through a house full of belongings and mementos can be a daunting prospect, and a very draining process.

Breaking it down, room-by-room, is a good way to help minimise those overwhelming feelings.

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Take as long or as little time as you need
Some people feel like they need to bag things up immediately. Others want to keep things in their place for as long as possible to help preserve precious memories.

Everybody handles this differently, and it’s important to work through the process at your own pace and do what feels right for you.

If you don’t want to delay the sorting process, just remember to take breaks and be kind to yourself. Your wellbeing is what’s most important.

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Consider asking family member or friend to help

Asking a trusted family member or friend to help you work through the practical items and review possessions left behind can be a godsend.

They may be able to assist by taking care of certain ‘administrative’ tasks on your behalf. Also, an extra set of hands and a shoulder to lean on can be an invaluable source of support whilst sorting through your loved one’s belongings.

You may feel strong enough to tackle the bigger items, but too emotional to throw away the half-empty shampoo bottles or medications. Telling your support person what you want to get rid of and asking them to physically dispose of the item/s is often a huge help during this difficult time.

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Set categories

Whilst divvying up your loved one’s possessions, it’s a good idea to create categories and set aside boxes or bags for each. You may want place colour-coded sticky notes on larger items to reflect which category they fall into.

Here are some categorisation suggestions:

  • Save for me
  • Save for others
  • Save for later
  • Sell
  • Donate
  • Throw away
  • Not sure

Try to focus on being realistic. Although it was a favourite suit, if no-one in the family is going to wear it, it may be better to place it in the ‘donate’ box rather than the ‘save for others’ box.

There may be items you’re not sure you want to keep, but also can’t bring yourself to throw away. This is completely normal and that’s why a ‘not sure’ box is suggested. You can always revisit this down the track.

Plus, there may be items you’re not ready to face sorting through just yet. These could be anything from a half-knitted scarf to a favourite mug, and they can be categorised ‘save for later’. Pick a room you don’t often use and store the ‘save for later’ belongings there until you are ready.

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Be careful when deciding who gets what

Throwing or giving away items that were of value to other family members can become a source of conflict. Often an item that has little meaning to one family member can have significant sentimental value to another.

Speaking to your loved one’s nearest and dearest will give you a clearer idea of what is important to who. This will help you decide how the possessions are best distributed, and hopefully avoid any resentment or ill feeling.

There is a lot to think about, but we hope these tips help you sort through your loved one’s belongings.

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More information to help you

For guidance on other ‘practical’ elements such as the immediate considerations when your loved one first passes, who you need to contact, arranging the funeral, reviewing possessions left behind, and the process of selling a deceased estate, please see our Feros Care Bereavement Guide

This guide also provides resources to support you with the ‘personal’ side of loss, namely the emotional journey and grieving process. From tips to help you accept loss and search for meaning, to a list of carefully curated websites and telephone numbers to further assist you, we try to cover all the common pain points.

Remember, there is no one-size-fits all handbook for dealing with the death of a loved one, and we hope to make a positive difference during this difficult time.

Our expert team at Feros Care are available to contact via 1300 418 418.

Support is also available from Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 and Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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