By Melodie Veldhuizen
When your marriage partner dies, you are left with fluctuating emotions, memories, sadness and longing. Moreover, there are many things you have to decide alone, for example if you should move to another (smaller) residence. Your loved one’s personal belongings, such as clothes, tools, books and collectors’ items must be sorted and you have to decide what to throw away, give away, sell or keep. If you are moving to another (smaller) residence, due to limited space you will also have to get rid of furniture and other items that you collected and enjoyed together, such as paintings and ornaments. Every piece of furniture, CD, book, clothing, or personal item bring up memories of good times together. The downsizing process is certainly not easy and something that can be completed within a few days or even a few weeks. It could even take months.
This is part of the grieving process and your journey to acceptance of the loss of your marriage partner as well as the loss of that which you experienced as a couple and as a family. If you handle it correctly, it could be the first step to a new phase in your life, without you ever forgetting your loved one or what was.
Experts share some tips
Should you be forced by circumstances, for example having to sell the house or quickly getting accommodation in a retirement home, this is the ideal time to start sorting your loved one’s/your possessions.
– Begin preparing yourself mentally and emotionally by procuring cardboard boxes or other containers, labels and marking pens.
– Create categories such as throw away, sell, donate and keep. Place each item in an applicable container. Guard against indecisiveness – by keeping stuff to decide about them later will only cause you to postpone the process.
– Handle the project in phases. For example, do one room, cupboard, shelf or kind of item at a time. Begin with a room that will have the least emotional impact and with items you can get rid of easily (those which your loved one did not really care about much and which you don’t need so much any longer or wish to keep). These include worn and broken goods. By getting rid of basic items, you prepare yourself for those who will affect you emotionally.
– Do as much as you are up to on the day. When you become tired or emotional, take a walk, or take a tea break with a friend. You needn’t spend every day on this. Sometimes it’s beneficial to create some distance for a day or two and reflect, especially when you are busy with items of sentimental value that let you get emotional.
– If you are moving to a smaller place, keep the available space in mind. Set a limit on specific categories such as the CDs you listen to often or that were your and your loved one’s favourites, and books you would like to read again of haven’t read yet, or just keep a few of your spouse’s favourite shirts. Keep only one dinner service and cutlery set, and get rid of duplicates (often unnecessary in the kitchen) or that you haven’t used for years and probably never will.
– Paperwork is mostly time-consuming, because you will want to read every letter or card and study every photo. Place all paper items (documents, receipts, greeting cards) in a container to sort out later. When you handle them, make electronic copies of those that contain important information and of which you don’t need the originals and have them shredded. Make an album of loose photos or scan them and save them electronically. File paper copies of important documents.
- Throw away. These items are the easiest to handle. Usually, they are those that can’t be of value to anyone else. Place them in disposable containers that you can have taken away later or place them in your refuse removal bin.
– Sell. There will probably be items that you would like to sell rather than donate as it is the ideal way of earning a few bucks to cover expenses or purchase something special for your new home. These can be items such as furniture and other household items that may still be valuable. You can also sell books, CDs and old vinyl records, for example to collectors. There are various ways of doing this. Have a garage sale or advertise on local buy-and-sell groups.
– Donate. You might feel guilty of being a traitor by giving away your loved one’s stuff, but by giving it to someone to whom it will provide pleasure and who will appreciate it, you will also be happy. If a family member or friend asks for something specific, mark it with that person’s name and deliver it as soon as possible. Listen to your heart. Sometimes you know instinctively who will like something specific, or could use it, even if the person doesn’t ask for it.
Consider giving heirlooms or items of sentimental value which a child or grandchild will inherit some day, to them now. The benefits are two-fold. You don’t have to find storage space for them in your smaller home, and you can now experience the joy of giving and the recipient’s happiness about this early inheritance. It might be the appropriate time to give a specific item to a granddaughter who on occasion said in childish innocence, “When Granny dies, may I please have this locket?”
Donate the rest to welfare organisations. There will always be someone who could use items that you cannot or don’t want to use any longer. For example, consider the welfare organisations your loved one always liked to support.
Take photos of items you still want to remember but don’t necessarily want to keep.
– That which you want to keep. Things that were important to your loved one and gave pleasure, or that you acquired together, may possible be the most difficult items to get rid of.
If he/she had a complete collection of something, decide if you want to keep it and have space for it. Otherwise, donate or sell it to a collector.
– Ways of conserving sentimental items and heirlooms that will no longer be used. Create a space/corner in a room where you can exhibit them. If you don’t want to do this, they can be stored in a memory box. A good idea is to make memory items of favourite pieces of clothes or have them made, for example a teddy bear or a duvet/quilt.
– While sorting. Grant yourself the time to reflect on occasions related to specific pieces of clothes or other items – usually there are fond memories linked to many favourite possessions, such as a special birthday gift or something you purchased during a memorable holiday. Take your time to enjoy the memories and recall emotions of times spent together. Cherish the happy thoughts related to the item, even if leads to tears. The idea is to keep only that which evokes positive memories, or that you can use.
– Should you tackle the task alone or accept help? There will be times when you will choose to be alone, but sometimes the assistance or mere presence of friends and family will be welcome. Don’t be afraid to ask and be specific about the nature of the help you need, even if it’s just to deliver donations. Use this opportunity to forge ties with your children and grandchildren. Invite them over for a visit and go through the sentimental items and heirlooms together. Tell them about the origin/history of the item – for example, this tea set belonged to Great-grandma and this ring was by first birthday gift from Granddad, who has passed away. When one day they inherit these items, they will appreciate them more due to the sentimental value thereof. It could also be the last opportunity during which your children can gather and share memories in the home where they grew up – times of togetherness and also memories of a beloved grandparent or parent who has passed on.
The sizing down process does not mean that you are betraying or forgetting your loved one. The fact that you are moving to a new home also does not mean that you are leaving behind the memories of all you experienced together. Often memories are more precious that the physical items or physical living space which you have to bid farewell.
Grief and Sympathy. https://www.griefandsympathy.com/movehouseafterbereavement.html
Grief and Sympathy. https://www.griefandsympathy.com/cleaningouthouseafterdeath.html
Grief and Sympathy. https://www.closetbox.com/resources/downsizing-reorganizing-home-passing-loved-one/