When is the right time to dispose of your deceased loved one’s belongings?
How long after someone dies should you get rid of their clothes? What about their keepsakes, their shoes, their jewelry? Their shampoo bottles and old prescriptions? Their worn-out gardening gloves, that book they kept meaning to read?
What exactly do you keep after someone dies? Knowing when to dispose of the deceased’s belongings isn’t going to be an easy task.
The space of time following the life celebration and burial of a loved one can be lonely. You are left with many reminders of your loss in the objects that surround you.
Your next step is to decide what to do with your loved one’s belongings.
This is a task that should be completed with mindfulness, as these objects are your last tangible connection to the person who meant so much.
If you’re wondering what to do with your loved one’s stuff, the following information is designed to help you plan with intention. Instead of simply discarding certain items from the start, it’s important to consider which could be gifted or even repurposed to extend the memory of the one you loved.
When to Dispose of a Deceased Person’s Belongings
No timeline exists for letting go of the deceased’s belongings. It should be at the discretion of the closest family member(s) to make this call. Most often this is the spouse, but it could also be one or both parents when a child dies, or the adult children when the last parent passes.
Of course, if there are inheritance questions, please do get legal advice. Check with the executor of the estate before giving away, selling, or donating items of value. This article is for after all that is done and you are left with personal effects.
While some choose to dispose of the items at the first chance, others prefer to take time to sit with the items before making any decisions. No way is right or wrong; rather, it is based on the circumstances of everyone involved as well as their emotional readiness.
My advice is to choose a specific time or event so that you can mentally prepare for it, and the choice doesn’t come down to your subjective feelings at the moment.
Consider waiting until:
- You have the death certificate
- The will is read
- Probate court is complete
- One week (or one month, or three months) after the funeral
- The one-year anniversary of your loved one’s death
When Grieving Unexpectedly
However, if you get rid of things too quickly you may regret it later on. So we typically recommend that, especially in the case of an unexpected death, you do not do this until at least two weeks after the death of the loved one.
When Anticipating a Passing
Plan ahead if you can. It is a much easier process if you are able to complete this task before your loved one passes. Of course, this isn’t always possible, but it’s something to consider if you are in a palliative care situation.
When my mother was at the point of receiving hospice care at her home, my sister and I — being her only daughters — decided to go through her clothes. We each chose certain items to keep, but gave the majority away to a homeless organization where she had spent time volunteering.
If you are able to sort through your loved one’s personal belongings before the death, it will make for a much easier activity. Your emotions aren’t quite as raw, as your loved one is still with you.
Make It a Meaningful Time
Don’t do it alone if possible. Call on close family members to make this event special. It will give you and those closest to you an opportunity to reminisce about your loved one.
Undoubtedly, you will happen upon items that will stir special memories to enjoy. In the end, you’ll be glad that you shared this meaningful event with others.
What to Do with “Stuff” After Someone Dies
Not everything that a person owns has sentimental value or is worth saving. Though this is true, it is important to avoid rushing through this process.
Before throwing or giving away any personal property, make four piles (gift, sell, donate, throw away) or use four bins to organize the items.
Bin #1: Gift
These are sentimental items that you feel someone would either find value in or appreciate as a memento of the deceased person.
Extended family members such as nieces, nephews, and grandchildren would be wonderful recipients of these items. It is a tangible way for them to hold onto the memory of someone who has passed.
Don’t feel bad if there are some unwanted items. Each family member will honor the loved one’s memory in different ways, so remember that not everything is worth keeping and that’s ok.
Bin #2: Sell
These are items that are in good condition, have value, but are not wanted or needed by anyone close to you.
Planning an estate cleanout or garage sale is a common way to dispose of practical items that can still be put to good use, antique furniture, tools, collectibles, and more.
If you have just a few things to sell, an easy way to do so is through an online platform such as classifieds, eBay, or Craigslist.
Bin #3: Donate
These are often smaller items that are in good condition and could be used by those in need. It is always best to consider charity organizations before throwing away things that will only end up in a landfill.
Contact your local church, thrift store, or non-profit organization to donate and extend the life of these belongings.
Bin #4: Throw Away
These are personal items that you feel have little value or are in a condition that would warrant you to dispose of them. This pile will often be the smallest.
Don’t go overboard on keeping items that your loved one owned or used. While you will certainly want to keep a few keepsakes and mementos, you shouldn’t feel bad about giving away or even throwing away their stuff.
Letting go of at least some of their personal possessions is an important part of the healing process.
Keeping the Clothes of a Loved One
Clothing seems to be one of the more difficult item categories to part with.
Maybe it’s because a memorable scent still lingers in the fabric, or just seeing a piece of clothing creates the most immediate reminder of the person.
If you wish to give new life to your loved one’s clothing, consider gifting or repurposing them.
Some clothing is simply timeless. Whether it’s a classic suit or a simple cocktail dress that never loses style, gifting is the best way to include everyone in the process.
Even an ugly Christmas sweater or lucky pair of pants might have enough sentimental value for someone to keep and carry on the legacy.
Consider gifting these special items to those who would appreciate them the most.
If your loved one had a large wardrobe or a collection of patterned fabric that was quintessential to them, then consider repurposing your loved one’s clothing.
This is especially fun if you’re someone who knows how to use a sewing machine. Use the fabric to create items such as pillows, throw blankets, quilts, or even Christmas ornaments or holiday wreaths.
Not only are you extending the life of the clothes, but you’re giving them a whole new purpose. Whatever you create will be a reminder of that special someone.
Wearing the Jewelry of a Loved One
If you’re wondering what to do with jewelry after death, you’re not alone. It’s another item that is hard to let go. Just like with clothing, it’s often the closest reminder of a person.
Consider gifting the jewelry to relatives and close friends who would find special meaning in owning a piece of jewelry that belonged to someone they loved. Receiving it will allow them to hold something dear for years to come, existing as an ever present reminder of that special someone.
The jewelry you’re gifting doesn’t have to be expensive to have value. It’s not the monetary value of the piece that matters. Rather, it’s the memory that it evokes.
By gifting your loved one’s jewelry, be it costume or fine jewels, you are inviting others to share in the memory of the person long after the funeral.
How to Wear Wedding Rings After Death of a Spouse
The question of when to stop wearing your wedding ring after the death of a spouse does not have a definitive answer. There is no set deadline for grieving because everyone processes loss differently.
Part of the grieving process involves taking off the wedding ring and starting a new chapter in life. This should not be taken lightly, as the wedding ring is a symbol of a loving union between two people.
For someone who has lost a spouse, closing the door on that union can be unimaginably difficult. Many mourners report that it is the hardest thing they did after the loss of their spouse.
It’s important to take your time and allow yourself to select the moment that is comfortable for you.
Reposition the Ring
If you find yourself uneasy about removing the wedding ring because it’s too difficult to move on from such an important part of your history, then you might consider putting the ring on a different finger.
Many people simply place it on their right hand to signify a change in marital status but not a change in the symbolic bond that it represents.
Wear It in a New Way
You might consider wearing the ring in a unique way. For instance, hire a jeweler to design you a new broach with the ring as its focal point, or simply place it on a chain to wear as a necklace.
Either way, you are allowing the ring to remain with you as that important symbol of unity with your late spouse.
Whether you choose to wear your wedding ring on a different finger or in an entirely new way, you are honoring the memory of your departed love.
What to Do with Documents
There are many types of important documents, from legal documents to personal letters and everything in between.
My advice is that you go slowly with documents. You don’t want to throw away something important that you’ll need later on.
Keep an eye out for the following papers:
- Birth certificate
- Insurance information
- Health records
- Personal correspondence
- Scratch paper with passwords or important reminders
- Sketches, drawings, and other artwork
- Personal journals and memories
- Fictional writings
Redecorating After the Death of a Spouse
Remaining in the home that you and your spouse created together can be difficult. Everything that surrounds you is a reminder of the person you loved and lost too soon.
The area rug that adorns the living room floor reminds you of the summer, long ago, when you and your spouse happened upon an estate sale in your new neighborhood.
The Italian fresco painting that hangs above the dining room fireplace brings you back to the Mediterranean cruise the two of you enjoyed so much.
Suddenly, your spouse’s favorite family room chair exists as a painful reminder of your loss.
It wouldn’t be wrong to consider redecorating your home after the death of a spouse. The act alone could provide a new start and a certain degree of closure. You can create a special memorial space for your loved one if you like, or incorporate their photos and keepsakes into your everyday decor.
Instead of getting rid of that area rug or painting, simply put it in a different room in the house. That favorite chair might serve a greater purpose next to the reading lamp in the office.
Re-upholstering or painting a spouse’s favorite pieces of furniture is another way to reimagine the look of a room while keeping the person’s memory alive. In any case, you’re paying homage to your spouse while giving yourself permission to carry on and heal.
Holding onto or letting go of the deceased’s belongings is difficult, but it’s an opportunity for you to honor their memory. If it is done with thoughtfulness rather than haste, then any decision you make is the right decision and should ultimately bring you a certain amount of peace.
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Margaret spent seventeen years as an English and Writing teacher before venturing into the funeral industry as a writer. She has been writing articles for US Urns Online since the summer of 2022. Margaret loves tackling subjects that help others navigate through the difficulties of grief.
After losing three close family members in less than four years and having to endure the difficult task of writing a eulogy for each, she considered assisting others through grief by helping them pay tribute with a beautiful memorial speech. As a result, she started her own eulogy writing business.
Her niche is unique because it offers others something that they might not have considered otherwise. For people enduring loss, it’s usually hard to set aside emotions to focus upon capturing life in a celebratory way. Margaret uses her personal experience with grief to practice empathy, making the process of creating a beautiful eulogy easy for her clients.