After the turmoil of dealing with the grief and emotions of losing a loved one, and all the initial decisions that are required regarding planning the funeral and handling any immediate concerns regarding the estate you will need to make decisions regarding what to do with the household belongings of your deceased loved one.

Take the time to prepare before taking on this task and be sure to pace yourself. Do not let others pressure you into taking on this job before you are ready.  Everyone is different in how long it will take to be emotionally ready to tackle the process of cleaning out a deceased loved one’s home, bedroom, or closet.

Tips to Help with the Process

Here is a list of a variety of tips to help ease the process, and make it less stressful.

Talk with Family and Friends

You may not want to go through this process alone.  Talk with family or friends and ask someone you feel comfortable with to help you through the process.  You might want someone who is a good organizer, or someone who can help you make decisions.  You may simply want someone who will be there to support you and be a sounding board if necessary.

Pace Yourself

This is typically an overwhelming process.  Do not feel like you have to do it all at once, unless there is a time crunch such as the potential sale of the house.

Five Categories

Separate items into five categories: save for myself, save for others, sell, donate, and garbage.  You might want to have boxes set up for each category or color code items with post-it notes to identify which category the item belongs in.

Possibly Add an “I Don’t Know” Box

Sometimes it is impossible to make a decision right at the moment.  Rather than putting the item back where you found it, put it in this box.  Doing so allows you to move on with the process, rather than becoming stuck on a single item.  These are items that you know you have looked at but were unable to make a decision regarding what to do with it.  Go through this box at some point in the future when you feel better able to make the decision.

Choose a Place of Honor

Choose a place of honor to hold or display any treasured items you want to keep to remember your loved one.  This also helps limit how much you keep.  Do not hang on to anything that is not useful or sentimentally important.

Set Limits

Decide how much room you have and set concrete limits as to how much you will keep. Setting limits for specific categories is extremely helpful.  In other words, you may decide that you will keep one collection of figurines, 15 books, 1 set of dishes, two pieces of clothing, etc.

Tackle the Project in Steps

Unless there is a time crunch, do not attempt to take on the entire process in a single day.  If you attempt to do it all at once, you are likely to become emotionally exhausted and unable to make any decisions at all.

Take Pictures

Take pictures of items that you want to remember but you cannot keep for practicality reasons.

Do Not Feel Guilty

Do not feel guilty about donating or discarding items.  It is not your responsibility to keep your loved one’s belongings forever.  Those belongings were useful to him or her, but are not necessarily useful for you. The important things to keep are your memories, not material items.

Start with the Easy Stuff

Getting started is often an overwhelming process, making it almost impossible to even know where to begin.  Begin with the items that are the easiest to discard.  This gets the momentum started and clears out space.  This could include broken or stained items, opened food items, old socks and underwear, tupperware containers without lids – those things that have absolutely no sentimental value and are easily thrown away.


The memories of your loved one and the relationship you enjoyed with them are what is important, and not the material things.