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Thursday, May 30, 2019

When it's time to start cleaning out their stuff, a widows journey through grief.

Going through our loved one's things can be the single hardest task we put ourselves through.

In this article, we break down the tough subject of getting rid of things that used to belong to your loved one. This is, by far, one of the hardest and most important parts of your healing journey.

Photo by Niko Lienata on Unsplash

What it means to a widow to clean out their things:

Throughout our lives, we accumulate items, "things", stuff. Some of these are special things that mean a lot to us and things that don’t.

My favorite spot on the couch doesn’t mean much to me now, and I’d get a new couch if I needed one.  However, if I were to die, would someone take comfort in my spot on that couch? Chances are my household family members would sit there, sleep there and want to hold onto that couch for years after I would care to.

Isn’t that what we tend to do with our spouse’s items as well? There are clothes, shoes, trinkets, furniture, pets, you name it! If they loved it in life, then we probably love it now.

So what happens when our spouse dies and we are left with everything they ever kept?

As we are experiencing shock and disbelief, planning a funeral for our one true love, we also have the burden of acquiring their belongings.

Now, this wouldn’t be much of a burden, because we lived together in our home. Our motto was “what’s mine is yours”. What makes the issue of their stuff extremely difficult, is not the stuff itself but the ever-so-loving people in our lives who want to offer the best, unsolicited, advice they can think of: "It's time to get rid of their stuff, you need to move on."

Our friends will tell us that we should start cleaning out their things and sometimes this starts as soon as the first week. Our family may tell us to get rid of their vehicles even though we may want to sit in the driver seat where our spouse sat for so many hours of travel.

We will also have people asking to take our loved one’s stuff for themselves. You may think to yourself, “Hold on a minute! I just buried my spouse and I don’t want to change our home. I want it to still look like we both live here together and I’m not ready for more change than I already have to go through!”

What do you do when you’re too emotional to go through your closet with the unimaginable thought of getting rid of your spouse’s clothes. You don’t. You leave your home the way it is until you and only you are ready to part with things.

When you think you are ready... start small.

At first, you may want to give people small trinkets or pieces of clothes that mean something special to someone that was close. This is easiest to start out with because you can take several small items out of the house and it will still look the same.

Sometimes it’s best to leave most of the items where they belong for a while. As time passes by, you will find it easier to spend some time going through items of theirs. When this gets to be too emotional, it’s important to be kind and allow yourself to take a break.

Another thing to consider early on is if there are loans on anything that needs to be returned, such as a vehicle.

Be sure to always let creditors know of your spouse’s death and send a death certificate, so they don’t continuously call looking for payment.

Also, ask if they had Life/Disability protection coverages on the loan. Many dealerships, banks, and/or credit unions sell this protection on the loan and it could mean the difference between keeping the car and returning it. If you don't have this on your loan, look into it.

When are you ready to do the heavy cleaning, ask for help, take it slow.

You will know when you’re ready to clear most of their stuff out of the house. At times it can be incredibly helpful to ask a friend or relative for help. They will keep you motivated and be a shoulder to cry on if needed.

People also really want to help when it comes to recovering from tragedy. They may not always know the appropriate things to say, but it comes from the heart and they want us to be happy. Helping you to get rid of your spouse’s things will appear as though you’re “moving on” in their eyes, and chances are you’ll have help if you ask for it.

Try to be sure to give people items so that others may cherish them and keep them as a remembrance of your spouse. Friends and relatives generally love getting items from loved ones, as this helps them to feel as though they have a piece of your spouse forever.

Some items you may choose to keep forever, turning their collection into your own. This is okay too. Keepsakes and memorials are a healthy way to carry the good times and good memories with you into your next season of life.

Often times, we don’t want to give items away to just anybody, so we may hold onto certain items and wait until we find the “perfect” person to give it to. Maybe a charity or an individual who would use the specific item.

If your spouse was an avid cyclist or photographer, for instance, and you want to be sure that these items go to someone who will truly cherish them, then it’s ok to hold onto them for the time being.

When is the right time to start this process?

I’ve seen people start this process as soon as the first week after a spouse dies and I’ve seen the house look exactly the same for two years. Everybody is different and it’s important to do what you’re comfortable with.

If you are someone who had the desire and willpower to get rid of everything very quickly, that’s ok too! I would highly recommend keeping at least a box of items so that you don’t have regrets in the future.

However you choose to handle the distribution of your spouse’s possessions is up to you. It should be dealt with when you are ready, not the day after the funeral service when your friend asks if you need help going through your spouse’s items the following weekend.

If you’re ready, then great! Have a friend support you in this task.

If you aren’t ready then it’s important to express that to them and let them know that when you are ready you’ll let them know.

No matter your timeframe, be kind to yourself in allowing the process to be what you need it to be.

One small victory is still a victory! 

You may weep while doing this. Allow yourself those tears, and continue when you’re ready.


Thank you for spending time with us today.

We hope this helps you either process your own grief or understand those in your life going through it. Please check out our Resources page for more articles and some links to the tools we've found helpful. For more about who we are, click About Us.

Adrianne and Darrell, fellow Widows/Widowers