My new widow friend just called me and said “He passed away! What do I do with his things?” Ouch. That hurts my heart because I remember going through this myself. I didn’t do anything with most of it until more than a year after his passing. His office, closet, and bathroom were the hardest because it was what he used every day and reminded me of our normal routine. When I packed it up, I was packing up a memory. I realized everything is tied to a memory. I also realized a lot of these things are just that, things.
First of all everyone’s circumstances are different. Just know there is not a “right” time to go through his things and there is not a “right” thing to do with his possessions. Everyone comes to terms with this at different times and goes through their own grieving process. Be kind to yourself.
People that care want to try to eliminate that pain for you. They may suggest you go through their things soon so you don’t have to see them and get sad every time. From their perspective, it may be sound advice. From someone who has gone through this, it’s harder to do than it sounds. Actually, it’s completely overwhelming- physically and emotionally. I had family say they would come and do it for me- well that isn’t what I wanted. I needed to do it alone and when I was ready. That’s just me though, some friends have told me they couldn’t have done it without help or couldn’t do it at all and someone came in and did it for them. What may be best is to figure out the best way to tell friends and family how you are feeling. I was pretty upfront, but I had to also remember they just wanted to help. I made some rules and put NOTES ON THE DOORS of any rooms not to enter– in case anyone came in to “surprise me with cleaning”. I didn’t want anyone to go into my bedroom or his office. Those were completely off-limits. The rest of the home was free game to clean to their heart’s content.
Some questions to ask yourself when going through their things…
1. When is it healthy for you and your kids to go through their possessions?
2. What do you have room for to store? Do you have a garage? Attic space?
3. Are there things you can give to his children, siblings, parents, and friend that would mean something to them?
What did I do with his things? I am an organizer by nature, so when I go into a room to organize, I have 4 containers: DONATE, SAVE, GARBAGE, PUT AWAY somewhere else.
My husband was OCD, a perfectionist, and didn’t save anything, so he did not have many possessions. I was pretty careful and didn’t donate anything to charity because he had so little.
1. I had my husband’s signature embroidered on all of his ties and I gave them to all the men and boys in his life that were special to him.
2. I gave one of his favorite shirts to each of his kids and siblings. My kids have the blue shirt (he mostly wore blue- his favorite color) in their memory box.
3. I kept his suits for his two boys. They are now big enough to wear them.
4. His shoe size was small and the only person who fit them was his dad, so I gave all his shoes to him.
5. As far as socks, underwear, undershirts, and those personal items I gave some to his boys and the rest to his dad.
6. I kept his favorite books which I will distribute among all 6 of his kids when they are older.
7. I put everything that was on his desk in a plastic container. Yes, I also put some things that were in his garbage in there. These were the things he had last touched. They are in my garage now.
8. I put everything that was in his bathroom drawers in a plastic container.
9. He had a few special pictures and I gave some to his parents and have one for each of his 6 kids.
10. He had a special porcelain figurine and some bookholders that I have kept for now.
11. He built a few large (yes like 7′ tall) bird cages that are beautiful furniture. These were his prized possessions. I gave one to his parents, grandpa, saved two for his kids and I have one in my home now.
12. I kept all of his tools so I can use them or give them to his boys.
13. My daughter bought his car and still uses it today. I didn’t want to give any big possessions to one of his kids, like the car, because it wouldn’t be fair to the others, so I sold the car to my daughter for a good price.
14. I gave his dirt bike to the kids.
15. I kept his file cabinet, backpack, and the things that were found with him when he died. I boxed them up when I moved 15 months after his death. They are in my garage now. He has about 3 large containers in the garage of his possessions. The rest have been distributed.
I wish you sweet peace when deciding how and when to go through your spouse’s things. It is such an emotional time and you, and only you, can decide how to go about this. Yes, you can leave the glass he just used on the bedstand for years if you want! Yes, you can clean it and put it away in the cabinet. xoxo