Organizing A Home: Post-Loss

how to organize a house after a death

Dealing with the death of a loved one is never easy. It can be emotionally challenging to sort through their belongings and organise their living space. However, there are some steps you can take to make the process a little easier.

First, it's important to give yourself time to grieve and process your emotions before diving into this task. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to organising a house after a death, and everyone will have their own unique circumstances to consider. If you live with the deceased, you might find it particularly difficult to be constantly surrounded by reminders of them. In this case, it might be helpful to put some everyday items that you find distressing, like their toothbrush or laundry, in a box and store it out of sight until you're ready to go through them.

When you feel ready to start sorting through your loved one's belongings, it can be helpful to enlist the assistance of friends or family members. They can provide emotional support and help with the physical work of packing and transporting items. If you don't have anyone who can help, or if you feel that having family around would be too anxiety-inducing, you might consider hiring a professional organiser who can guide you through the process and relieve you of some of the burden.

Before you begin, it's a good idea to make a plan. Decide who will be involved in the process and whether there are any items that people have requested to keep. It's also important to prioritise and plan which areas of the house you want to tackle first. You might want to start with rooms that contain fewer sentimental items, like the bathroom or kitchen, and work your way up to the more challenging areas.

As you go through your loved one's belongings, it can be helpful to sort items into categories: keep, donate, sell, and throw away. If you're having trouble deciding what to do with certain items, you might want to create a not sure box and come back to them later. Remember, there is no rush, and it's okay to take breaks if the process becomes overwhelming.

Finally, don't be afraid to ask for help. Many people will be eager to support you during this difficult time, so allow them to lend a hand, whether it's by dropping off donations or simply providing a listening ear.

Characteristics Values
Participants Who will help you sort through the belongings? Close family members, friends, a professional organizer
People What do other family members want to keep? Ask in advance and be specific
Prioritize and Plan In what order will you go through things? Room-by-room, starting with the bathroom and kitchen
Pace yourself How much time will you spend sorting through items? Take breaks, it can be an overwhelming process
Save for me What will you keep? A few select items that are the most important to you
Save for others What will you give to others? Items that hold meaning for them
Sell What will you sell? Items that are worth money
Donate What will you donate? Items that are useful to someone else

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Ask for help from friends and family

Asking for help from friends and family is an important step in organizing a house after a death. This can be a difficult and emotional time, so having a support system is crucial. Here are some ways to involve your loved ones in the process:

Enlist Emotional Support

Share your loss and allow yourself to be vulnerable with your support system. Friends and family can provide a shoulder to lean on and a listening ear as you navigate this challenging time. They can offer comfort, help you process your grief, and assist in decision-making.

Delegate Tasks

Don't be afraid to ask for practical help. Your friends and family can assist with various tasks involved in organizing the house. This may include packing up items, transporting donations, disposing of waste, or even just providing refreshments or a helping hand during the process. Delegating tasks can make the workload more manageable and allow you to focus on other important matters.

Seek Their Input

Friends and family members who were close to the deceased can offer valuable insights and perspectives. They may have ideas or suggestions for honouring the deceased's belongings or preserving their memory. They can also help identify items that hold sentimental value or share stories and memories associated with certain possessions. This collaborative approach can make the process more meaningful and help you feel less alone.

Create a List of Beneficiaries

Work together with your friends and family to create a list of people who may benefit from the belongings. This could include other relatives, close friends of the deceased, or even organizations or charities that align with their values and interests. By involving your support system in this process, you can ensure that items find meaningful new homes and are distributed in a way that honours the deceased's legacy.

Allow Them to Help with Logistics

There are numerous logistical tasks that can be delegated to friends and family. For example, they can assist in coordinating with realtors, attorneys, or estate sale companies. They can also help with communicating updates to other friends, extended family, or relevant organizations. By allowing them to take on some of these logistical tasks, you can free up your time and energy to focus on your well-being and the grieving process.

Remember, your friends and family want to support you during this difficult time. By asking for their help, you are not only lightening your own burden but also providing them with an opportunity to contribute and show their love and care for both you and the deceased.

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Hire a professional organiser

Sorting through a lifetime's worth of possessions can be a daunting task, especially when grieving. Hiring a professional organiser can help you through this challenging time. Here are some reasons why engaging the services of a professional organiser can be beneficial:

Expertise and Efficiency

Professional organisers are experts in their field and can provide valuable guidance during this difficult process. They will work at your pace while keeping you focused and on task. Their experience and efficiency will help streamline the process, ensuring that tasks are completed effectively and efficiently.

Emotional Support

The emotional toll of losing a loved one can make it challenging to make decisions about their belongings. Professional organisers understand the sensitivity of the situation and will approach the task with empathy and respect. They can provide a supportive presence, allowing you to grieve while they handle the practical aspects of organising and decluttering.

Objective Perspective

Professional organisers can offer an objective perspective when deciding what to keep, donate, or discard. They can help you honour your loved one's belongings by suggesting thoughtful ways to display cherished items. They will guide you in determining the value of items and assist in finding suitable charities or organisations to donate items to.

Practical Assistance

Professional organisers can manage the logistics of the process, including arranging for appraisers, movers, waste disposal, and cleaning services. They can also provide itemised donation reports, which can be beneficial for tax purposes. Additionally, they can assist in uncovering important documents and ensuring they are properly filed or distributed.

Customised Services

Professional organisers tailor their services to meet your specific needs. They will work with you to understand your goals and preferences, providing support and guidance throughout the entire process. Whether it's sorting through paperwork, rearranging spaces, or preparing a home for sale, they can offer customised packages to suit your circumstances.

Hiring a professional organiser can provide the support and expertise needed to navigate the challenging task of organising a house after a death. Their practical assistance and emotional support will help lighten the burden during this difficult time.

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Choose a charity to donate unwanted items to

When choosing a charity to donate unwanted items to, it is important to consider the type of items you wish to donate and the cause you want to support. Here are some tips and suggestions to help you choose a charity:

  • Identify the items you want to donate: Go through the items you no longer need and make a list or sort them into categories. This will help you determine which charities are most suitable for your donations.
  • Research charities that accept a wide range of items: Charities like Goodwill and The Salvation Army accept various household items, including clothing, furniture, appliances, and more. These charities either sell the donated items at thrift stores or directly provide them to those in need.
  • Consider the cause you want to support: Different charities support different causes. For example, The Salvation Army assists victims of domestic violence, human trafficking, and natural disasters, while Goodwill focuses on providing jobs and job training programs. Choose a charity that aligns with a cause you care about.
  • Local charities: In addition to national charities, consider donating to local organisations in your community. These may include shelters, libraries, schools, or other non-profit organisations. Contact them directly to find out what items they accept and how to donate.
  • Specialty charities: Some charities specialise in certain types of donations. For example, Dress for Success accepts business attire for women, while One Warm Coat collects and distributes coats for those in need during winter. If you have specific items to donate, consider charities that cater to those donations.
  • Pick-up or drop-off options: Depending on the charity and your location, they may offer pick-up services for larger items or provide drop-off locations. Consider your preferences and convenience when choosing a charity.
  • Tax deductions: If you plan to claim a tax deduction for your donations, make sure to obtain a donation receipt from the charity and properly value your donations. Consult with a tax professional for guidance on valuation and tax implications.
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Sort items into 'keep', 'donate' and 'throw away' piles

Sorting through a loved one's possessions is an emotional and challenging task. Here are some tips to help you sort items into keep, donate, and throw-away piles:

Ask for Help

It can be overwhelming to sort through a loved one's belongings alone. Consider enlisting the help of close friends or family members who can provide emotional support and assist with the physical task of sorting, packing, and transporting items. If family dynamics are difficult, consider hiring a professional organiser who can provide objective guidance and support throughout the process.

Make a List of Recipients

Create a list of friends and family members who may want certain belongings. It can be comforting to know that items are going to people who will cherish and find meaning in them. If possible, make this list before you begin sorting, as it may be easier to think clearly at this stage.

Choose a Charity

Select a charity that supports a cause that was close to your loved one's heart. Donating items to such an organisation can bring a sense of purpose and make you feel good about where the belongings will go.

Take Your Time

There is no rush, and no perfect timeline for this process. Give yourself time to grieve and process your emotions. Even small tasks like disposing of toiletries or scraps of paper can feel draining, so don't push yourself to do too much at once. Remember to take breaks and do something nourishing for yourself, like going for a walk or spending time with a friend.

Ask Questions to Guide Your Decisions

  • Does the item evoke a happy memory?
  • Can you keep just one if there are multiples?
  • Do you have room for it?
  • Could you take a photo of it and create a memory book of photos instead?
  • Could someone else make better use of it?

Allow Friends to Help

People often ask how they can help during difficult times. While you may not feel comfortable going through items with certain friends, you can allow them to assist with practical tasks like dropping off donations or delivering furniture to its new owner.

Consider Health and Safety

If the deceased had a prolonged illness, hoarding tendencies, or if the death went undiscovered for some time, it may be advisable to hire a professional cleanup company. Porous items like furniture, books, and clothing can absorb odours and may be challenging to clean. Unless the item is valuable, it may be best to discard it.

Prioritise and Plan

Consider starting with rooms that hold fewer sentimental items, like the bathroom or kitchen, and work your way up to more emotionally challenging spaces. Most people save the bedroom and storage areas for last. Focus on what you plan to keep versus what you plan to get rid of, and quickly separate items into keep, donate, or throw-away piles to prevent confusion.

Be Realistic About What to Keep

Your keep pile will likely be significantly smaller than the other piles, as most of your loved one's possessions may not be something you need or have space for. Keep a few select items that hold the most importance to you. If you are someone who is sentimental, having outside feedback and support from friends or professionals throughout this process can be invaluable.

What to Donate

Donating items to charity is a wonderful way to ensure they go to people who need them. Choose a charity or organisation that supports a cause that was meaningful to your loved one. You could also consider donating items to local homeless shelters or non-profit organisations.

What to Throw Away

Dispose of broken or damaged items, used toiletries, perishable goods (unless you can make use of them), and items that couldn't be sold in a thrift store.

Sorting through a loved one's belongings is a challenging but necessary process. Take your time, ask for help, and be kind to yourself throughout this emotional journey.

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Take your time

Dealing with the death of a loved one is a difficult and emotional time. It can be overwhelming to know how to start organising their belongings, and it's important to take your time and go at your own pace. Here are some tips to help you through this process:

  • Enlist help: It's important to have support from friends or family members who can help you sort through your loved one's belongings. They can provide comfort, share memories, and assist with the physical tasks of packing and transporting items.
  • Seek professional assistance: Consider hiring a professional organiser or a clean-up company, especially if your loved one had a large number of possessions or if their death was unexpected and the house requires specialised cleaning. A professional can provide objective guidance and relieve you of the burden of organising and decluttering.
  • Make a plan: Create a list of friends and family members who may want certain belongings. Knowing that items are going to someone who will cherish them can bring comfort. You can also choose a charity that aligns with your loved one's values and donate items to support their cause.
  • Take breaks: Don't feel pressured to do everything at once. Even small tasks like disposing of everyday items can be emotionally draining. It's important to take breaks, be kind to yourself, and do things at your own pace. Allow yourself to rest, go for a walk, or spend time with friends or family.
  • Ask questions: Consider the significance of each item. Does it evoke happy memories? Can you keep just one if there are multiples? Do you have the space to store it? Could you take a photo of it and create a memory book? Could someone else make better use of it?
  • Allow others to help: People often ask how they can help during this difficult time. While you may not feel comfortable going through belongings with everyone, you can ask them to assist with practical tasks such as dropping off donations or delivering furniture to its new owner.
  • Communicate: Don't be afraid to talk about your feelings as you go through this process. Sharing your grief and memories can be an important part of healing.
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Frequently asked questions

It's normal to feel overwhelmed and paralysed when it comes to organising a house after a death. Give yourself time to grieve and don't rush the process. Ask a close friend or family member to help you sort through belongings and share memories. If you don't have anyone to help, consider hiring a professional organiser who can provide emotional support and guide you through the process.

Start by gathering important documents such as deeds, titles and insurance information. If the death occurred at home, involve a realtor early on as you may be required to disclose this information to prospective buyers. Consider health and safety hazards and hire a professional cleanup company if the deceased had a lasting illness or if the death went undiscovered for some time.

Focus on what you plan to keep versus what you plan to get rid of. Divide items into four categories: keep, donate, sell or throw away. If you're having trouble letting go, consider taking photos of items to create a memory book or displaying a small selection of items in your home.

It can be challenging to decide what to do with everyday reminders such as a toothbrush or laundry. Ask a friend to help you dispose of these items if you can't bring yourself to do it. Prioritise sorting through practical items with deadlines, such as bills or legal documents.

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