Reducing what you own is a huge part of Kate and Waverly. I am not a minimalist or even an advocate for the strictly minimal lifestyle. You will never find me living in a tiny home, or only owning 33 items. However, examining and being critical of what we own is paramount to a house and life that feels manageable. A life where you and your loved ones can thrive, not anchored down by so much ”stuff”.
What happens when a loved one passes and not only are you left grieving their loss, but you find yourself having to go through their belongings. Belongings that have strong memories attached to them, memories that you are holding much closer to you now that your loved one is no longer with you. Where do you start and how do you process everything?
Five years ago, my mom lost her battle with cancer. I inherited a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house with attic and basement storage. It was very overwhelming, especially when you add in the layer of having committed to living with less. How was I to balance my emotions with my strong desire to not live with boxes stacked to the ceiling in storage? I refused to rent a storage unit and dump it all in a box. There was enough emotional baggage in my life to hold, without adding the weight of physical baggage, unseen but felt.
I had no guide, no idea what I was doing. I probably could have googled something, but the thought never crossed my mind. What I did have was a strong support team, and I leaned heavily into them.
Ask for and accept help. I’m bad at both of these, but they are essential to processing the death of a loved one. I literally sent multiple trailer loads of clothes, furniture, linens, and more to our local St. Vincent dePaul. None of it would have been possible without my friends and family. As an only child, I had to go through every single thing myself. So that was a lot emotionally. It was so hopeful to have others there ready to carry boxes, move piles, and just be there.
One of my most cherished memories from this time is when a friend drove hours to come and help me for a weekend. We found a couple of boxes of doilies, and vintage linens/clothing. It took me probably a solid two hours to go through and part with those things. I knew my great-grandmother had made them but I wasn’t sure of the story and use behind them. It made me feel even more emotional that the loss of my mother meant the loss of so many stories as well. But my friend sat there through the whole thing, and made me laugh. We laughed and laughed about those doilies (there were a LOT), and now rather than being sad when I see doilies, I laugh and feel loved. And as it turned out, I haven’t missed the doilies.
Realize the why and let go
I was holding on to those doilies, not because I would use them ( I told her I would, but we both knew that was not the case), but because of the way they made me feel tied to a part of my family at a time when I felt those ties breaking. I had to acknowledge that feeling, and let go. It is important to find the real things that tie you to your family, especially when it becomes your past.
Like the fact that I only ever drink tea hot, and with milk. Just like my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. We live in the south, but iced sweet tea was not an acceptable drink choice. That I am incredibly thrifty and skilled at taking a little and making it into something special, just like my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother (who owned a thrift store). That I am passionate about music, just like my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. I am tied to them in who I am, not in what I own.
So, I held on to a few of the doilies, and let the rest go. It’s okay to donate items, or even just throw them away. You cannot keep everything. I applied that knowledge to most of the belongings that had been left to me, but there were a couple that were especially hard. And that’s where you grant yourself grace.
Grant yourself grace
Allow yourself 2-3 categories in which you grant yourself some grace. For me, it was my mom’s jewelry, her perfume, and CD collection. Identifying what was the most special to me, and letting go of everything else, allows me to truly enjoy the things I do have.
My mom’s jewelry could have filled an entire walk in closet. It was a lot. And she loved it. I had so many memories of her letting me play with her jewelry as a child, and admiring pieces that she wore daily. It takes me back to specific memories and feelings. I left it in boxes and took five years to fully process each piece and let go of the majority.
Her CDs sit upstairs in my office so I can play them while I work. I could easily access these on my Spotify account and ditch the CDs. But some of my favorite memories are driving in the summer with my mom switching between Alanis Morissette and Sheryl Crow albums. I would spend hours in Waxworks with her searching for and sampling artists she had heard about. So I hold on to them for now and appreciate the worn covers and broken plastic pieces for their memories they give me.
Her perfume was placed in a box and hasn’t been open since. Smell is the most powerful sense for me, and my mom wore perfume daily. I refuse to let that go, but it is absolutely not an emotion I am currently capable of processing. While I am a strong advocate of dealing with a loved one’s belongings, I am first and foremost an advocate of mental health. It is important to realize and recognize your personal boundaries in order to protect your mental health and happiness.
Recognize your boundaries and protect your mental health
Where do you/should you draw the line? Only you can answer this for yourself. I can sit here behind my computer and write tips and hit post, but only you know what you can handle. I believe going through a loved ones things is an important part of healing, but no healing can take place if it is not done in a healthy way that respects your limits. I outlined above the boundaries and limitations that helped me; what are yours? Think about them, write them down, and respect them through the process. Share them with those around you and make sure they respect them as well.
Grieving is an incredibly complex and heart-wrenching chapter of life that never truly ends. Going through belongings while grieving can seem like a cruel task to be handed at such a time. Lastly, make sure to be kind to yourself. Acknowledge the work you have done and the progress you continue to make. Take a break when you need to. Read a book, spend time with family, or enjoy a mindless, guilt-free scroll through your favorite social media. Read scripture. Whatever it is you do to reboot and recenter, do that thing. You deserve it.