Sorting Through a Lost Loved One's Belongings Is Never Easy—Here's What You Need to Do

My basement is full of stuff that once belonged to my dad. But getting rid of things he loved almost feels like a betrayal. Is there any way to make it less painful?

Sifting through a deceased parent’s belongings can be one of the most emotionally daunting tasks. Your dad’s things represent his connection to life, so discarding them forces you to accept that he is now a memory. While this will never be easy, here are a few tips to make it go more smoothly.

Before you get started, make a list of the causes, people, and values that were meaningful to your father. This will help you distribute his belongings in a way he’d appreciate. For example, if your dad was a passionate war veteran, you could research organizations that support vets or active military and find out what types of donations they need. Knowing Dad’s things will go to good use may help quite a bit.

Another thing to keep in mind: When someone passes, an old shirt or an appliance might gain more significance than it ever had while the person was alive. Your dad may have laughed at the thought of you saying, “I just can’t throw out this toaster!” Choose to keep the stuff that gives you the most joy, and take photos of the things you love but can’t store. A collage of pictures and small mementos can keep his memory alive without cluttering your basement.

If you continue to struggle, find someone to lend a hand. A close friend or a professional organizer could help you be practical and stay motivated. This process can be incredibly hard, so don’t hesitate to seek support if you need it.

Lynn Saladino, PsyD, is a clinical psychologist in New York City specializing in weight management, relationships, and life transitions.

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