What To Do With All Their Stuff – Sorting Through A Dead Person’s Possessions

Last Updated on October 15, 2021 by Sarah Gallagher

Adjusting to your new environment after the death of your spouse includes what to do with your dead person’s possessions.

It’s very difficult to live in your house after the death of your spouse because this is a place that you have lived together most of your relationship, if not all of it. You got married. You had plans. This was YOUR space together. Not anymore. 

When you come home after they die, you don’t know what’s going on. When you become a widow or a widower, you lose your old identity. So when you show up to this house, which is where you’re supposed to be but they’re not there, everything feels off and wrong. 

You’re feeling uncomfortable being there because you’re not in your familiar skin, you’re in a different person’s skin, your new self that you can’t recognize in a space that wasn’t meant for this new self to be. It’s difficult. 

Recreate Your Environment

My husband died completely unexpectedly. We were living on the top and the main floor of a rental house. The bottom was his, his office area. The rest of the house was upstairs: kitchen, living room, 2 very small bedrooms. We had lived there for just about a year when everything changed. 

When he died, I suddenly had to deal with all the stuff that we had. All the stuff was still his, not mine, and I had to go through it. 

Getting mentally prepared is very important when you’re getting down to dealing with the task. Don’t let anyone tell you when the right time is for YOU to go through their stuff.

Before even touching his stuff, I had to make sure that the house felt more comfortable for me. After all, this was now just MY house. I needed to feel comfortable, and I couldn’t have any ghost being around the house figuratively or literally, because I just…I couldn’t deal with it. I had to focus on me and my 2 ½ year-old son.

The first thing I did was tackle the elephant in the room: his contentious coffee table. 

Right smack in the middle of our living room sat a coffee table that my husband had brought on a tour around the world. When we moved in together, it came with him. 

This coffee table was the focus of many arguments. I hated it. It was disgusting. Fake wood veneer, with a base that was ridiculously heavy, and looked like it had made it through many after-hours parties. Which it had. I couldn’t stand it. 

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Take Out The Old – Bring In YOU

So, of course, the first thing I did when he died was to get rid of that thing. 

I went to IKEA and bought a brand new coffee table that I loved. 

Now, for my bed. I couldn’t get rid of the mattress because it was big. It was beautiful. It cost me hundreds of dollars. And it was in good condition. I didn’t want to get rid of it, but I wanted to be able to feel comfortable sleeping there. Even though I knew I was not sleeping properly and it would take months before I actually could get a proper sleep again, making this my own bed was very important. 

I couldn’t get rid of the mattress. That was going to stay no matter what. But, I could get rid of all the accessories. 

I gathered up all the bed sheets that we had, all the comforter shells. I had kept them for a while to keep his scent until it left, but now it was time to toss them. They were replaced with brand new sheets, claiming “These are mine. Only my smell, only my memories, only my personal messes from pleasuring myself.”

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Keep, Toss, Donate

The rest of the stuff I went through was more like little bits and pieces broken off the most difficult part. You’ll find that as well as you deal with their personal belonging after a death. Sorting through a dead person’s stuff is trying.

His office, for instance. He had turned the room we had on the main floor into his office. When he died, I couldn’t afford the rent on my own. I ended up deciding to reclaim his office on the main floor and turned it into a room that I rented out to a friend of mine for the year. It helped. But before I could do that, I had to get rid of his two big speakers.

Myke was a DJ, first and foremost. He adored curating heavy hard core tracks, bringing the dancing crowd below to a fever pitch. These two huge speakers, which I swear took up a ⅓ of the room, and his DJ mixing case, were so very important to him.

I didn’t want to keep them because they were too big and I didn’t have any use for them, but I also didn’t want to ditch them either because deejaying was such an important part of his life. Plus, they’re expensive.

How did I get rid of really good quality stuff? I ended up putting a call out to all the DJs that I knew, and donated it to the ones that I thought needed it most.

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The books were really easy to go through. The ones that I thought were cool I kept; all the ones that were special to him but I didn’t have any interest in reading I just got rid of. 

Personal papers were not so easy. That was a lot more painstaking because that included his personal notes, his finances, and all kinds of stuff. I mean, seriously, his drawings, his diary, anything that he had jotted down. It was a lot. I had to go through each piece and say, okay, is this something sentimental? Am I giving this the toss or not? That took a lot more work. 

I just wanted to get rid of everything and start over, but I needed to do this in honour of his life. These material items were just stuff, but they symbolized him. Going through his clothes was extraordinarily hard. What you want to do is literally go and pick out the ones that feel the most like them, that you can actually see them walking away in, and keep those. 

I got rid of everything else. The ones I kept, they’re still in a bag in my basement and I haven’t actually opened them since I put them there. I look at the bag now and again, but I haven’t actually opened them and taken them out. One day. 

There were other really sentimental things that I kept. 

I kept his glasses. He had just turned 40 a few months before. He’d predicted that as soon as he turned 40 he was going to lose all his mental capacity, and that his physical health would start to go down. He did end up getting reading glasses, and he looked pretty good in them. For him, getting them was like a badge of triumph: Hey, I’m old now! Why? Because he never thought he’d make it to 40. 

When I found him, he had crumpled over, he’d fallen over onto the coffee table onto the left side of his face. So his glasses were pushed up, askew, making his line of sight go through the top edges. Except, he wasn’t seeing anything.

I wanted to keep them because it linked the physical object to that moment in time. 

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The other thing I kept was his pocket knife. The one that he always had in his back pocket. You know: Just In Case. (He was a bit of a survivalist.) 

I put a lot of other small things on my altar, including his ashes, and the wooden sculpture of his weasel wise man. The butterfly wings that he created for our wedding are hanging on my kids’ bedroom walls: one each.

Keep, toss or donate. That’s literally what I was doing. It’s the same thing that will happen to you. You will have to touch everything that is symbolically connected to your dead husband, and that’s emotionally draining. It’s going to affect you. 

Reorganize Your Life

Now, this is very important if you have to go through it all at once or have to get rid of it altogether, like I was forced to. 

Just over a year after he passed, my landlord told me that they intended to sell the house so I had to move out. As soon as possible. So, even though I did purge a lot of stuff before, like his clothes and the godawful coffee table, there was still a bunch of stuff that I didn’t have the energy to deal with, and left it for later. But now, because I was reno-victed, I had to go through everything that was mine, and everything was his, and consolidate, and decide, and purge, and do that whole process. It was really bizarre. It was a lot of numbness which was triggered because this had to happen, and a lot of emotional overwhelm, and the stress of having to move, and all of that. But it did happen. I did it, and it happened, and you can do it too.

When I was trying to explain that to Jen Zwick of @widow_180 when she was interviewing me for her podcast, she stopped me. She said, “That’s a really interesting way of doing it. Taking the time to reorganize what your old life was, and what you need to keep with you.”

Just remember these three steps:

  1. Keep
  2. Donate
  3. Toss

The goal is not just to go through their stuff, but your own as well. You’ve changed dramatically since they died, and you need to recreate your environment to support where you are now in life.

You’re a different person now.

So go through your stuff, and go through his stuff at the same time. Keep what still fits with you and your memories of your beloved,  what you want to keep forward, but get rid of the rest that doesn’t fit. Trash it if there’s no memory associated with it, or donate it if there is. It really comes down to those three categories: keep, toss or donate.

Any of the stuff that you do keep, place them in a sacred space for you to see. Don’t hide them away. You kept them for a reason.

Most of my memorials are on my altar or my fairy shelf. I’m also very open and vocal about my husband. I have pictures of him everywhere. I talk about him all the time as part of my life.

It’s important that you go through all this so that eventually you will get to the point where you’ll feel comfortable being at home again.

From this point one, you’re going to start creating your own memories.  Just as every Christmas there’s going to be another memory, every summer there’s going to be another holiday without them, but you’re also making new memories and those new holidays and the new Christmases and the new ever after. 

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If you need help at all to figure out how to do the first step, or you want me to sit down with you for 45 minutes to walk you through, book a call with me.  Even if it’s a check-in to say, “Hey dude, you said you were going to get rid of your husband’s clothes at three months,  remember?  Where are you on that? Are you okay? Do you want to go forward? Is there something else you need to do instead first? Or are you completely ignoring it?”

You’re way – I’m just here to help.

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