My father passed away after a fluke accident earlier this year.
In addition to all the usual things that happen with grief, it was a tough time for our family because– like so many other families right now– COVID-19 prevented us from going to the hospital to support him. We had to say goodbye through a nurse’s cell phone.
Unfortunately, my wife and I are no strangers to grief at this point, so through our pain and heartache, I wrote a reading plan called Sitting in Grief: A Devotional Journey Towards Standing Again, and released it into the YouVersion Bible App.
Our family has had to move more times than we would like due to job changes, so while my father wasn’t a minimalist by any means, multiple moves forced him to evaluate if items were worth keeping.
Because of this, the difficult process of cleaning his house out was made a bit easier, and we’re very thankful for that. For those of you who have children, please consider implementing the practice of Swedish Death Cleaning.
Minimizing the possessions of your departed loved ones is emotionally exhausting.
Grief is exhausting enough as it is, but when you add in the responsibility of trying to be the best possible steward of keeping the life and memory of your loved one alive, the whole process becomes exponentially more draining. The process is challenging, no matter what.
If you have the job of going through your loved one’s possessions after they pass, here are some potentially helpful ideas:
Start with the intention of blessing others through the process.
Before you even start, set an intention that your goal is to be a blessing to others through this process.
Let’s be honest here: it’s painful that your loved one is gone, and the pain you feel is real. Right now, it might be difficult to imagine God using this painful time for good, but as someone who has lost more than his fair share of people, let me assure you that in the midst of all this grief and pain, God shows up.
By setting the intention of being a blessing to others, I found it easier to make it through some marathon minimizing sessions. Instead of focusing on how difficult it was, I visualized donating as many items as possible to local non-profits, and used that sense of joy I found to help me push through. When I was running on empty (which was a good chunk of the time), I envisioned a family using the things I was going to donate.
Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.Romans 8:28
Even in grief and death, God can work through your donations to bring good to others in Jesus’ name.
Ask, “Does this object get to the core to who my loved one was?” as you’re going through each item on your first pass.
When a loved one dies, deciding what things to keep, what to bless others with, and what to throw away is emotionally exhausting on every possible level.
We used three areas of the house:
- Donate. This was the area we tried to use as much as possible.
- Revisit. In this area, we placed anything that we thought we might want to keep.
- Keep. In order to make sure we were intentional about what possessions we were taking on, nothing could move to the keep area in the same visit. At the end of each session, we took a look at the revisit pile and gave ourselves space to think about the objects there. When we went back for the next session, we would either move things from Revisit to Keep or Revisit to Donate.
If the answer to the question, “Does this object get to the core to who my loved one was?” is yes, place it in the Revisit pile.
If the answer is no, then immediately place it in the Donate pile if it’s in good shape, otherwise throw it away immediately.
You should be able to make a considerable dent on the first pass. Be aware, though: this pass will probably end up being the easiest one. The most difficult and draining decisions are dealing with the Revisit area.
Make multiple passes.
Because this process is so draining, chances are you’re going to hit a point where you’re so done with everything that you’ll either want to keep everything or throw it all away. Recognize when you’re just feeling emotionally done, and, if possible, stop and come back another time.
Leaving and coming back may not always be possible, so if it’s not, stop what you’re doing, and do something to reset yourself: go for a walk, listen to some of your favorite music, or grab a quick bite to eat.
Alcoholics Anonymous uses the acronym “HALT” to help people remember four common triggers of poor decisions: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. Because you’re grieving, you’re most likely experiencing at least half of them all the time. Do your best to recognize that you don’t make the best decisions when in these states.
There is a temptation to want everything done and over with—mostly because you’re hoping that when you’re done, you won’t feel as sad as you do now. If you’re like me, you’ll feel a little better once it’s done, but you’ll still be grieving at the end of the day. So don’t kill yourself chasing something that ultimately won’t happen.
Remember: your memories are not in the things.
As I worked my way through my father’s house, there were tons of things that reminded me of my dad and my own memories; from the salt shaker I grew up with to his unique wardrobe. Your memories, however, are not in the things; the objects simply trigger your memories.
The good news is that you can trigger those same memories with a picture of the item, rather than keeping the item itself.
I found it helpful to take photos of the items things that reminded me of my family or my youth. I wanted to make sure I would have a cue to remember these things later on without keeping the items themselves. I made an album in my photos app, so I could go back and look at these things, and at some point, I may even take all the pictures and make a book out of them.
Pictures were the thing that ultimately ended up taking the most amount of time for me. When minimizing my father’s possessions, I kept every photo because I knew that photos were pretty easy to deal with digitally.
In my case, though, my dad was the keeper of ALL the photos from two grandmothers, his sister, and my mom’s photos as well, so I (still) have a ton of work ahead of me.
If you have the financial resources, you can send all your photos to a company like ScanCafe who will do the incredibly time-consuming work for you. If you have the money and don’t have the time, it’s worth it.
If you’re trying to lower your financial costs and can spend some of your own time scanning, the Epson Perfection V600 is the scanner I’m using. The quality of the scans is excellent, and I appreciate that I can throw 3-4 photos onto the bed at a time and have them automatically detected and saved as separate images.
I’m sorry you’re going through what you’re going through. Simply put, this will be a difficult time no matter what. So be kind to yourself. God loves you, is with you, and will help you get through this.