After someone dies, you might be left with hundreds of possessions, acquired over the course of a lifetime. There may be photos, furniture, clothes, jewellery and general household items that all need clearing out. The task of sorting through all of this can be daunting and surrounding yourself with the things of a lost loved one can make the grieving process even more difficult. Set some time aside once you’re no longer preoccupied with the funeral arrangements and make a start.

It’s natural to be afraid, or feel sick to your stomach at the thought of it. No doubt it will be painful. Looking through so many personal mementos can stir up emotions you thought you had overcome. The aim should be to conquer that fear, so you’re no longer avoiding reminders of them but instead cherishing their memory. Take as long as you need, and don’t feel compelled to go throw anything away for the sake of it.

It’s important to consider who may also want to be part of this process, such as siblings or close friends. If you are helping someone go through a loved one’s things, don’t throw anything out on their behalf. This will not help them move on from grief, but may cause more pain and upset than good, and actually delay the healing process. Listen to them, take direction, and understand why they feel so attached to certain items. Be gentle and patient, and let them decide what to do in their own time.

Smaller items can be sold online on Gumtree and Ebay, though more unusual items, such as stamp collections, old books and records are best off being sold on specialist auction sites.


First things first

Before you start selling items, or even eyeing up ones for yourself to keep, first check to see if the deceased left behind any instructions for how their possessions should be split once they are gone. This will typically be found within a will, though it can also be found within a funeral plan.


When you have just a few items

You may have just a few of your loved one’s possessions – maybe what was left at the hospital or hospice, or passed down in the will. Keep them somewhere safe. You might want to position mementos somewhere you can see them on a daily basis. If you have several photographs, why not frame them or place them in a photo album? You could even create a keepsake for other family members and friends.

If you’d rather not have the things around, you might like to place them in a bag or box for safekeeping. You could store this in the attic or under the bed, but make sure it’s not anywhere damp as this could ruin the contents with mould.


For larger projects

When you have a whole house to sort through, your priority will be to work out what has the most sentimental value and should be treasured, and what can be recycled, sold or given away. If the person left behind a will, this might decide how possessions are distributed.

Otherwise, one person might be tasked with getting rid of everything, or distributing items amongst the family. In this scenario, it can be good to have a friend of the family to mediate and avoid conflict. If you need to sell the house, perhaps to raise money for the funeral costs, or have a strict deadline to adhere to, remember you can always put some items into storage if you don’t wish to sort through everything immediately.

A common thing to do with possessions when someone dies is to hold a garage sale. You can do this by putting up signs in the neighbourhood announcing the garage sale, and then setting up tables with items you wish to sell. You can make a decent amount of money doing this with minimal effort as you don’t need to transport any of the belongings. Be careful though: if you suspect something could be worth more money it’s best to get it properly valued before selling it.


Be prepared

Consider what you need for the clear out. Some of the following may be useful:

  • Binbags
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Labels and a pen
  • Refreshments
  • Gloves
  • Cleaning equipment


Bring in reinforcements

Ask a friend or relative to give you a hand. Tell them specifically what you want their help with. If you wish to be solely in charge of decision-making, then a friend could help bag items up or clean. For larger tasks, you might need to set aside a number of days. Divide things between keep, charity shop, sell and bin. If large pieces of furniture cannot be sold, contact a charity, such as the British Heart Foundation, who will collect the furniture free of charge, or find it a new home on Freecycle or Freegle.

There are a few options for disposing of old, broken and unwanted electricals. If it still works you may be able to donate the item to a charity shop. Check when you go in what you can take, as there are certain electrical goods they will not accept due to safety regulations. If the item is broken beyond repair, why not recycle unwanted electricals at one of the many locations across the country? You can find your closest recycling point here.


For more valuable items

When you clear out possessions after a bereavement, you might discover some treasures that can be sold or handed down as a family heirloom.

When it comes to jewellery, such as rings and bracelets, many people pass this down to a female in the family. Some families will have a tradition where a ring gets passed down through the family for when the son or daughter marries. Jewellery should be stored in a safe place if it is not to be sold, unless the will stipulates it must be given to a particular person. If you are considering selling a jewellery item, it’s prudent to get it valued.

Musical instruments and sound equipment can also prove valuable. Some instruments and sound equipment is awkward to transport, like a double bass, harp, drum kit, speakers or amps. In this case, you could arrange a valuation meeting at your house, or if you do take them into a shop, make sure they are properly protected, by wrapping fragile parts in bubble wrap and storing them in their box or case. The same applies for antique ornaments and furniture. Remember that if you are selling items online, it’s usually possible for larger items to be ‘collection only,’ meaning that the buyer must come to your home to collect.

If the deceased had a music collection, such as CDs or vinyl records, you may wish to sell some as these collections can take up a great amount of space. Vinyl records will generally be more valuable than CDs, and more worthwhile trying to sell. You can visit your local record store or use Discogs, an online marketplace and database.

Some artwork may not look like much, but there’s a slim chance the art could be priceless, so contact some local art galleries to see if they do valuations, or if they could recommend anyone. Even if it’s not worth much, it may have been painted by someone in the family so don’t be too quick to throw it out. Take your time so that you’re not clearing out anything someone might miss.  

If your loved one left their car to you, you will be required to inform the DVLA of a change of ownership, pay road tax and insure the car in your name if you intend to drive it. If you don’t intend to drive the car, will you need to get a Statutory Off Road Notice (SORN). For more information on how to contact the DVLA read this article.

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