Downsizing & Rightsizing Organizing & Decluttering Simple Home Living

How to honour items from a passed loved one

A common theme amongst my organization clients is not knowing what to do with items from a loved one who has passed on. These items carry so much weight, many memories, and often a lot of guilt at the thought of getting rid of them. There is a lot of fear that by purging these items the memories will be gone along with them. Do you really need to declutter these items? Absolutely not. This is a very personal journey and only one that should be embarked upon if you are feeling overwhelmed, stifled or weighed down by having these items in your life. I’m here to give you some ideas on how to honour these items in your home rather than keeping them packed away in boxes. By choosing a select few things that have significance and finding places or uses for them in your home it can make it a lot easier to purge the rest.

Use Them!

Grandma may have never used her fancy tablecloth, fine china, cutlery and crystal but that doesn’t mean you can’t. These items are meant to be used and are a lovely reminder of the many meals you’ve shared with your loved one. Use them just for special meals or everyday use, as long as they are being used. It’s ok if the pattern starts to wear off the china, or the silverware gets tarnished, these are just signs of you enjoying these sentimental items to their fullest. Grandma would love to know her cherished items are bringing you joy.

Clothing

This is a tough one as someone else’s clothing likely would not be of use to you. Choose some key pieces that bring you happy memories and get creative on how to incorporate them into your home. Find a trusted seamstress in your area or a well reviewed Etsy creator to make one or multiple textile memory pieces. A memory bear for each of your children, a pillow from grandpas favorite shirt for your family room or a quilt from grandmas beautiful dresses for your guest bed. Another idea is to create a unique piece of artwork. Frame a section of grandmas favorite floral print blouse or create an abstract art piece with a collage of fabric pieces from memorable outfits.

A memory bear from the Etsy shop, shersmemorybears.

Memory Box

This is a great way to take some stress off of yourself during the purging process. It switches your mindset to one of abundance, instead of thinking “I have to get rid of all of this” you start to think “I get to keep these few very special things”. It forces you to be more analytical in determining which items are the truly special ones, making it easier to purge the rest. Allowing yourself to keep a memory box also can ease your fear of losing the memories because you know you have your memory box to look through whenever you are feeling sentimental. This reassurance can be just what you need to fuel your motivation to declutter the remaining items that aren’t as special as the ones you’ve chosen to keep in the box. Make sure you use a plastic tote type box to protect your special items from damage. The only rule is to keep your items in the confines of the box with the lid able to close, if things start spilling over you may need to re-evaluate what you have chosen to keep.

Memory Book

Use an online photo book service to compile photos taken of beloved items to look back and reminisce on. You can include photos of your loved one, stories about specific items, family recipes etc. Imagine holding a beautifully bound book in your hand and flipping through all of the great memories. A small, compact book to tuck on your shelf and enjoy when you would like instead of searching through stale, dusty boxes in your dark basement. Even better, multiple copies can be made so each family member can have all of the memories to hold in their hand as well.

Photo book with family stories and Grandma’s recipes from Mixbook

Collections

Grandpa collected cuff links or watches? Choose your favorites from his collection and mount in a shadow box to hang on a wall or display on a shelf. Sports cards? If you are not a collector you may want to find a trusted individual to help you determine value before you choose to keep or sell. Perhaps you don’t want to keep the whole collection, maybe you only frame cards from a favorite player and keep the high value ones in a safe place. Jewelry can be a tough one, similar to sports cards you might want to enlist help to determine value before you decide how to proceed, then decide if you want to sell, wear, keep safe or display. You also could start your own collection, such as a spot in your kitchen to hang rolling pins from aunts and grandmas passed, or a display shelf in your garage for vintage tools from uncle Jack and great grandpa.

Books

Aunt Mildred’s treasured books? Choose your favorite one that sparks your memory of her and display it prominently in your home. A cookbook in a shadow box in the kitchen, a sewing manual in a frame above your sewing machine, a quilting book as part of a thoughtfully curated display in your living room bookcase. If you’re a book lover that will frequently flip through treasured titles, then by all means keep special ones stacked in your bookcase. Just be sure that you are keeping only the titles that you will look back on, don’t just keep them all out of guilt or obligation. It can help to quietly sit with each book in your hand and dig deep to realise the feelings that each one evokes when you hold it (Konmari anyone?), then setting it in either a keep pile or a donate pile.

Great Grandma’s memory book in a shadow box above my pantry door.

Remember, you don’t need to put pressure on yourself to purge these sentimental items. Making these decisions can be a large undertaking so please only move forward when you are ready or if you are feeling overwhelmed and consumed by these items being in your home. Approach this with love and grace for yourself, decluttering these items can be an emotional process and support from friends, family or a mental health professional might make this easier for you. Just take it one step at a time and remind yourself how good it will feel to look around your house and see these special items being used, loved and honoured rather than sitting in a dusty box.

-Brigitte

The Harmonious Home, Professional Organizer and Occupied Home Staging in St.Albert, AB, Canada