Sentimentality When Decluttering After the Death of a Loved One

My friend Rebekah is literally the expert on decluttering and organizing. She made a whole business based on that, BalaganBeGone where she helps clients clear their clutter and clear their mind. 

Decluttering and organizing are very important things for everyone, but especially frugal people, because, as my son pointed out to me yesterday when I was organizing my pantry and cleaning my fridge, if you don't know where things are, you won't know what you have, and you'll end up throwing out things that go off and purchasing things that you already own. In addition to that, if you have a lot of clutter, you end up needing to pay for a larger property to house all your stuff than if you are able to keep down your posessions. 

When Rebekah's mother passed away, she had to live what she preached, and figure out how to balance the sentimentality and importance of her mothers posessions, while still not filling her house with too many posessions. Here's more about that.

My mom had cancer for over 13 years.

She had thyroid cancer - the best kind of cancer to get, so everyone said.

First it spread to her lungs.

Then it spread to her bones.

Then it spread to her brain.

Then came the radiation, pain killers, side effects, chemo and coronavirus.

Then she was gone.

Over the years she coped with her health getting better and then worse.

Most of that time I had to watch her slow decline from far away. Sure, the phone and video chats were great, but they weren’t the same as being there. Since I live abroad, I had to depend on my dad, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends who live nearby to help and care for her.

It wasn’t really their job. Maybe partially it was - that is what you do for family, you show up.

When you show up you make memories. Sometimes memories are good and sometimes they aren’t but the time together is what is important.

Since her passing, what I miss most is making new memories.

I’m sure that I’ll feel nostalgic when I watch a family event she won’t be part of. I am sure I’ll remember that she would have loved to be there, and I hope I remember to tell my kids, and God willing my grandkids, just that.

Now that she is gone, my family faces the heart-wrenching job of cleaning out the house, everyone is leaving that part to me.

Working as a professional organizer, I am tasked with helping people clear out clutter and reclaim their living space - both physically and mentally.

My mom towards the end had a lot of stuff. Something about owning all these possessions made her feel better. Maybe it was because she knew she was dying,as if she needed all of these things so we wouldn’t forget her. As if the stuff could be a stand in for her.

But, honestly, I won’t miss most of the stuff. For a minute a thought might pass through my mind - I want to bring all the things my mom loved to my home. There are pieces my husband would love to have in our home, my mom had great taste, but I don’t want it.

It isn’t because I’m not a sentimental person. It’s because I don’t need those things to hold her in my memory. I don’t need side chairs - or a dining room set - or dishes, to remember her.

Don’t let your life be about the stuff. The items in your home are not a stand in for you when you are not there.

At first, it may feel like holding on to the possessions of a loved one makes you feel great, but if it isn’t truly stuff you need, want or have a place for, then eventually it will not have a good association for you.

You will feel burdened for holding on to it - but the irony of guilt is, you will feel awful about the idea of letting it go.

It’s ok to let things go when they don’t serve you, without guilt of course!

Don’t let your life be about what someone buys you, what you buy someone else, what you have, what you give, where you put it, how you organize it, how you store it. Whatever, however items come into your life.

Life is too short to spend time worrying about stuff.

I’m not saying nothing of my mothers will migrate to my house.

One very important thing already has. The candlesticks she lit every week for the sabbath, those were a gift to my daughter at her Bat Mitzvah. My daughter carries on our family’s tradition, just like in biblical times.

When my daughter was born I thought about what candlesticks she would light when she turned Bat Mitzva. I never thought it would be the ones that belonged to my mother and my great grandmother.

Those I can welcome into my house because they serve a purpose and fulfil a need. The fact that they mean so much to both me and my daughter is special to me, but in reality I would have way rather bought my daughter a brand new set of candlesticks and had my mom here with us to witness her lighting them for the first time because a persons stuff can’t take the place of a person.

May my mother’s memory be for a blessing.

If you've lost a loved one, how did you make sure to balance not filling your house with too much stuff, but also remembering your loved ones through their things? When my grandmother died, I requested her costume jewelry, because it was something small, and each time I wear one of those items, it makes me feel connected to her.

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


Thank you for leaving a comment on your blog. Comments are moderated- please be patient to allow time for them to go through. Opposing opinions are permitted, discussion and disagreements are encouraged, but nasty comments for the sole purpose of being nasty without constructive criticisms will be deleted.
Just a note- I take my privacy seriously, and comments giving away my location or religion are automatically deleted too.

  1. I am slowly, slowly, slowly working my way through my parents' possessions, which became fully intermingled with mine when we lived together the last few years of their lives. I kept it all for quite awhile as I was terrified to give away something that another family member might want, as I felt like the guardian of the things until my family, who lived elsewhere, could claim their inheritances. But it was more than that: I kept things that I thought were worth keeping, hoping someone else would want them, until years after my siblings had come and gone, having taken what they were interested in. I still have boxes of letters and cuttings and photographs that I can't let go until I've gone through them, and I can't seem to go through them. However, bit by bit I am chipping away at everything. I would like to get to a point where my things are not too huge of a burden for my children to go through. That's one of the goals.

  2. My mother "couldn't bear" to have her beloved grandmother's things in our house because they would make her sad. So when the adults sold this house of my childhood summers, everything was left in it.

    My point is, not everything of family possessions is about you and your feelings now. I wish someone would have asked me to choose a piece to keep. Just because you're not a "stuff" person doesn't mean your children won't be and they deserve to have a voice.

  3. Both of my parents are still living, but I have asked them what they want me to keep. Dad said "the tools, you'll need 'em." Mom said "anything of value and the photos." I'm trying to use the Marie Kondo method, with little success. I find it easier to get rid of one thing a week than all at once. 52 items no longer cluttering my life.

Previous Post Next Post