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Throughout life we collect things. Lots and lots of things. Some large and useful items to help with everyday living such as furniture, electrical items and home ware. Modern life as we know it would be very difficult without them.
Other items are very personal to us. Some we have out of necessity like clothes. The rest because we just want them. They could be sentimental items or personal possessions like jewellery, music collections or books. Chances are your house is brimming with stuff.
This blog focuses on the more practical aspects of life after death and encourages people to plan ahead to help others in the future. Most of your possessions by their very nature will likely outlive you. Think of everything that you own. One day, someone will have to work through these items to decipher whether to keep them, pass them on to someone, donate to charity or dispose of them altogether. In this blog post, we look at how de-cluttering through life can help you live a little freer now, as well as help others in the longer term.
If at the time you pass away, you were living with family, chances are the practical items will need to remain in the home. Yet if you lived alone, someone at some stage will need to deal with a house full of your belongings – both practical and personal.
When the funeral has passed, your executor or next of kin will likely be back into the rhythm and realities of their hectic daily life. This may be juggling work, caring for children or elderly family members. Then suddenly the reality dawns on them….a house full of items that need to be processed. Having witnessed my own family in this position in recent years, please do not underestimate what a huge task lies ahead, both in physical terms as well as in time needed to complete this.
There are movements towards minimalist living and de-cluttering books and guides are easy to find. These resources have provided real structure to people, to begin processing their belongings throughout life. By getting into a routine of regularly reviewing what you have, and minimising what you need – is not only good for your well-being whilst alive but also very helpful to others in the event of death.
When you move in to your first house, you slowly start to collect all of the essential items you need to build a home. Pots, pans, plates, pictures, furnishings, sentimental photo frames – these all start to build the character of your home. This is what makes us ‘us’.
As time goes by, we then get a new crockery set, pushing the older plates to the back of the cupboard. We buy a lovely new set of glasses when you break a few out of that first wine set you had. You keep the three original surviving wine glasses, and add a set of six new lovely ones.
When your pots and pans are not quite their best anymore, we buy new ones. As it’s too tricky to part with the old ones just yet, we hold on to the older ones… just in case. New bedding when your bedroom gets an upgrade? You keep the other bedding for spares or guests.
Children arrive and they accumulate stuff. You keep their clothes, toys and pram just in case you have more children. Or in case one day, you can pass these items on to your family member’s maybe.
And…Repeat. Over and over again. It is easy to see how houses can become so full of belongings.
Some of the more disciplined readers out there will see this and say ‘No! Not me!’ If that is you, this is great to hear. However I am sure you can instantly think of a family member or friend that is not so organised.
De-clutter as you go
The key is to routinely go through your practical belongings and work out what you still need. No one is saying that you have to live in an empty shell of a home. Far from it. These de-cluttering books can guide you through the process, addressing each item in turn to work out what has meaning to you and keep. Also what items are clutter and can go to a new home.
There are significant benefits to regularly de-cluttering. If you had to move house in six months time, you would have less to organise, pack and unpack in your new home.
If you had an unexpected change in your family circumstances, you may feel more able to allow people in to your home if you had more space. By clearing out that spare room, long lost cousin John could stay with you as he travels the world. Let’s just hope he doesn’t stay too long!
Maybe you have moved in with your partner and are merging two separate households in to one. Do you really need two sets of everything? Imagine how full your house would be if this were the case. There would be no space to live amongst duplicate ironing boards, Christmas trees and vacuum cleaners.
Aunt Mary’s retro plates
By de-cluttering you can also help out others by passing surplus items on to those in need. The usual destination is to deliver unwanted items to charity shops. I could not be happier about this. However increasingly due to health and safety rules, charity shops are unable to accept certain items of furniture, electrical or baby items.
Depending on your location, there are many fantastic charities and social enterprises out there that can take these items and ensure they go to a good home. Often they can re-purpose furniture and re-test electrical items so they are safe to pass on.
Every day, vulnerable people and families are placed in emergency accommodation with absolutely nothing but what they are wearing. Whilst they will be happy to have a safe home of their own, if it is an empty shell, this can make it very difficult to re-settle.
You may have many years’ worth of accumulated spare plates and cutlery that could be passed on locally. This could make a huge difference to someone in their time of need.
I have been the middleman before where people have passed donated items to me, to pass on to local charities that work with vulnerable people.
I have often had people apologising that they are passing on Aunt Mary’s plates and mugs, concerned that they seem old fashioned and may not be wanted by younger people.
My response is that I can assure you they are in fact ‘retro’ and will be greatly received by someone in need!
How can de-cluttering help others?
Think about all of your belongings – large or small, personal or practical, sentimental or not.
Now think about what would happen if someone were tasked with emptying your house….tomorrow.
- How much stuff do you have in your house?
- Is it clear if it is important and of value or not?
- How long would it take someone to process all of these items?
- Think of your clothes – what would you want to happen to them?
- Paperwork – is your paperwork in an organised place that someone could easily access and understand – to be able to deal with your affairs? Do you have mountains of old bank statements that could be securely disposed of now to get yourself organised?
- Practical and physical items – where should they go?
- Have you left instructions as to who should have your belongings? Or which charities you would like certain items to be donated to?
- Who should receive items of sentimental value? Do they know they are due to receive them?
- How much time will people have to do this? If they are working and possibly live far away – how long would it take someone to go through all of your belongings?
- Do you have any secret or sensitive items that you would not want people to find in your house?
- Do you have any hidden items in your house for safety reasons (i.e. jewellery or cash)? Make sure people know where they are so they don’t get disposed of by accident.
With all of this in mind, consider if you could make a start and work on small areas of your life. Have a clear out of clothes one weekend. Have an eBay or Facebook session with the kid’s toys – or pass them on to local play groups that may need them. If you do sell items on, you could be in for a win-win. You could be making space and generate a little bit of cash along the way too.
Take a look through old paperwork. Are you holding on to paper bank statements from 15 years ago despite now opting to have online statements only from your bank? Similarly, dig out that important paperwork that may help someone out and make sure that it is easy to find if you were no longer here. Remember that if you do get rid of paperwork, do so securely to avoid any risk of fraud.
Do you have a cabinet full of DVDs but no DVD player as you watch everything on the internet now? Maybe see if some of those DVDs could generate a little bit of income for your favourite charity. At this time, they would be grateful for any items to help keep them going.
Over to you
Imagine how long it would take you to process your whole life and household belongings. I am guessing most likely many months.
Now think of how long this would take someone else to do, over weekends or in between work and family life. This is the reality for bereaved family members. One day, they will be required to deal with their loss, arrange a funeral and carry on with their own life. Yet at the same time start to unravel your life by sorting through your belongings, dealing with your utilities and bills and all the other practical tasks they need to complete.
Are there any aspects of your home and life that need to be de-cluttered? Do you have family members that could do with some gentle encouragement to sift through their belongings? Why not share this post on social media to help nudge them to get organised?
By taking small steps to process items that are no longer needed, this may just ease the burden when you are not able to sort out your belongings yourself.
Why not create your Sunset Plan today? Provide your loved ones with a clear road map of your future wishes and instructions.