Death Cleaning: How to Deal with Clutter and Grief after Death

Death is full of profoundly mundane tasks, including going through a departed loved one’s belongings and deciding what to do with them, or setting up an online memorial. Handling items like clothing, coffee mugs, and jewelry can bring back loving memories of your departed loved one. Other tasks like sorting through paperwork can also be challenging and potentially tedious. If you’ve procrastinated and don’t know where to start with your loved one’s belongings, that’s normal. It’s almost inevitable that handling the clutter left behind after a loved one passes will bring up many emotions. Grief is a confounding animal and can affect us physically, so it's likely that you’ve not had the energy after experiencing a loss. Understanding the link between clutter and death and asking for help are just two ways to help yourself handle the clutter your loved one left behind.

What is the Link Between Clutter and Death?

Your love and affection for the person who passed may be reflected as a sentimental attachment to their belongings. This is very common. You might feel like some morbid archeologist as you sort through laundry, papers, and mail. Then there will be the items that deeply remind you of your loved one, like their collection of ceramic birds or prized fishing rods. Giving things away or donating them might feel like another small death. So, it’s essential that you wait until you are ready before going through your loved one’s belongings. 

However, it’s also important not to wait too long. Living amongst your loved one’s belongings can become a weight of negative memories, especially if you cared for them in your home before they passed—many reports feeling like a weight has lifted from their shoulders after handling their loved one’s clutter. The state of your home dramatically impacts your overall well-being, especially your mental health. Keeping some curated items that help you remember your loved one is good. But, too much death clutter can amplify grief unnecessarily and keep you from processing your grief fully. 

When to Declutter After a Loss

Finding the balance between taking the time you need before dealing with your deceased’s belongings and harmful procrastination will be different for everyone. Grief and our journey through it are unique. Going too fast with a clutter purge could result in deep regret over lost items. But, if you wait too long, death clutter can negatively impact your quality of life or mental health. Take deep breaths, consider the tips below and try using time containers if handing your loved one’s belongings feels too overwhelming. You can start knowing that you can stop as soon as the timer goes off. 

Tips for “Death Cleaning”: Dealing with Clutter and Grief

Ask for help

No matter how prepared you are, going through your loved one’s belongings will likely bring up many emotions. You’ll be reminded of the good times you had with your loved one, which may simultaneously bring joy and grief. Having a good friend close by (whether in person or over the phone) can support you in your emotions while also being a sounding board for what to keep or donate. 

Gift belongings to loved ones

Another tip is to invite the other people who love your loved one to choose belongings that remind them of the beautiful person your loved one was. Make sure you take essential items off the table or that they check with you before taking something. This is a loving way to remove death with clutter grief memories from your home in a meaningful way. You’ll be comforted knowing that their best friend is using their coffee mug or wearing a special pair of earrings. 

Consolidate and take photos

A valuable piece of advice is to take pictures of sentimental items that you won’t be keeping or keeping all of them. This is a good tip for a departed loved one with an extensive collection of objects. Select one or two items to save and take pictures of the rest before donating, selling, or offering to friends. 

Consolidation is critical in the search for balance between keeping what you need to remember your loved one and not harming yourself with sentimental clutter. If you can’t bear to choose only one or two of a dozen mugs your loved one had, donate or give away the ones you don’t like and push a more thorough consolidation down the road. 


A common practice for handling death cleaning with clutter grief is repurposing items your loved one owned into something useful. One popular option is turning clothing into a quilt, blanket, or pillow. Crafters say it’s an easy project for those who like to craft, or you can pay someone to do this for you. If you want to make it yourself, it may be a valuable exercise to soothe your grief to repurpose your loved one’s belongings into useful items. This allows you to keep more of their belongings close by in a positive fashion. 


Donation is a beautiful way to give your loved one’s belongings a new life. It can help ease any guilt you might feel giving away your loved one’s possessions. Choosing a charity that your loved one was passionate about, such as a veteran’s organization or one that helps people find work clothing, will make this donation more meaningful. Knowing that something your loved one owned is now out in the world doing good can be helpful during this death cleaning reckoning with clutter grief process.

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