Sorting Through Belongings After Death

The process of organising and clearing out someone’s belongings can take an emotional toll, but it needs to be done. Read on for some tips to help you through.
Sorting Through Belongings After Death

One of the hardest tasks when a loved one passes is that of clearing out their things; their wardrobe, their bedside table, their car. In fact, it can be such a huge emotional challenge that many leave the task for weeks, months, or even years, before they can fathom tackling it.

  • What should you do with their everyday belongings?
  • Should you keep every item of sentimental value?
  • How should you store items that meant a lot to them, but that you personally don’t want to keep?

We thought we’d share some of our top tips when it comes to sorting through a loved one’s belongings after they die. Hopefully these make the process a little easier for you – and remember, tread with caution every step of the way. This can certainly be a challenging duty.

Create a process and timeline

While some wait ages before commencing the ‘clearing out’ process, others choose to get started straight away, moving every belonging out of the house and donating unwanted items to charities. Our recommendation, though, is to jot down a process for yourself.

Decide on when you’ll get started, how often you’ll head to their place to work through their things (their home, their office, their bedroom, their car), how many hours you’ll spend cleaning and sorting at a time, and who you’ll call on to help you on different days. This can make the process feel a little more manageable, and can provide friends and family with a guideline of how things will work should they join you throughout the process.

Ask for help

As we’ve already mentioned, the task of clearing out a deceased person’s things can be challenging. Send a message out to family and friends, inviting them to join you. There’s no harm in asking for help – so reach out to anyone you think might be up for the challenge and have them join you.

Tackle one section at a time

It can be tempting to try and clear out everything at once – we’re all human, after all, and chances are we want to speed the process up as much as possible so we don’t have to think about it again. This isn’t a great idea though (sorry to disappoint). Rather, we’d recommend tackling one section of their home or bedside drawer (if you want to go really granular) at a time. That way, you can tick areas off and keep moving forward without feeling overwhelmed by how much there is to sort through.

Throw, Keep, Gift & Donate

One tried and true method to help sort lots of items at once is to create four piles. Use Post-It notes or make signs for each one. Then begin allocating each of your loved one’s belongings to a pile. The piles are:


This pile is for the things neither you or their other loved ones want to keep. This can include bits and bobs nobody has a use for (like spare buttons or leftover expired food), or items that aren’t in a condition to donate (like stained or ripped clothing or linen).


While clearing out their things, you’ll of course come across items of sentimental value either you or others will want to keep and cherish forever. Create a pile of these things and send messages to loved ones to ask what they’d like to keep for themselves. Alternatively, you can arrange a time to get everyone together to go through every item in this pile and sort through who will keep what.


If you come across something that might be of sentimental value to someone in particular (like a piece of jewellery gifted from someone to the deceased, or a framed photo), put those items aside for the relevant people.


Items like clothing, linen and canned food can be donated to organisations across Australia. After asking family and friends if there’s anything in particular they’d like to keep, do some research into nearby charities and donate the relevant items to people in need. Some organisations offer to collect goods, while others have drop-off locations and bins. Do a quick google to find organisations near you.

Take photos of items you can’t keep

Did they have a favourite armchair? A piece of artwork they loved? An entire bookshelf filled with their favourite novels? Take photos of anything you’re unable to keep, and consider creating an album (either print or digital) for the whole family so you can remember your loved one and their favourite things.

Get creative

There are so many ways you can honour your loved one and their favourite things without simply storing their items in your home. Create quilts, albums or collages, and find new ways of using their belongings so they can stay with you for years to come.

Wrap up

These are just a few of our top tips when it comes to sorting through your loved one’s things. As is the case with every part of the grieving process, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this task – so find new processes that work for you to make the ‘sorting out’ challenge as palatable as possible. And, if you find there’s heaps to organise and clear out, it might be the perfect time to consider sorting through your own things to help your family and friends when the time comes for them to do the same for you. It might be a little depressing to think about, but it’s also very thoughtful of you to plan ahead.

If you would like to give specific possessions to particular members of your family or friends, the best way to make your wishes known is with a legal Will. Start yours today at

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