One of the questions frequently asked in the grief support groups I facilitated was, “When is it time to clear out a loved one’s belongings?”
What a loaded question, and it never failed to generate a myriad of responses.
Truth is, there is no “right” time. Or I should rephrase that and say there is a right time for every individual, and that person’s right time may never be the right time for anyone else.
Many people theorize that it is not healthy to keep clothes and other items as they are just daily reminders of the loss. Because of that, they are quick to encourage “clearing things out and getting on with life.” But that is not what a grieving person needs. A grieving person may need those things to touch and reconnect and remember for as long as it takes until they are ready to let go.
When a couple we know lost their five year old son in a tragic accident, some other friends cleared out the boy’s room while the parents were at the funeral and took everything away, including furniture. They meant well and thought they were doing the right thing by sparing the parents from the painful experience of sorting through his room, but they had no idea that facing the empty room was harder than facing all the boy’s treasures.
The parents were too kind, and maybe still to numb, to express anger at the friends’ misguided help, but later they told me how devastated they were at the time. There was not one thing left of their son except some pictures, and they wished they had something that belonged to the boy to hold on to.
Several months later, the father told me that he found a matchbox car in a far corner of his closet. He figured his son must have left it there one day while he was playing and watching Dad get ready for work. That became the father’s most treasured possession.