Before you begin sorting, remember that your life has been turned upside down, so it is important to give yourself time to grieve first. Going through your loved one’s belongings is emotionally demanding. After the loss of a loved one and while you are grieving, you may need to have around you the belongings, smell and clothes of the person. Everyday tasks can remind you they are gone.

The focus when sorting belongings is on only keeping the items that recall happy events, and getting rid of items that remind you of unhappy events. Some people go to bereavement therapy but if they return home to the same house filled with the old life and unpleasant memories, as soon as they walk over the threshold, they slide back into depression. Living in a ‘swamp’ of old relationships, drowning in past events, hanging onto ‘stuff’, is psychological scarcity. You may worry that if you sell or donate these things, you will be left with nothing. In fact, it is the opposite: by getting rid of the baggage, you enable new things, new people and new experiences into your life.

Your connection with the deceased

The relationship you had with the deceased will make a difference to your outlook during the next days and weeks. Recall the marvellous activities you did together: doing homework at the kitchen table, trips in the car, the birth of a child.

This can be a time to review the connection you had with this person, and to heal old wounds. Consider using this time to analyse their life. If this was a difficult relationship, understand the decisions they had to make that influenced your life, as in the cliché ‘walking in their shoes for a mile’. If they bequeathed you something you don’t want, you could give it to someone who would appreciate the gift, or sell it, or give it to charity. Even when it is valuable it is not worth keeping if it makes you uncomfortable. The following suggestions may apply to sorting items listed in your loved one’s Will, or to sorting through the house years after their passing because you have not previously felt ready to do so.

Grounding exercise

When you begin sorting belongings, you are going from your everyday reality to the sacred job of sorting through someone else’s life story.

The short exercise that follows will help you plan the day in your mind and give you the strength for the task ahead. When you are upset, your energy is split. You may trip over, feel faint or lightheaded, or sick in the stomach. Understand that touching a book they read, for instance, will bring up strong emotions.

Before you start sorting, get into the habit of ‘grounding’ yourself. It will help you stay calm.

Imagine your feet with roots going into the earth, grounding you.

Take a few moments and sit quietly on a chair.

Take three deep breaths in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth.

Place your feet on the floor. Bring to mind a moment when you felt strong and confident.

Visualise your day going smoothly, when you accomplish everything that you planned with ease.

Imagine everyone being calm, polite and caring.

Visualise yourself finishing the day feeling healthy and balanced and enjoying a good night’s sleep.

Take a moment to embrace this stillness.

Wash your hands before beginning to sort.

General tips for sorting

• Purchase boxes of various sizes, including pretty gift boxes for items that are to be bequeathed or given away, and strong plastic bags – try coloured bags: lilac, lime, yellow, and pink are more pleasant than dozens of black plastic garbage bags.

• Organise packing tape, a sharp pair of scissors, pen and paper, permanent marker pens, and coloured tissue paper for wrapping delicate items.

• Allow a start, middle and tidy-up time for each session. You may decide to allocate one hour, three hours, or a whole day of sorting for each session.

• Arrange a day and time with one or more friends that you feel comfortable with to assist you. Join them at the coffee shop, and return together to the home feeling refreshed.

• Arranging an altar or other sacred space with a photo of your loved one, beautiful flowers in a vase and an attractive candle may help to give you a sense of peace. This also helps to ‘ground’ you by using the physical and mental concentration required to do this activity.

• Keeping healthy and avoiding excessive alcohol is important.

• If you find it difficult to eat a good breakfast, consider a protein shake or smoothie.

• Pre-cooked frozen meals plans can be purchased for few weeks when you don’t have time to cook for yourself.

• Have petty cash to buy morning tea and lunch, and consider ordering takeaway pizza for the helper’s dinner so they don’t have to cook.

• Have delicious snacks, both sweet and salty, on hand. Good quality crystalised ginger can settle your stomach. Ensure there is plenty of fresh water.

• Pay for fuel used to transport everyone to and from the building and for the time helpers have given up, if you feel this is appropriate.

• Arrange a bedroom or area to rest or chill out if you or any of the helpers become overwhelmed.

• Wear a favourite item of clothing that makes you look and feel good. Be comfortable, wear layers as it can be physically tiring work.

• To pace your self during the day, sit and give directions to others. This is like observing a movie in 3D. You can see and hear everything, but you are a small distance away from touching the items that may bring back upsetting memories. Your body will experience different reactions from what your friends who are helping on the day experience, as they are not emotionally attached to the situation.

• Everyone will appreciate regular meal breaks and rest. Go outside for a walk, water the garden and enjoy some fresh air. Play a game of checkers or a few moves on the chessboard at lunch time to switch the brain into another mode for an hour.

• Start with a small area, or just one drawer, and categorise things into boxes in that area.

Take a moment to breathe deeply and collect your thoughts.

Gather everyone together and say a line from a favourite poem or prayer.

Light a stick of incense and walk from room to room, opening doors and windows to symbolically let out stale air.

Visualise your day going smoothly, accomplishing with ease everything that you have planned.

Imagine everyone being calm, polite, and caring.

Visualise yourself finishing the day feeling healthy and balanced and enjoying a good night’s sleep.


Anne Jennings

Anne began her career studying interior design in 1973 and became interested in Feng Shui after designing a hotel, doctor’s surgery and private homes for a Malaysian client. She also has qualifications in eco-psychology, mediation and as a funeral celebrant. Anne’s passion for creating welcoming home environments came about after years working with bereaved families, finding just the right spot for the bequeathed items from a loved one. She has studied in Australia, Singapore and America, lectured for many years in Design at Hunters Hill and Strathfield Colleges, and worked as a professional space clearer in public and private buildings. Anne has also worked as a guide in the leading open range zoo in Australia supporting guests while camping overnight, and interacting with endangered native and exotic animals. In her fifties, Anne returned to country New South Wales where she trained as a jillaroo and completed a Certificate in Agriculture. She has worked on the family farm, for the RSPCA and as a strapper on an Arabian horse stud until 2013 Her new book 'Belongings' came about after noticing how peoples’ life stories were reflected in the possessions they gathered around them. She became intrigued with the reasons why people carried certain items with them for years, and began researching the connection between possessions and the individual’s attitude towards their environment. After the death of Anne's dance partner Brett, she became involved with suicide bereavement. Her design work changed from major commercial and hospital projects to creating home environments for clients who had experienced the tragic loss of a family member or friend.

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