Sorting Through Your Spouse's Belongings

Q. My husband died 10 months ago and I still haven’t cleared out his closet and bureau. I can’t say when I’ll be ready to do it, but it certainly isn’t now. Is there something wrong with me? Also, what do I do with his belongings when I am ready?  


A bewildering number of tasks fall on a widow’s shoulders, but one of the most daunting is emptying your mate’s drawers and disposing of his clothes and other personal effects. I know of one widow who tackled the job a month or two after the funeral. Others take six months or a year (or more). I waited eighteen months myself, although I did clean out two of his drawers earlier because I wanted the space for myself. There is no “right” time because we’re all individuals and move at our own emotional pace as we adjust to our new life. Clearing out his “stuff” can seem like removing the last vestiges of the man and a final acceptance that he is truly gone. In addition, there’s the unspoken question “What’s the rush?” When an elderly parent dies, you may be forced to clear out his or her apartment quickly because it must be vacated. But there’s usually no such urgency when your husband dies. 


How we go about the cleanup varies, too. Realize that you have options. Would you be more comfortable asking a family member or friend to help you? The job will get done much faster and the company can make you feel less alone. Or do you want to work solo? I did, preferring the privacy. And I found a great deal of unexpected solace. Tucked in my husband’s chest of drawers were old photos I’d totally forgotten about and letters he’d received years ago from our children at summer camp. I found birthday and Father’s Day cards they had sent him—and love notes from me. I smiled and cried as I read them—and felt nourished.


As for disposing of his belongings, the easiest solution is donating them to an organization like the Salvation Army or Goodwill. If you wish, you can also offer perfectly good sweaters, jackets or other clothing to family members or friends who might want something of his. Be aware that some people consider it ghoulish to wear a dead man’s clothes. However, jewelry like cuff links tends to be universally appreciated (as do cigar humidors and tools, in my own experience).    


If you have a question for Florence, please email her at


Florence Isaacs is a freelance journalist, author — and a widow herself. Her books include My Deepest Sympathies, When the Man You Love Is IllWhat Do You Say When and Just a Note to Say...The Perfect Words for Every Occasion.


Image via Flickr Creative Commons / rcvane


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