When and how do you get rid of his stuff?

The police officer flashed my husband’s driver’s license before me to verify that they were at the right home to announce that he was gone. Immediately upon my confirmation, a handful of his belongings were exchanged with this life-changing news—his wallet, keys, and wedding ring— were no longer needed.

As the grief fog descended, so did the realization that there remained a closet full of connections to the one I loved. Each garment and possession held a memory, or string of memories, I was not willing to let go of and smells that l I did not want to wash away.

And not only did his clothes have an attachment, but my stuff did as well. Even though I decided to discard many of his things within the first week, it took years to let go of mine. The dress I was wearing the night we first met, maternity garments, and the lingerie. Oh, the pain that came in releasing symbols of intimacy and the end of the long pregnancy season I loved.

More room in the closet

It isn’t this way for all widows, but for me, cleaning out the closet was a matter-of-fact assignment. My roommate from college came in to help and so it made complete sense to knock out this project while she was here. The clothes were no longer needed now in his absence. “Hooray, more room in the closet” was a necessary perspective to hold from my numbed cocoon.

For the most part, I had no regrets about hurrying through this unwanted task. In many ways, not allowing the clothing to linger prevented extended grief. For me, sorting through his things, seeking the perfect timing to let it go, without the initial numbing agent of grief would be agonizing. And, memory quilts or daddy bears made from his t-shirts were not a thing back then. (If I had known these would provide sweet comfort, I would have packed away some for that purpose.)

There is no right or wrong time for getting rid of your husband’s possessions. For some, removing it sooner rather than later is helpful while others cling to it for years, and that’s okay.

Is time to let his stuff go? 4 questions to ask:

  • What emotion does this stir in me when I see his _____________? If it is happy, you might want to keep it around. If another feeling is connected to this item, it might be time to let it go. 
  • Is there a family member that would cherish the item? The final vote on what stays and what must go is ultimately yours; however, it is kind to consider others when making these decisions.
  • Will my children want this when they are grown? It is easy to think they might want all of Daddy’s clothes when in reality a few pieces might be sufficient. But just in case, hold onto the questionable items until there is no doubt. 
  • Why am I keeping this? Even though releasing a precious belonging is difficult, it may be crucial for healing. Although it’s just stuff, the release represents so much more.

What to do with his things:

  1. Create a memory quilt or memory box. Thankfully, each of my children grabbed a few items that represented Daddy to them. These were displayed in a shadow box they referred to as their Daddy box which brought comfort during their growing-up years.
  2. Donate his wardrobe to a charity or Goodwill.
  3. Share the love with others who would value these treasures.
  4. When in doubt, stash away the stuff in question to reconsider later.

It is not easy to remove tangible evidence of your man. In fact, it is a huge part of the grief process! During the early months, each item serves as a necessary connection. However, there will come a time to let it go. Healing has come and it’s okay to move forward.

“Let your eyes look directly ahead and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you” (Proverbs 4:25).