How post-bereavement decluttering offers tips for living in the present


When my dear father-in-law passed away recently, we began the process of decluttering and tidying the home in which he and my mother-in-law have lived for over forty years. Whenever someone dies, it’s inevitable that there’ll be some personal belongings to sort through (be they numerous or few in quantity).

Access all areas

My mother-in-law is a wheelchair user, so she has not enjoyed an ‘access all areas’ experience to the family home in recent times. As a result, whatever needed sorting out was down to the man of the house. We photographed the rooms upstairs so that my husband, Andrew, could ask his mum to decide what she wanted to do with the items we uncovered.

As we went about our task, I had a number of realisations, which prompted me to think about how we can all live more minimally in the here and now.

Man drawer mayhem

Comedian Michael McIntyre wasn’t kidding when he described the many and varied contents of ‘the man drawer‘. In our own home, we have a kitchen drawer that serves the purpose of a multi-use drawer for every day bits and bobs.

In my parents-in-law’s house, the man drawer housed nails, a hammer, masking tape and similar DIY-type stuff. Yet, this drawer was seldom used and in a central location within the home.

Keep useful things close by

My sense was that this useful storage space could be better served keeping every-day items that needed to be accessed regularly.

So, think carefully about what you use daily (or weekly) and store those items in an accessible location. Place seldom used equipment elsewhere.

Things that no longer work or which are no longer needed

If you are unable to get to the local recycling centre, the likelihood of holding onto things that no longer work (or which you no longer need) increases.

If you’re in this situation, ask a visitor to ‘disappear’ such items, find out if your local authority can offer a collection service or see if any local charities can help. This helps avoid stuff building up, which takes up valuable space in your home (and makes cleaning more difficult).

Have a place for ‘goods out’ 

At home, I have a dedicated drawer for ‘goods out’. When it’s full, I take the items to my local recycling centre or charity shop. We’ll do that for my mother-in-law.

Out-of-date foodstuffs

When we were students, my sister and I worked for our local supermarket. A mantra we learned whilst there was:

If it’s got a date, you must rotate!”

When you buy items with a long date (such as cans or jars), the ‘rotate’ rule still applies to these types of items just as it does to perishable goods.

In the case of my father-in-law, he wasn’t able to get into the back of his cupboards so we found some items that were up to 4 years out of date. I’m sure this is not unusual in this situation, but if you are able to do so, get into the back of those shelves from time-to-time and bring forward items you need to use imminently.

Check anything with a use-by date regularly

Pantry items such as flour and other baking products often need checking.  It’s a good idea to narrow down your list of store-cupboard staples so that you regularly use what’s there. Only invest in more unusual things if you know you’ll use them. And local friends, if you need a particular herb or spice for a special recipe, I probably have it (my weakness) so please ask before you buy!

Multiple items, dispersed throughout various locations

One of the things I noticed when decluttering was that there were various little storage boxes (plastic or cardboard) containing small items of a similar nature. We discovered duplicate (and even triplicate) versions of tiny things like paracetamol, matches and so on. Keeping such bits and pieces in one place will enable you to use up what you have before buying more and save you time and money.

Everything in its place

Whether you live alone, with a partner or in a family situation, an ‘everything in its place’ rule will help you consolidate, as you:
– see what you have in a particular category
– avoid losing things of value
– avoid waste (and save money)
– save time (as you know where to find what you need)
– maintain a sense of order and make cleaning so much easier

So, our decluttering continues and I know it won’t take long to get things sorted out. I know my mother-in-law will appreciate knowing that her home is a little less cluttered, which will help her keep it clean and tidy.

To live minimally in the here and now

So, to live minimally in the here and now:

  • Keep genuinely useful things close by (all in one place)
  • Have a place for ‘goods out’ (and let them go)
  • Check anything with a use-by date regularly
  • Adopt the ‘everything in its place’ rule

What can you do today to help you on your journey towards a clutter-less life?

In memory of Kenneth Gordon 1928 – 2017


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