October 12, 2018 Brigitte Ganger

Don't Let the Belongings of the Dead Haunt Your Home

What to do with the things you can't live with or without

Don't Let the Belongings of the Dead Haunt Your Home
If you leave your loved one's belongings as they are for too long, your house could become haunted by memories and grief. It's unhealthy to live with relics of the dead for too long without making a positive change. (Shutterstock)

Even if you don't believe in ghosts, the memory of a dead person can be as persistent as an unresolved spirit that just won't leave. You might feel like they're perpetually puttering around the yard just out of sight, watching TV in the next room or on a quick run to the store. The sense that a dead loved one is still present is a typical part of grief, particularly if the person lived with you and the death was recent. 

Your loved one's things are a reminder of their presence, even though they are no longer here on earth. Living in a house with a dead person's stuff is a comfort, and later a curse. Too many reminders of the past can prevent people from moving onto new stages of their grief. 

The family home has an effect on grief

If someone you lived with has died, it may be a struggle to shake these feelings of denial. A home is a place of life. It's where you spend time with your family, prepare meals, celebrate occasions, and relax after a long day. Your home should change as you and your family changes. 

Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to make changes to a home when someone has passed. Some people are reluctant to move furniture, throw things away or even clean up their home when someone who lived there has died. It can be too much change too soon. 

What about the belongings of the dead?

Many who are recently bereaved struggle with what to do with a deceased person's room and belongings. Should they be left in place, as a tribute to the person who is gone? Packed up and ignored? Is it disrespectful to go through your deceased loved one's private effects, like old diaries? There are many strange questions surrounding the belongings of a deceased person. 

There are objects that are full of meaning. A special book, plant, family artefact or article of clothing may hold precious meaning for you, and should be kept as a memento. But when you're in deep grief, meaningless objects can suddenly feel very important, like a half-used lipstick, or a brush with your loved one's hair still in it. For some, it is even difficult to throw out their garbage. For a moment, it may feel nice to live with their things, but this is neither sustainable nor healthy in the long term. 

Keep, toss, or donate?

Whether your loved one passed recently or some time ago, it's important to make decisions about their belongings if you are still living with them.


  • Useful or shared belongings

Things that you shared with the deceased person, and can still put to good use, are things you can and should keep. A vacuum cleaner, curling iron, watch or other belonging that still works well and is needed is a wonderful way to bring your deceased loved one with you into the future. Practical items might be difficult to use at first, but as you continue your grief journey, using them will become the norm.

  • Family heirlooms and valuables

An object with meaningful family history behind it, like a photo album, is worth keeping. It may be painful to see for some time, but these types of belongings should be kept for you, your family, and future generations. 

  • Favorite things

If your loved one had a favorite belonging, and you have the space to store it, there is no reason to deprive yourself of it if you want to keep it. A special musical instrument, painting, or other belonging might not have a significant monetary value or use for you, but if it represents your loved one, it's certainly okay to keep.


  • Garbage and disposables

If the item you're looking at would have (or should have) been thrown away by your loved one, toss it. Keep the things that are meaningful, that you can keep forever. There is no use in keeping something that is perishable or useless. A scrap of paper with your loved one's careless doodling on it might seem irreplaceable and precious. Consider taking a photo of things like this as an intermediary step to letting them go. 

As incomprehensible as it may be to disturb your deceased loved one's things, life must go on. (Shutterstock)


  • Things you don't have space for

If you can't play the baby grand piano your uncle left behind, give it to someone who will. You might not be able to keep everything, and belongings like this can bring joy to others. Let go of things you don't need or can't house, and give others the chance to benefit.

  • Things you feel obliged to keep

Just because something was special to your loved one doesn't mean it has to be special to you. If you are keeping things simply because they were owned by a dead relative, reconsider. It's better to have a few meaningful reminders of your loved one, than many unnecessary ones. Keeping things you won't use or enjoy can lead to them degrading over time. 

If you can't keep the lilac bush your mother loved alive, imagine how disheartening it will be when you accidentally kill it. Sometimes it's worse to hold onto things we can't maintain than to let them go. Nothing is more haunting than a dead loved one's bed covered in dust, left exactly as it was on the day they passed.

A house is a home, not a museum

The dead stay with us long after they depart this earth. In a twisted way, it's comforting to have them linger. But you can't leave their things in place forever. When you and others in your house are ready, start making little changes. Put things away. Throw things away. Move furniture. Make space for your deceased loved one's favorite thing to be prominently displayed—but don't leave it in the exact same spot they left it. 

Ghosts of memories exist, and they can haunt you for some time. Making changes to your environment will remind you that time marches on, and life continues after loss.

Your loved one had a remarkable life. Tell their story, and we’ll publish it online for free.

After creating an online memorial, you can also publish in print in any of over 6,000 newspapers across North America.

Get started for free

Read more stories