Have you recently lost a loved one? Do you know someone who has? Perhaps one of the biggest challenges after the funeral is figuring out what to do with all the stuff left behind. Last week I posted a blog about “Sorting through a loved one’s treasures.” I shared my personal story of sorting through my late husband’s belongings after his death. That sorting was much harder than I anticipated mostly because I had to make so many difficult decisions about what to keep and what to give away or donate.
While it was easy for me to purge my own excess clothes and my kids’ toys, it was excruciatingly hard to decide what things of my husband’s to pass on. Should I keep his T-shirts, his shoes, his journals? What about his G.I. Joe collection, his CrossFit equipment, his childhood photo albums? And all those boxes of books from his days teaching and coaching? What would be meaningful for my girls to have in our new home? What would we want in the future? My mind swirled with a thousand questions and angles to look at each piece.
Here’s the reality: I couldn’t keep everything.
Before moving to our new house, I did the bulk of the sorting. I cried a lot of tears. I shared a lot of items with family and friends. By the end of that month of sorting, I was exhausted physically and emotionally. The final items I packed up into about 10 boxes and brought them with me.
I have a confession. Those boxes are still sitting in my garage and we can’t park my car in there quite yet. It’s a work-in-progress. I’m giving myself grace today as the courage rises in me to tackle the sorting again soon.
As promised, this week I’m returning with some practical and creative ideas on how to preserve a loved one’s memory without having to put up with a garage full of stuff. There are hundreds of ideas out there if you search Google or Pinterest. This is a specially-curated list of unique ideas I completed or plan to create in the future.
If you know someone grieving the loss of a loved one, these also could serve as meaningful gifts you could help make or buy.
- Make a photo memory book. My husband loved photos. He had albums from holidays, sports events, memorable trips and teams he coached. Photos are difficult to throw away but albums also take up a lot of space. One idea is to scan some favorites and put them into a digital memory book. Think of it as a “Best of” album. I love to use Shutterfly or Picaboo. Once the photos are uploaded to one of these sites, you can choose your own layouts or have the program assemble the book using premade templates. This is one way to consolidate and preserve photos without having to store a lot of different albums. You can view the book online or order a printed copy.
- Frame a recipe or letter. Recipes are not just instructions on how to make something. They also tell a story about the person who made the food. If your loved one left behind recipe cards in their handwriting, you might consider framing it as art for your kitchen. You can do the same with a special letter or card. This is a precious way to showcase your loved one’s handwriting. You never know when you might want Grandma’s secret sauce recipe or that favorite cookie recipe your mom made at Christmas.
- Sew a Memory Pillow. I asked a friend of mine who likes to sew to help me make these special pillows using a pattern we found. You can take button-down shirts your loved one left behind and cut them to make into pillow cases. We each selected one of my husband’s favorite shirts. My friend sewed them and we slipped pillow forms inside. My girls especially loved this because the memory pillows are something to hold and hug when they miss Daddy. Some people put special tags on the pillows. We love the ones that say, “This is a shirt I used to wear. Whenever you hold it, I am there.”
- Decorate with books. My husband had a large collection of books and combined with my own collection it was way too much for our new home. A recent trend in home decorating is the use of old books. I got this idea to select some of my husband’s special books like his Bible, favorite devotionals or even coaching books to stack around our home for people to peruse. Books tell a story of a person’s interests and loves. If you prefer not to have fingers staining the pages of the books, you might tie them together with raffia or twine and stack them on the mantel, place them in a vintage bird cage or in a glass case.
- Download pictures and documents to a drive. We had pictures and videos my husband took stored on all different devices. One of my goals is to consolidate all these digital images and even documents written by my husband on to one hard drive or thumb drive. It might not sound very aesthetic but I know these may be important in the future as I am trying to share my husband’s legacy with my daughters and perhaps grandchildren. The devices can be disposed of or sold and the treasured files will be preserved.
- Piece together a T-shirt quilt. My husband was an athlete and he had quite a collection of T-shirts from special races and sports events. As a gift, his mom had a T-shirt quilt made using his favorite T-shirts. This is something that can be used daily, or displayed, or even passed down to future generations as a memory of his athletic achievements.
- Assemble a memory box. This is a great project to do with little ones. You can buy a wooden box, use a small vintage suitcase or even a shoe box to create your memory box. Some people decorate the outside of the box with the loved one’s name or paint it a favorite color. The box can be filled with special items like photographs, keepsakes like a yo-yo, a medal, jewelry, a ticket stub, a favorite pen or cologne. I hope to work on this with my daughters so they each have some things that will remind them of their dad and time they had together.
- Order a piece of handwriting jewelry. I recently ran across this idea of taking something handwritten by a loved one and making it into jewelry. A quick search for “handwriting jewelry” on Etsy, for example, results in a lot of options of vendors who can artfully complete this project for you. I think these would make beautiful gifts with a message “written” by that loved one or even their signature.
- Share the wealth. Many people have collections of certain items from china to figurines to baseball cards to other items. If you don’t want to keep an entire collection, you might select a few items and then divvy up the collection to family members who can display them or appreciate them in their own way. For example, my husband had a large collection of Christmas ornaments. Our first Christmas without him we invited over some close friends to help decorate our tree. We let all of the kids select an ornament to take home to remind them of my husband. I can still see the delight on the little boys’ faces as they held tightly to their Superman, G.I. Joe, Spiderman, Luke Skywalker and other ornaments.
- Create a time capsule. As mentioned in my article last week, there were some items left behind by my husband that I just couldn’t decide whether or not to save. Give yourself a gift in the future. Pack these things into a box labeled with your loved one’s name and the words “time capsule.” You might have more energy at a later date to make those kinds of decisions and discover then something you really wanted to keep. This was a reminder I didn’t have to complete all the sorting in one season. It was very freeing for me.
Do you have more creative ideas you have seen or used to preserve a loved ones things without filling up your whole garage or storage unit? I would love to hear about them. Please leave a comment below or feel free to come back and share if one of these 10 suggestions works for you!
Last month I did a series on “Navigating Grief When Life Moves Forward.” In case you missed it, I encourage you to check out some of the articles or share with a friend who is grieving:
The Garden – an introduction to the series
Grieving Together – an article on grieving with children
Choosing Joy – a guest post about a spouse choosing joy even on a long cancer journey
When a Grandparent Dies – a guest post about how one mom is navigating her own grief and grief with her kids
Facing Triggers and Trauma – an article about steering through grief when triggers and trauma color the journey
When You are the Caregiver – an article about navigating grief and feelings of guilt when you have a front-row seat to a loved one’s decline
When You Have to Say Goodbye to the Place Your Heart Calls Home – a guest post exploring the idea of “good grief” we experience when we are uprooted from a place or home we love
When You’ve Experienced Pregnancy Loss – a guest post sharing a first-hand experience with miscarriage and stillbirth.
Navigating Grief When Someone You Love Dies Suddenly – a guest post sharing about the sudden death of her mother.
Would you like a copy of my FREE resource for “Grieving with Kids“?
I’m passionate about meeting people in their grief and sharing a message of hope and glory. Let’s connect!