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  • Natalie Adams

Can I Keep That? Deciding What to Save after a Death

When my dad died, I received many boxes of my things. A big question came up that I've chosen to ignore until now: What do I keep?

A small room is filled with boxes and other old items.

While most people just receive condolences and sympathy texts after losing someone, I got around 10 boxes full of items after my dad’s death. My parents had been divorced for quite awhile before my dad’s death, so all of my things from his house had been packed up and sent to my mom’s house. Just weeks after losing my dad, I found myself staring at half of my life as it sat in boxes in my living room.

I did what most teenagers who are overwhelmed with grief and school do, and just stuck everything in the basement. Turning off the light and closing the door, I promised myself that I would go through all of those things when I had time, sorting out what I wanted and didn’t want.

Months passed by, and I still hadn’t organized everything. I occasionally went down to go through some boxes, choosing some things to stick in my room, but I always ended up putting everything back before going upstairs, instead of figuring out what I wanted to keep and what I didn’t want to keep.

To this day, those boxes are still in my basement, basically untouched. Every day I tell myself that I’ll go down there and start sorting things, but I never do. I’m not exactly sure what’s making me keep everything. Most of the stuff down there isn’t even that important: Empty present boxes, old and dried up art supplies, and random kid’s shirts that I never once wore. A lot of those things could just vanish one morning and I’d never miss them. But, for some reason, I still can’t throw them away.

One theory that I have is that I’m worried that I might accidentally throw away something important. For example, the shirts made for six year olds may seem unimportant now but 10 years later I’ll wish I had them. Realistically, I know that this isn’t logical, and that I probably will never think about them again, but part of me still thinks that.

Another theory is that, by throwing things away, it’s like throwing my life with my dad away. I’ll never have another Christmas with my dad, so by throwing away the empty box for the present he got me, I’m throwing away great memories. Like the last one, I realistically know that I’m not throwing my life with Dad away when I do this, as I’ll keep the important and sentimental things, but I still keep them.

I’m not sure if those theories are right, but I know that something’s holding me back. I also know that I can’t keep all of those things forever. When I go to college, I won’t have room for 10 random boxes on top of all of my other things. Whenever I go looking for something important I often have to dig through all of my unimportant things to find it, and then put it all back. As time has gone on, the reasons for keeping all of these items have become less relevant and more reasons for getting rid of them have come up.

So, I’m going to do it. I’m going to get rid of a lot of it.

If you’re in my situation, I’d recommend doing the same. If you just lost your loved one, it’s okay to wait to do this - I’m glad that I’m doing this now instead of right after my dad’s death, because I probably would’ve thrown away too much or not enough. When you feel ready, put aside a weekend to go through your things. If you are able to be with other people, have a friend or family member go through it with you.

I’ll sort all of my items into three piles: Keep, maybe, and throw or give away. Everything that I put into the maybe pile I’ll leave there for around a week, going down to look at them daily and think about if I want them, and then I’ll choose whether to keep them or not. 

Now, I feel the need to also mention this, there is another side. If you’re not like me, wanting to keep everything, you may feel tempted to just throw everything away. Please, please do not do this. It may be easier, and some days I just want to do that instead of going through it all, but keeping some things is good too. Even if you don’t want them now, in the future you will want the important things. I’ll be keeping two or three boxes full of important things, potentially giving some of those away in the future, who knows, and I know that future me will be glad I have them.

Honestly, thinking about doing this gives me a lot of anxiety and makes me sad. But I know it’s the right choice. Things are just things, and while having some of them is important, 10 boxes aren’t going to bring my dad back.

It took me quite awhile to come to this decision, and it’s okay if it takes you a lot of time as well. Trust me though: You won’t miss the random kid’s shirt.


Written by Natalie Adams, the creator of Teenage Grief Sucks.

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