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Dear Annie: Downsizing after bereavement

A older man in an armchair gazes out of the window

Dear Annie: I’m moving to a small flat, after more than 45 years in the family home where my late wife and I brought up our three children. At my time of life, ‘downsizing’ is a relief, in many ways.

But I’ve been rather taken aback by how reluctantly my children, all now adults and with young families of their own, have accepted this. It's been inferred I’m the custodian of many material reminders of their mother, which they have no room, or apparent wish for, in their own homes.

I think about my wife every day. I have photographs and small personal mementos I treasure. Will I regret the things I leave behind? Should they? – EN

Annie says: I’m sorry that this decision has caused you such tension in your family. I imagine it makes what is probably already a rather difficult process, that much harder.

Attributing special value to material possessions after someone has died is incredibly common in people’s grieving process. It manages our sense of loss and enables us to maintain a sense of connection with the deceased. So I can understand your children’s anxiety about having to let go of all these reminders, and I suspect the loss of the family home is triggering a lot of emotion as well.

However, I can also hear that you feel somewhat trapped, as you would like to downsize and move on in some way, and yet feel expected to hold onto things that you are willing to let go of, for your children’s sake.

I can’t tell you if you will or won’t regret leaving certain things behind – in a way, that is something we all need to risk when we make big decisions like this. And without knowing how long ago your wife died it is difficult to know how much of this is appropriate – if it was recent it might all feel too soon for them, but if they want to keep certain things it is their responsibility to find a way to do so.

It might be that they club together and pay for storage until they can either say goodbye to the items, or take them on themselves. If it was many years ago, it can sometimes limit us to hold so tightly to material possessions. By letting go, we expand our lives in realising the connection we have with the deceased, with or without a physical reminder. It sounds to me like you’ve made your choice about what you need to live peacefully in connection with your wife.

If you’ve lost someone close to you, or been affected by a bereavement, psychotherapist Annie Broadbent is here to help. If you have a question for her to answer in this column, write to her at

About Annie

Annie Broadbent is a trained psychosynthesis counsellor, with specialist experience working with the bereaved. As a therapist she explores the mind, body, feelings and spirit, working with individuals in a way that is most appropriate for them.

She is the author of bestselling book Speaking of Death (What the Bereaved Really Need), inspired by personal experiences of living through bereavement, including her own. Whilst writing her book, Annie volunteered at St Christopher's Hospice and has given a number of talks on issues around grief, bereavement and mental health.

Regretfully, Annie cannot enter into personal correspondence

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