The death of a loved one can be devastating to anyone who knew them and often leaves feelings of emptiness and longing for weeks, months, or even years afterward. As if coping with the death of a loved one wasn’t enough, you may find yourself having to figure out what to do with their personal belongings.
These possessions are going to carry a lot of memories and sentimental feelings with them, but may not be practical for you to use yourself. If you find yourself in this position, consider using this guide for ideas on how to repurpose clothing, jewelry, and personal effects into something more personal for you or for others.
A loved one's personal effects are all too often left in storage and forgotten until they need to be moved for taking up too much space. Repurposing belongings can not only renew their usefulness, but can help with the healing process by keeping a part of your loved one close by.
Repurposed items last for longer, as their new use tends to subject them to less wear and tear than before. For example, old shirts remade into a scarf or blanket require less washing, and spend less time in use.
Sometimes our only wish is to hold our loved one again, and having something of substance can accomplish that. A pillow or stuffed animal either made from your loved one’s clothing, or wearing a smaller version of their clothing, can be a great companion on those lonely days.
Your family is likely grieving just as much as you, so having something that belonged to the deceased can help alleviate some of the pain they’re feeling and help with the healing process.
Repurposing a belonging that holds a special meaning or memory will spark that memory almost every time you look at it. It could be an article of clothing they were wearing on a special day, or a belonging they were especially fond of or used daily.
Unique pieces are often noticed by visitors, especially if they recognize what was used to make them, opening the door for you to talk about it and what it means to you. This allows you to easily share your favorite memories with others without creating an awkward or discomforting situation.
You may not be the only one grieving the loss of your loved one, so it would be appropriate to think of who else might benefit from a repurposed gift. Who they might be depends on who it was that passed away, but often close friends and family are a good choice for keepsake gifts.
If your loved one was a parent, child, sibling, or close friend, your spouse is probably grieving just as much as you. Having a personal keepsake from you will not only help them, but will let them know you’re thinking of them too.
Close family members will also feel the impact of loss, so consider making several copies of the same keepsake to pass around.
Children process loss differently, and so benefit greatly from having something to keep close and remind them of the deceased.
Close friends of the deceased and any close friends of yours should also be considered, as they are likely grieving as well alongside you.
If your loved one had a particular creation they were especially proud of, you could consider gifting it to the company they worked at to be put on display, as their coworkers may also benefit from having a part of the deceased close to them.
Ultimately, gifts that repurpose the effects of a loved one would make an ideal gift for anyone they were close to that might gain some additional comfort having a small way to remember them by.
Recycling and repurposing can be done with almost anything, although some items are easier to use than others. Fabrics are usually the go to choice due to their versatility and durability, on top of typically being something that was worn by your loved one. However, jewelry, collections, and even scraps from projects can all be used to create something unique.
The easiest thing to use is clothing since it is likely that you will have several items of it and its versatility makes it great for crafting it into a wide variety of things such as pillows or even stuffed animals. Some common clothing items you can make use of include:
Socks - these can be extremely stretchy or fairly thin which makes them great for creating smaller craft items.
Ties - these have a lot more stiffness or structure to them, making them great for items that require some durability such as bags or purses.
Shirts - these are great for their colors, wording, and texture. You can make really large items like blankets with extremely unique designs as a result.
Jeans - these are great for making items that you may want to tell a story with as jeans are often well travelled in.
Pieces that aren’t worn, passed down or sold can be put on display, or turned into signature jewelry ornaments. If you're willing to bring them to a jeweler, they can be melted down and remade into entirely new pieces, or a singular combined work of art. Purchasing or making a frame can be a satisfying accomplishment on its own for pieces with special meaning behind them.
Scraps are great for arranging into an artistic piece that speaks to your loved one’s personality. This is a more difficult project to tackle, as it takes quite the artistic touch, but the result is a piece more unique and personal than any other. Some ideas for this include abstract sculptures, 3D artwork/paintings, or rustic storage units like wooden vases or stationary kit holders.
Much like jewelry, hair clips can be displayed in creative ways, or repurposed into something else. You could try displaying them in the hair of a favored doll, or redesign them by attaching decorative pieces made from your loved one’s clothing so that you can wear them yourself.
We’ll go into more detail below on different things you can make with various belongings. Try to keep in mind what belongings are most important to you so that you can take some inspiration as you go.
Always keep in mind that you are not limited to just throwing things away or letting them sit in a closet until you happen across them during spring cleaning years later. There are a multitude of ways to reuse and repurpose clothing, and other personal effects of your loved one. Here are some unique ideas for memorial items using either clothing, or jewelry.
Old clothing makes for great material for teddy bears and stuffed animals, as worn fabric tends to feel softer and more comforting. Additionally, you can always have the clothes remade into smaller versions so that the stuffed animal can be dressed like your loved one.
This second option is great if there is an animal you always associated them with, though a teddy bear is a great universal choice. If an animal is less your style, you can always substitute a more human-like plushie.
Upcycling a loved one’s clothing into a blanket or quilt is one of the easiest ways to take a large amount of material and make something practical and comforting that still tells a story of someone’s life. You can include souvenirs from trips, prizes from sporting events, even a shirt with a coffee stain on it that you associate with a memorable story.
Jean Pockets - Jeans are often left unused as most crafty ideas call for other articles of clothing, but the back pockets of jeans are great for sewing into a quilt, as they add a functional aspect to the piece without clashing with most styles.
Ties - Ties are a great form of personal expression, and can easily be used to add an extra touch of flair to a piece. Depending on how many ties your loved one had, you may have enough for an entire quilt, or perhaps just enough to add pieces to another fabric for a table runner.
Jacket - Jackets have a wide range of uses, as you could be referring to a suit or seasonal jacket. Suit jackets are great for blankets as the heavier material adds extra comfort. Seasonal jackets are better for pieces meant as decoration, as they often require more than a simple sewing machine to piece together.
Shirts - Shirts are the most versatile pieces, as the materials are easy to use, and the designs you can create are nearly limitless. Was your loved one a fan of flannel? A blanket would work perfectly. Perhaps they went to a lot of concerts and picked up several band shirts along the way? Sew the fronts and backs into a quilt that shows a road map of their musical experience.
Pillows are easy to make, can be used for comfort or decoration, and last for years. Shirts can be turned into pillow covers in just a few simple steps, making them easy to remove and clean.
Pants and other clothing, while more difficult to use, create a unique, eye catching piece that can be filled with personality.
Christmas, Halloween, Easter and other holidays can be made even more special with decorations made from your loved one’s belongings. Jewelry is easily transformed with a bit of wire and a hook, turning earrings, rings and bracelets into eye catching ornaments with little effort.
With a lot more elbow grease, clothing can also be made into ornaments, though you’ll need some extra creativity to combine them. You can either cut and sew the clothes into festive shapes, seal pieces inside a clear plastic ball, or cut strips and pin them onto a styrofoam shape.
Some other holiday ideas might include:
Holiday Tags for the Christmas Tree With the Deceased’s Handwriting - If you still have gift tags that were made by your loved one, these make great personalized decorations. Perhaps your loved one had a knack for writing witty clues, or heartfelt messages. Displaying these can be a great reminder of the thoughtfulness and personality they showed.
Tree Skirt Made From Neckties - Because of their shape, neckties can easily be arranged side by side to create a sizable tree skirt, keeping your loved one present for the holidays.
Sports fans can easily be spotted by their collection of jerseys, and these make for great decorations. Getting them framed is a great way to display their love for sports and their favorite players.
If your loved one had jewelry that was special to them, but either can’t be worn or is damaged in some way, the metal can be melted down into something completely new. For example, you can recycle a loved one’s jewelry into a ring, pendant, or something more personalized, such as this fingerprint pendant.
Even a gemstone from rings or earrings can be turned into a new piece for a family member. Jewelers can easily take gemstones from one piece and set them in another, so you’re not limited to simple metal jewelry if you're looking to have it remade.
If you are considering melting down old jewelry to create something new, consider opting into cremation jewelry. This is a great way to incorporate your loved one’s ashes into a new design that signifies their personality or their values and beliefs. You can view our ultimate guide on buying cremation jewelry here.
Kinetic decorations, like wind chimes, are great for commemorating collectors and crafters, or anyone with a particular hobby. On top of being eye catching, wind chimes are ear catching too, making them a perfect reminder of those with a big personality that never waited to be noticed.
Gardening Tools That They Loved to Use - for the loved one with a green thumb, small gardening tools showcase the tender care they showed to their flower beds. Larger tools can even be used to create a stand for the wind chime to hang from.
Favorite Wine Bottles or Glass Jars - Wine brings a certain upper class culture with it, and if your loved one had a passion for it, old corks, bottles and even labels from their favourites are perfect for wind chimes.
Scraps of Metal or Wood from a Workshop If They Were a Craftsman - Crafting tools tend to be sharp or heavy, but the results they produce can make for some impressive displays. If your loved one created relatively small pieces, or left small scraps around everywhere, any and all of these can be used in a set of wind chimes to display their passion for hands on work.
Buttons are a fantastic material for adorning the chains of necklaces and bracelets, especially if your loved one had a collection of them.
Button collections tend to have a wide variety of patterns and colors, making them perfect for stringing together unique, eye catching designs that show off your loved one’s hobby.
If your loved one did have a button collection and you want to create a bracelet or pendant, consider sending these as part of a personalized memorial package to friends or loved ones.
If your lost loved one’s clothing is in a rather advanced state of disrepair, you could always take long strips and braid them together, creating a bracelet or lanyard to attach a key ring.
When a keepsake is just too precious to transform into something else, then you can simply put it on display. Frames and shadow boxes are great for bulkier items or sets of smaller items.
Hand written notes are often some of the most precious things we can keep, but they are easily damaged, and naturally degrade over time. As an alternative, you can have your loved one’s writing copied to a pendant so that you can always keep it close.
For the artist or photographer, you may find the idea of creating magnets from their work appealing. Not only does this leave the work itself unaltered, but allows it to be displayed in a variety of places.
Most neckties are actually just folded tubes, so the ends of them make for wonderful eyeglasses cases. This is especially appropriate for the avid reader and book collector, as the glasses you keep can be yours, or theirs. Simply use the glasses you intend to hold to measure and cut the length of the tie you’ll need, then sew one end shut.
This can be done with any shirt, but dress shirts are the easiest to use, and even come with a pre-made pocket. Start by cutting around the back of the neck and under the arms, effectively leaving the front of the shirt untouched.
Separate the arms to use as a belt, then fold the leftover fabric to create a large pocket to attach to the bottom. Aprons are the hallmark of bakers and crafters alike, so try turning their favorite clothing into a tool for their favorite hobby.
Sometimes colder days leave you just wanting a hug from your loved one, so having a scarf you can wrap around yourself might just satisfy that need, especially if you didn’t have enough material for an entire blanket.
Scarves are simple, easy to make, and can be worn almost any time of year, depending on the material, so they make wonderful mementos for keeping close.
Perhaps the most personal memento possible is one made with your loved one’s ashes. There are many options for cremation jewelry, and each contains a vessel meant for keeping a small portion of your loved one’s ashes inside. This pendant is a fantastic example of a striking, yet minimalist design.
Another option for this is to take a small amount of your loved one’s ashes and turn it directly into jewelry. This is different than cremation jewelry which just holds your loved one’s ashes, as the ashes are turned into the jewelry itself. You can read more about ashes into jewelry here.
If your loved one was an avid coffee drinker, the sleeves of their dress shirts can be turned into fantastic coffee cozies. Simply split the sleeve down the seam, roll it up while keeping the button and corresponding slit to the outside, and sew it together. This can be wrapped around their favourite mug, or used by you for anniversary coffee dates.
Some people have that special chair they always used, or a particular project they were especially proud of. Having that piece engraved with your loved one’s name, or a short phrase they used to say adds that extra special feeling to an otherwise mundane object.
Body art has grown ever more popular with more recent generations, so you may consider having your loved one’s tattoos copied onto etched jewelry, or a small blanket for numerous and large designs.
Try contacting the original artist who did the tattoo to get every detail of the design. This is similar to having your loved one’s fingerprint etched into jewelry. You can read more about how this process works here.
If you or your loved one was the type that preferred practical things rather than decorative ones, you could turn their old clothing into a bag that reflects one of their favorite hobbies. A duffle bag is suitable for more active individuals, while a small tool bag may be more appropriate for the crafty and creative.
Smaller pieces of fabric and jewelry can be turned into pins and brooches, allowing you to take something of your loved one with you everywhere with ease.
Fabric can be stretched into a sort of button, or folded and arranged into various other shapes, like flowers and bows, depending on what best suits your loved one’s personality.
This keepsake doesn’t necessarily require any of your loved one’s belongings, but is a fantastic personalized memento as it is a part of them immortalized in metal. A great example of such a piece is this sterling silver fingerprint pendant.
Both neckties and shirts can be made into strips to create cloth belts and sashes. Sashes are especially appropriate if your loved one was fashion forward, as they act as more of an accessory than a functional belt.
Dress shirt pockets are designed for holding papers and small change, and can easily be converted from shirt pockets to purses.
You can either leave them in the shape they’re in, using the buttoned flap to keep everything secure, or make them more compact by folding them in half and sewing the sides together.
The latter allows you to add zippers, create additional pockets and makes the item more practical, making it a great way to commemorate someone crafty, or it could be used to hold a coin collection.
Fabric is remarkably easy to fold and shape into a myriad of designs, such as flowers, animals and geometric shapes. Pieces of your loved ones clothing could be taken, shaped and attached to a small hair clip that can be worn for practical, and fashionable uses.
If your loved one’s clothing has a particular design on it, it can even be left flat without any shaping necessary.
The loss of a loved one often leaves us with questions about what to do next, especially when it comes to their belongings. Here are some common questions with some ideas on what you can do and what direction you can take.
Unless you plan on selling, donating or throwing it away, what you can do is really limited to your imagination. Clothing is such an easy thing to repurpose into something more personal that will allow you to keep your loved one close in a myriad of ways. Do you live in a colder climate? You can make a scarf for going out, or a blanket for the nights you really just need to stay in. Are you talented with crafts? Try making a pillow cover, or a teddy bear if you’re feeling adventurous.
It’s never weird to want to keep something that belonged to a loved one, and even less weird to turn it into something even more special to you. It serves as a way to cope with the loss, as well as a way to heal from it, as it gives you a part of them to keep close whenever you miss them.
The internet is a vast place, filled with creative individuals coming up with new ideas every day, especially for creative uses for repurposed clothing.
Any personal belonging can be repurposed in some way or another, it all depends on how special it is to you and what you’re willing to do with it. Additionally, the end result doesn’t always have to be focused on what represents your loved one, but could represent something about you, combining something you love with something that belonged to someone you love. This often makes the piece even more special and satisfying to own.
The loss of a loved one is never an easy thing to deal with, and going through their items may seem like an insurmountable task at first. The clothing and personal effects of your loved one with time can be utilized to serve as a personal and warm memory of someone you cherished.
One way to make this a little bit easier on the mind and soul is to consider repurposing and recycling their personal effects into sentimental reminders of the happy memories you shared with them.
March 26, 2021 by Frances Kay