The Great House Clean Out

Shelves of dishes ready for packing

Perhaps your elderly parent needs to move to assisted living or they’ve decided to downsize. Now you’re faced with what I call “the great house clean out.” The prospect of clearing out a house that’s filled with your family’s possessions can be daunting. It took me a year to clean out and prepare my parents’ home to sell. Here are ten tips from my experience:

1.     Find someone to provide you with support. I am really grateful that my husband helped me all throughout the multi-month house cleanout. Practically speaking, there may be tasks that require two people. Emotionally speaking, I got bogged down in the memories that were attached to a lot of the “stuff” in the house. It was helpful to have a more objective person to keep the momentum going.

 2.     Split your time between cleaning out “regular” and “sentimental” items. If you’ve ever watched “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” you know that she tells people to do the sentimental stuff last. Don’t try to clear out all the sentimental stuff from your parent’s house in one day. Spend some time on sentimental clearing and when you’re emotionally saturated, then work on something that has no emotional baggage – like pots and pans or kitchen dishes perhaps.

 3.     Use Craigslist to sell “practical” items. I had the best luck using Craigslist for relatively low-cost (i.e., $300 or less), practical items like power tools, stereo cables, etc. Be prepared for the no-shows and people who want to haggle. Price your items with some negotiating room built in.

 4.     Investigate consignment stores. Some towns may have consignment stores that will take furniture, decorative items, or vintage clothing. Don’t expect to make a lot of money, but it can feel better to sell some items than to simply throw them away.

 5.     Research local charities that need furniture or other household goods. Many towns have charities that outfit apartments and homes for people in need. This can be a way to give your parent’s belongings a second life. You may also be able to get a receipt for tax purposes. Do investigate the donation guidelines in advance – some charities only take certain types of items.

 6.     Accept that you won’t be able to sell most of the “antiques.” Times and tastes have changed. It’s next to impossible to sell china, wooden furniture (often termed “brown furniture” by consignment stores), pewter, etc.

 7.     Decide how involved your parent should be in the clean out. I tried to get my mother to decide about what items she wanted to keep. That was a really bad idea. She ended up wanting to keep everything. A bunch of boxes ended up at her assisted living which she never opened and I ended up having to move yet again when she moved out of that residence.

 8.     To dumpster or not to dumpster? Some people like to rent a dumpster so they can easily dispose of large volumes of things. Others feel that a dumpster is a sign that a house isn’t occupied, and may invite people to break in.

 9.     Consider an auction liquidator like Maxsold, if you’re in a hurry. I have no personal experience with this type of service or their pricing structure. However, it seems like an efficient way to clear a house out rapidly.

 10.  Be kind to yourself. It’s not easy to clean out the home where your parents lived and maybe even where you grew up. If it all becomes too much, take a break. Tomorrow is another day.

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