Cleaning Out Elderly Parents’ Homes AFTER Death/Moving: 7 Tips–Part 1–Efficiency

Family Photos and Memorabilia Two family homes cleaned out in 12 months. Whether this makes me an expert at emptying elderly parents’ homes is questionable; but I am experienced and more efficient. Here’s what I’ve learned.

First: Background

73 years of accumulation in my parents’ home of 4000+ square feet.
67 years’ accumulation in R’s 2100 sq. ft. home plus its garage (used for storage–remember the car was in the car port as a burglar deterrent).

My parents had randomly gotten rid of things over the years; Sr Advisor R was more deliberate in reducing her belongings. In both homes, however, there was soooo much to clean out.

Last July I basically cleaned out my parents’ home by myself in two weeks. (My brother was happy to let me do it.) Thanks to a wonderful estate sale company that held an estate sale the third week, the home was broom clean at the end of three weeks.

“Dressed for Success,” a nonprofit, took many of Mother’s clothes immediately after she died, but vintage clothing remained. And while we gave much away to family and some friends, by using the estate sale people, we also made some money as opposed to having to pay for a dumpster or drag unneeded/unwanted stuff to a charity (although we did a little of the latter for selected items).

This July my husband and I worked three weeks on R’s home. We each worked in different rooms. We estimate there’s another week’s work, which we will do in August. It’s hot in the desert. In spite of air-conditioning we had less energy. We also spent 1 1/2 hours daily driving to and from her home. This was in sharp contrast to my staying in my parents’ home–basically alone– while I was cleaning it out. It was easy to spend countless hours there, surfacing only to have lunch or dinner with a friend and sleep.

Here’s what I learned:
Quickly get rid of walkers, canes etc. if parents died. It’s easy and you’ve accomplished something.
Sorting things in phases and by rooms works best.
Always keep other family members in mind.
Doing the clean-out alone or with just one other person at a time, probably saves time and problems.


Phase 1.  Immediately gather all financial and legal documents in one place, do a quick read. If you unearth–like we did– family mail, photos and memorabilia that you want to carefully read, reread or share with others, put them in another place. Speak to a lawyer before giving anything away if you don’t know your parents’ wishes or what/whom they’ve provided for.

Phase 2.  Dedicate a room or space for everything Identified as having value (monetary or sentimental). Begin by segregating things of value (jewelry, family memorabilia, art, accessories [china, silverware]) from drawers and closets as you “attack” each room– bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen etc., going through–completely- one room at a time. Take valuables to that space–to be given to/divided by family and friends at a later date.

I used a spare bedroom at my parents’ home (photo above), lining up and piling up family photos on a card table (and the floor beneath), putting my mother’s family photos and memorabilia on one side; my dad’s on the other.  China, silverware, and accessories went on beds and an ironing board. I also cleared out hats, boots, umbrellas and coats and used the front hall closet.

Phase 3.  Concurrently– LEAVE remaining things identified as not being valuable–in their closets, drawers, or cupboardsDO NOT BOX. Let family/friends select from the closets, drawers, and cupboards. If on high shelves, however, do move them to within reach. This ultimately saves you time and energy.

Phase 4. Cleaning Out–At R’s home it made sense to empty clothes closets first.I invited family members who wore her size–to come over, select and try on clothing that still hung in closets. Once the clothes left the house, people could do as they wished with them, but they couldn’t be returned.

We boxed and took R’s unwanted clothing to a charity. Doing this got me out of the house and provided a welcome break in the routine. Additionally each empty closet was instant gratification!

With clothing gone, family members and friends came again to select everything except the valuables. The reason for saving valuables until almost the end was because I kept finding them–left in a purse, put in hiding places…. (You may wonder what happened to x or y and find it after a lot of cleaning out–in a surprising place.)

Note: I put empty boxes in each room for no-brainer throw-aways (broken, torn, badly soiled stuff) and recyclables  (paper, glass, etc.) –and leftovers after family and friends had taken what they wanted.

Also note: The people doing my parents’ home’s estate sale didn’t want anything thrown out.
*            *           *

We’ve heard about fights over Aunt Tillie’s teapot….Don’t all families all have peculiarities?

Cleaning Out Elderly Parents’ Homes–After Death/Moving Part 2Phases 5, 6,–and 7 (Emotional Considerations, $ Equality, fall-out) on Saturday.

Related:  Cleaning Out My Elderly Parent’s Soon-to-be Sold Home
                 Aging Parents: My Parents’ Home–The Long Farewell

  Also:  Next Magazine: Cleaning out your late parents’ home.  Another “take.” I think more potential for sibling problems, more expense (e.g.. using appraisers), and some similarities to the above post and above links.

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely tips, information and research from top universities and respected professionals–to help parents age well.

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