Cleaning Out Elderly Parents’ Home After Death: 7 Tips–Part 2 Efficiency, Emotional Considerations


Phase 5. Cleaning Out–Unwanted Books and Valuables. In both homes there were unwanted things that we thought had value. In most cases, upon checking, the value was far less than we thought.

I don’t know how “value” affects the donation slips nonprofit organizations willingly provide, where we are responsible for writing in the value of each item. I somehow have wondered for many years how the IRS looks at that.

I do know, since we didn’t live close to our parents, keeping unwanted inherited stuff takes up room, can be costly to store or ship. Thus we usually gave it away in hopes someone else or a nonprofit would appreciate it. (Didn’t bother with the donation slip.)

Some of my parents’ books had religious themes. I took those to the care facility run by the religious institution. They were grateful to have them. Since the famous Powell’s Book Store was close, I took some books there. However, carrying heavy books for the small amount of money they generated, wasn’t worth it to me. (Powell’s link says they cover freight costs.)

Some local used books stores may pick up when there are lots of books. The estate sale people got rid of all of the books that I hadn’t taken elsewhere. They designated a special shelf for the more valuable books at the sale.

Another option for getting rid of things: having a yard sale or having someone do a yard sale for you.

Phase 6. Furniture–take it or leave it? If the home will be sold, the realtor may–or may not–want the furniture to remain. In any case all will ultimately need to go, unless the home buyers want some, in which case heirs need to decide asap how to handle this.

Common knowledge?–or not. Used furniture’s resale value isn’t high. When we moved into NYC we brought as much furniture as the apartment would hold and reupholstered some pieces. This was more economical and offered better quality than purchasing new. That said, some antique furniture and that made by famous designers holds, or appreciates in, value.

In many communities nonprofits work with social agencies to furnish needy people’s homes. It felt good to give them some usable furniture–once I finished wrestling with it to get it into, then out of, the car.

Phase 7. Emotional Considerations  If you can give some household contents away without a family member’s having a melt-down, and someone can use them, you’ll feel good.  On the other hand, there may be a family member who wants to sell on eBay or craigslist, so have the discussion before attempting any cleaning out. Also work out compensation details beforehand. An obvious goal is to head off problems before they arise.

Fairness: Many parents find it fair, early on– before moving or death, to let each child have a turn “claiming” the piece (s)he wants, going round after round until the kids have selected all wanted items to be received at a later date.

I recently learned from a friend whose parents used this system, that her sister, Kay, ended up selling things she got in the rounds–some of which my friend thought should stay in the family. She said Kay needed the money for something. Understandable. But my friend says if asked, she would have gladly purchased them from Kay in order to keep them in the family. Something else to think about.

Good organization provides efficient structure. What it can’t take into consideration is a family’s emotional history, which may contain unfinished “business” going back even to childhood.

Unresolved conflicts have a way of surfacing; “fair” may have different meanings to different family members. Here is where an only child or 2 siblings may have an easier time cleaning out the family house. Here too is where good planning makes it easier for all.

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

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s