Aging Parents: Cleaning Out Their Home After Death–The Plus-side

Past posts about cleaning out my parents’ home–basically alone–after they died had one purpose: to offer the best, objective, helpful information, dismissing the emotional for the most part. They didn’t emphasize the emotional benefits because I know well that one person’s experience does not qualify as valid for many.

Recent events, however, make me think the emotional benefit for me, could be many people’s experience, although they’re unaware. Left alone in one’s growing-up home with things and memories –and a lot of work seems overwhelming! That said, looking back, it was one of the most precious gifts one can have if we’re fortunate enough to be cast into this position.


My husband is a very organized person who knows how to get things done efficiently and well. After my parents died, we were with a high school friend and her husband, talking about deceased parents’ possessions. The two guys (equally efficient) immediately agreed on what they thought was brilliant.

How about bringing a dumpster to each of our homes (my parents’ home and their home where many of his wife’s parents’ things had been stored for years) and each guy would go to the other’s home and toss out what they thought should go. That way the wives wouldn’t/couldn’t interfere as much and objective thinking would prevail.

Of course that never happened–in either home. And now my husband’s mother is gone and together we have spent time–in 3 separate segments– away from NY, cleaning out unbelievably well-organized, closets, cupboards, and drawers–as well as a large, dusty storage area. (Admittedly I resigned from the latter area …I was sneezing from the dust.)

Currently my husband is out there alone, going through stuff in the dusty area without distractions. Even before “attacking” the storage area, as he came across things from his youth, I could sense the expedient, dumpster appeal was being replaced by another feeling that sets in, taking us back in time. It awakens memories from a time when–if we were fortunate– “father knew best,” mother was home when we came home from school; and questions that arose, after overhearing adult conversations about their friends and relatives, remain mysteries –unless we’re the cleaner-outer.

My husband’s phone call last night about finding his letters sent home from camp and other “treasures” his mother saved from his childhood, elicited–I was sure– the same feelings I had the year before in the west when unearthing things in my parents’ home. It takes time opening envelopes and carefully skimming their contents–to be sure we’re saving important papers, and to be sure we’ve digested every nostalgic morsel. The dumpster would no doubt rob us of this!

Bottom line: Only children have the joy of the above if they choose to take it on.
Advice: If there are siblings, hope that none of them want the job; but share as necessary (there will be memories only a sibling can appreciate) and make certain they participate in equal distribution of all possessions, unless there’s a legal reason to the contrary.

It’s also important to take breaks. If you’re fortunate to still have some good friends living in the area, they no doubt knew your parents, pets, and siblings–adding a specialness if you can get together with them….in which case you’re batting 1000!

Related: Cleaning out Elderly Parents’ Homes after Death or Moving–1
    Cleaning out Elderly Parents’ Homes after Death or Moving–Part 2
    Aging Parents: Letting Go and the Circle of Life (about letting go of the family home)

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

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