by Susan McCarthy
Before you start cleaning out a parent’s house, one of the most useful things to know is what you’re going to do with everything. Since there’s multiple options, deciding in the beginning where you’ll rehome everything will save you time, energy, and hassle later.
One of the most common techniques for cleaning out a house is to go through everything and sort the items into piles – keep, donate, toss, sell, gift – the number and names of the piles may be different depending on your situation.
But what exactly does “donate” mean to you? Will you donate items to a ‘take everything’ charity so you can fill and cart off boxes with some ease. Or do you prefer the idea of sending items to specialty charities (so career wear and eveningwear go to two separate organizations). This means you'll know you need to pack things differently.
And there are countless options for selling items. Will you post items locally? Place them in an online auction? Bring them to a consignment shop?
Contemplating exactly where you’ll send things early on will help you sort the items into the appropriate category…which means you can start moving things out of the house without second guessing yourself.
You can start off with the general idea (say, give away), but as you uncover items while going through the rooms you can begin to research specifically where you’ll send things.
My downloadable guide, Rehome Mom & Dad’s Stuff provides links to organizations looking donations as well as websites that can help you sell or give away items.
Decide What to Do with Stuff before Sorting through It
If you’re emptying your parent’s home, then you might not be certain of everything they own. For example, you may think that you’ll donate all the clothing…but then you find boxes of vintage clothing in great condition, and you’d rather sell these items..
That situation isn’t too much of a problem since you probably won’t be mixing these items together only to later separate them for their different destinations. But in the kitchen, you may have a variety of items that you may donate, keep, sell, and give away.
When you create a “sell” pile, do you know where or how you are selling those items? To which charity is your “donate” pile going and how is it getting there? Although it seems obvious that you plan to do something with your piles, you may want to think through some of these logistics before you start filling boxes and bags of stuff with your parent's things.
Why? Because if stuff that’s supposed to leave doesn’t, you haven’t really done anything beyond moving items to a new location.
Donating Items You’re Clearing from the House
Just because no one in the family wants that end table or coffee maker, it doesn’t mean someone else can’t use them. When you donate an item to charity the item may go directly to a person in need or it may get sold in a thrift store so that the money earned can purchase appropriate supplies.
Will you donate to one charity? Or, will clothing go to the local thrift shop, books to the town library, and furniture to a charity that will come to your house and pick up the items? Will you (can you) leave stuff alongside the street with a “FREE” sign? If you know where stuff will go, you won’t have piles-in-waiting throughout your house.
Pickup Service – Every so often, I get a postcard in my mailbox about a charity that will have a truck in the area on a certain date to pick up donations right from my house – all I have to do is make a phone call or schedule online. The charity’s website will tell you how they use your donation. Having the charity pick up the boxes you leave in the driveway is convenient … however, it might be a few weeks before they will be in your area.
Of course, even before you start decluttering, you could contact a charity, schedule a pickup and then focus on filling bags and boxes by that date. Make sure the charity will take the items you leave out. If they say, “no furniture,” they will leave it in the driveway.
Drop-off Donation Centers and Boxes – Look online to see where the closest donation center is and find out their hours of operation. Can you drop off stuff when they aren’t open? If you are choosy about what charity you are dealing with, you may have to drive further or out of your way. Will that be a deterrent to handling this task?
Once you bag or box your items for donation, put them in the car right away so the next time you are driving around you can drop off the items (unless you are making a special trip). Obviously, this task will be easier to carry out if you live or work near the donation center.
In my area, I see a lot of businesses that allow donation boxes for different charities to sit in their parking lots. If you want more information on the charity, you can research it online to find out what percentage of funds go to operating expenses and salaries versus those individuals the charity says they help. However, if you are more interested in getting the items out of your house, then that is your goal.
Gifting Items to Friends and Family
Maybe you pass along a book to a friend with the recommendation that she gives it to someone else when she’s done reading it. Maybe you give your job-hunting nephew that vintage suit jacket that belonged to your father. Baby clothes go to your sister-in-law. Grandma’s china is claimed by your daughter.
However, until you hand the item to the recipient, it isn’t really gone – it’s still taking up space in the house. This means, you need to see the person and hand them the item or you need to ship it to them.
If you’ve finally decided that you don’t want your grandmother’s china (after much anguished deliberation) and your niece claims it, but you won’t see her until Christmas, eight months from now, do you really want to store the item that long? One box may not be an issue (if you have the space); however, holding onto items can be stressful because you know they are still your responsibility.
Also, is the individual taking the item because they truly want it or because they don’t want to tell you, “no?” When giving an item as a gift, you may want to tell the person that they are free to pass the item along in the future. If an item has a special memory, write a note to the new owner.
Selling the Stuff in the House
If you’re emptying a house, you may want to make some money for your efforts (or to split with the family) to make up for all the time this project is taking. The question is, how will you do this? Consignment shop? Resale website? Yard sale? eBay? Craigslist? Auction house? Pawn shop? Online auction?
Different items will likely require a variety of venues. It will be difficult to ship a hutch; having someone who will carry out of the house is preferred. Will you take the time to photograph smaller items, post descriptions online, pack items, and then bring them to UPS or USPS to ship?
If you haven’t sold things online, you may want to talk to a friend or coworker who has so that you have a better sense of how much time this will take and if it’s financially worth the work.
Again, knowing up front what you’ll do with different items will help you move them out faster. Planning to hold a yard sale in September when at the moment its February doesn’t make sense because you won’t feel motivated to go through items. After all, you’ll only be shifting the items from one location to another in the house.
When selling items, set a time limit for things to sell so they don’t lay around the house for months. Have a backup plan for what you’ll do with the things that don’t sell.
When You Know You’ll Have Stuff to Toss
Do you have a limit to how much trash or recycling you can throw out each week (you’re limited to what fits in the bin)? If you are planning on emptying the house in a month, then chances are you’ll fill the trash and recycling bins before they can be emptied.
Is there a local dump and do you need a permit? Or would it make more sense to rent a dumpster? The daily rental fee could be an incentive to work fast.
Is there a lot of paperwork? (Years ago, social security numbers were casually printed on mailing labels!) Would it make more sense to bring boxes of paper to a shredding service (or have the service come to you if you have that much paper)?
How to Rehome What You Inherit
Yes, you could figure out all this stuff when the situation arises; but remember, your goal is to get the stuff out of the house. If you end up holding onto bags and boxes waiting for the perfect person or organization to claim them, then you aren’t really working at emptying the house.
To avoid shifting items from one room to another (and losing track of where different items are), you want to regularly move items out of the house. Decide the general method you want to use to rehome items and then consider what specific organizations or businesses can help you. If you’re wondering about your options, get my guide Rehome Mom & Dad’s Stuff: What to Do with What You Inherit to better plan how you’ll get your parents’ things to new homes.
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Hi, I'm Susan
Emptying my parents' overpacked 800-square-foot house left me popping handfuls of peanut M&Ms and doing a WHOLE lot of comfort-crocheting. The experience of sorting through mom and dad's stuff also encouraged me to become a professional organizer...so now I can offer techniques that work much better than chocolate.