by Susan McCarthy
Not only is cleaning out a deceased parent’s home emotionally challenging, but it may also be the largest project you’ve ever undertaken. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, here’s how to find the motivation to start and keep going.
Even if your parents were neat and organized people, it’s still a lot of work to clean out a deceased parent’s home, I won’t pretend that any how-to guide can made the process easy. You (and whomever is helping you) will have to go through every item in the house. And if someone is concerned about missing something potentially important (however they define ‘important’), then things may get sorted through a couple of times.
Let’s not forget about checking every pocket on every item of clothing, making certain that the bunched-up sock isn’t hiding some treasure, and fanning books and magazines to look for hidden items.
So, cleaning out the house is A LOT of work.
And if you’re having a squirrel in the middle of the road moment and flitting back and forth between tasks without really committing to finishing anything, that feeling of overwhelm may be killing your motivation.
Why Motivation Can Be Difficult to Find
With a lot of things in life, not just cleaning out a parent’s home, we often wait for our motivation to find us before we try to tackle any project. You may have noticed that this method isn’t the best and can have you waiting a long time before you get started.
Chances are that when you step into your parent’s house, you’re looking at emptying it as a single project. However, you can’t do everything in one session and so it will feel as if you can never do enough.
It’s difficult to feel motivated to do more when you feel as if you’re getting nothing accomplished.
While you may be blaming your lack of motivation on your emotions, there may also be an undercurrent of frustration. Where do you start and what do you do to feel productive?
Finding Motivation in Little Spaces
In my free guide, Emptying the House Starter Guide, I give you a PLAN for cleaning out a deceased parent’s home. The ‘L’ stands for Little Spaces, which can be a secret weapon to finding motivation in a distinctly unmotivating situation.
Little spaces are what they sound like, small defined spaces like a single drawer in a dresser or a single shelf in a cabinet. Why is a drawer or shelf so motivating? Because it is a contained space, it has a clear start and end to the task…the opposite of the seeming endless task of emptying the house that could take a hundred or more hours to complete.
To work with little spaces, you break down a room into multiple small projects that you further divide into little spaces. For example, a bedroom can be broken down into individual pieces of furniture. Each piece of furniture then becomes multiple small spaces.
To further the example, you then break that piece of furniture into little spaces. A dresser could be six drawers (six little spaces), the top surface, underneath, and behind (if there are things hidden under and behind the dresser). A bookcase could be six individual shelves – six little spaces.
In most cases, a little space can take ten-to-thirty-minutes to complete. And here’s a step that you’ll want to skip – but shouldn’t. Say (or even think) something that acknowledges you’ve completed a little space.
For example, give yourself a mental high-five, tell yourself “good job,” say, “one more little space down,” etc.
If you’ve filled a trash bag or a box, move it to where it needs to go to leave the house. Each of these actions helps you to acknowledge the completion of the little space.
How Little Spaces Helps You Stay Motivated
Working on little spaces is as much a mindset as a technique for emptying a house. Each time you clear that drawer or shelf and acknowledge that you’ve cleared one more little space, you see what you’ve accomplished.
Yes, it may seem like a drop in the bucket compared to what you need to do; however, little space after little space adds up. Instead of being frustrated that you were unable to clear out the contents of an entire room, you are focused instead of all that you did accomplish.
It’s easier to stay motivated when you both are and feel like you are getting things done. Working little spaces helps that happen.
Train Yourself to See Little Spaces
So, what about the attic, basement, and garage where a single shelf may hold boxes and bins of small items? Instead of viewing the shelf of three bins as a single little space, view each bin or box as a little space.
Boxes and bins hold a lot of stuff. They can be deceptive, because sitting on the shelf they look so neat. But depending on the contents, you could have dozens of items in there. If the box is filled with papers or photos, you could be looking at hundreds or maybe even thousands of individual objects to review.
Either have one person who is willing to go through boxes of papers or set these boxes aside to go through after the house is empty…if that is reasonable for the schedule you’re working on.)
Stay Motivated with Little Spaces
Remember, the key to motivation is seeing that things are getting done. Working through little spaces helps you to see what you’ve accomplished. Then acknowledging this work in a brief way helps to lock in what you’ve done.
Working in little spaces is as much a mindset as an action. You want to see what you’ve accomplished so you don’t feel frustrated because you weren’t able to empty an entire room within a single session. If you want to learn the rest of the PLAN, grab your free copy of my Empty the House Starter Guide.
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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.