by Susan McCarthy
Let’s face it, even if you’re parents were organized, chances are that you stepped into the house and felt overwhelmed. Where do you start when you realize that you’ll need to sort through everything in the house? If you are cleaning out a parent’s home after a death or because they will no longer live in the house, this list of actions will get you off to an efficient and effective start.
In this article, I’m not talking about actions to take if your parent or parents are still living in the house. The steps here aren’t about decluttering their living space so you have an easier time emptying it when they are gone. To follow these steps, you don’t have a parent living in the house. Either they’ve passed away or will be permanent unable to make decisions about their home. If you have a living parent who has moved into a apartment, communicate with them about the actions you are taking and get their approval because, remember, all this stuff still belongs to them.
When you will be cleaning out a parent’s home, you can take some decisive actions on your first day of work in the house to lay the groundwork for future tasks. If you have siblings, each person can tackle a different task, or better (to avoid potential heated questions), have everyone work in pairs. If you don’t have siblings, you can invite cousins, other relatives, or friends to help you.
Keep in mind that the idea of free stuff (that may be worth something) can highlight behaviors you may not have suspected of others, so be mindful of inviting in too many people to help out.
Action One: Change the Locks
As quickly as possible, the executor should get the locks on all the doors changed and limit who has a key. This is particularly important if your parents had people who came in to help them in any way. Also, a neighbor or two may have received a key in case of emergencies. Changing the locks controls who has access to the house and its contents.
Action Two: Remove Valuables
The executor can remove valuables and keep them someplace safe. If they live nearby, then they could keep things at their house. If your parents had a safe deposit box, that might be an option. If these things need to be appraised before distribution or sale, removing them from the house can separate these things from the general contents of the house.
Action Three: Collect Important Papers
You’ll want to gather important financial paperwork, papers connected to insurance policies, taxes, current bills, medical care, etc. You can ask a lawyer, accountant, financial advisor what papers you should be on the lookout for. When in doubt, hold onto it.
Gather these papers together in a box(es) and label every side with “KEEP – Important Papers!” Although at some point, you’ll need to go through these things, unless someone has asked for something (beyond the will or trust document that prove you and the family have the right to go through all these things), starting off by sorting papers will be an energy-draining time-suck.
Don’t worry about grabbing everything all at once. Depending on your parents’ filing system, you may find important papers throughout the house. Gather what you can but know you may find more papers later.
Collect important papers but don’t sort or organize them.
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.