by Susan McCarthy
With everything to do, where do you start when emptying your parent's home? Learn here how your answer can depend on how much help you have on any particular day as well as what you plan to do with the contents of the house.
How do you decide where to start clearing through the things in your parents’ home when you know that at some point the entire house will need to be emptied? Does it really matter what order you work in? Should you go room-by-room or sort through things based on their categories or work here-and-there and just complete this project when you do?
Not creating a plan, even a very loose plan, can leave you feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. See, if after a while you don’t see progress, you’ll have a difficult time motivating yourself to return to the task of clearing through your mother and father’s things.
If you’ve ever decluttered your home, you know one of the most challenging aspects is keeping organized the spaces you’ve decluttered. However, this shouldn’t be an issue when emptying a home that is no longer being lived in. When you clear a space, it shouldn’t get filled up or cluttered (unless you end up using the space as a temporary holding area while waiting for a charity to pick up boxes).
So, whether you declutter by room, category, or small space, you will eventually see progress. But how can you see that progress more quickly?
Start Emptying Your Parent’s House
Whether you are cleaning out a house, apartment, or trailer, you’ll have a lot of stuff to work through. And you’ll need to sort through everything item-by-item. (People are always commenting about the money, pictures, and mementos they find tucked into books, magazines, and the pockets of clothing.)
It might not seem important to work with a methodical approach…as I said, you’ll need to go through everything in the house…however, seeing progress is important. This is a difficult project, both physically and emotionally, and you don’t want to feel as if you are stuck in place.
Clearing a House, Category-by-Category
If your parents tended to store things everywhere in their house (books in multiple rooms, clothing in several closets), then you may find it useful to collect categories of items and then sort through them where you can see everything in a single space.
This technique is most useful if you’ll be donating items to specialized charities or you want to bring all the books to a second-hand bookstore in one trip as opposed to multiple excursions. This method will also help when you want to sell items in lots and so you’ll want to gather items together.
The disadvantage to this method is that it isn’t always easy to find items that you’d group together. You might think that you’ve gathered all the clothing…until you find old and off-season things stored in bins up in the attic. Then you may feel like you’re back at square one.
If there’s a lot of stuff in spaces like the attic, basement, and garage, then it’s likely these spaces hold a variety of items that will cross many of the categories you’ll work across.
If this method appeals to you, then you’ll need to be flexible when you find more items that belong to a grouping you thought you’d already taken care of. And while you may be tempted to fill boxes and hold onto everything until you’re done, this isn’t a realistic method, if just because nothing will be leaving the house and it will be difficult to see your progress.
Clearing a House, Room-by-Room
The advantage to clearing the house one room at a time is that it’s very clear what has been done and where attention is needed. This technique works if you’ll be donating to charities that accept a wide variety of items and you don’t have to deal with sending items to a variety of locations.
And if you have the help of friends and family who are willing to drive items to different charities and consignment shops…or post items for sale on a regular basis…then you can give yourself more options here.
This method is straightforward, you sort through one room at a time, continuing until the space is empty (or contains boxes waiting to go to their new home). Does it matter which room you do first? Probably not, but here’s some guidelines that can help you to decide where to focus.
Attic, Basement, and other Storage Spaces. If you have some days when you’ll have a larger group of people around to help, tackle the attic and basement because it is hard to climb those stairs just to bring the items to the main floor of the house and then sort through things.
Focus on bringing the stuff up or down the stairs before you look in the boxes. The goal is to clear out these entire spaces. Next, sort through the boxes quickly. Keep in mind that this is stuff that was moved out of the main living spaces. Maybe is was used infrequently. Or used at one time and set aside ‘just in case’ it was needed again.
These are also the spaces where “I don’t know what to do with this” stuff went to live. It’s unlikely (but not impossible) that this stuff had little meaning for your parents.
While these spaces are at the bottom of my list when advising people about decluttering their own home, when clearing out the home of a deceased parent, tackle these spaces early on.
Living Spaces. So, after you have empty storage spaces, what next? If several people are working on the house, have people work in pairs in each room (this helps to eliminate arguments about potentially ‘missing’ items and makes the work go more quickly).
To make the work in these spaces go more quickly, make plans to remove items that will be donated that day or the next. Again, on the days you have more help, take advantage of the situation, and focus on emptying rooms on the second floor before the main floor (because more effort is required just to walk up and down the stairs).
A hint – don’t leave the room you’re dreading for last! If every cabinet in the kitchen is overpacked, plan to work here after emptying storage spaces and any rooms on a second floor.
Tackling a series of small spaces can result in a feeling of accomplishment, which is essential to staying motivated. And some of these little areas have the potential of not containing a lot of sentimental items. You can clear these areas early in the process of emptying your parents’ home or work on one or two in between more complex spaces.
These spaces include:
Which Plan of Action Makes Sense for You?
Do you want to clear by category or room? Decide early on or else you may end up working on whatever catches your attention that day? Yes, you’ll still get things done with that method, but you may struggle to feel progress this way. Instead, working through categories of items or room will allow you to see what you’re accomplishing.
While everything will get done, creating a rough plan of where you’ll work when can prevent you from drifting from space to space. If you don’t want the project of emptying your parent’s house to drag on for years, know where you are focusing your attention.
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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.