by Susan McCarthy
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the prospect of clearing out a parent’s estate, these tasks can provide a series of quick wins. When you are able to complete projects that taken less than a couple of hours from start to finish, you feel a sense of accomplishment which can keep you motivated during this difficult process.
For years I offered to help my parents declutter their 800-square-foot house. What I saw as junk – the containers of used Popsicle sticks, envelopes from bills (kept for writing notes), used dryer sheets, old clothing that no one was ever going to wear again, empty pill bottles, expired ointments, Cool Whip containers, and so on – they saw as things that could get used or reused.
My attempts at helping often involved storing these things in well-labeled boxes, the only action my parents would allow.
So, a couple of years after my mother died, when my father was moved into an assisted living, I knew I'd finally be able to go through all this stuff.
No big deal I thought. Trash it or donate it. But I didn’t think of how this process would mean handling everything in the house. My first day there, I roamed from room to room, clearing off a corner of the kitchen counter, emptying the stuff piled in the bathtub.
Very quickly, I realized that if I kept up this aimless pattern, I’d just end up frustrated. After all, four hours of effort hadn’t seemed to add up to me accomplishing anything.
I picked a few small spaces and tasks. After each, I could actually see what I’d gotten done. There was always more to be done, but at least I knew that I’d finished some small action. This progress motivated me.
Why You Want to Accomplish Quick Wins
One of the most difficult things to do after the death of a parent, particularly if they were your last living parent, is cleaning out the house. Emotions are running hot and the last thing you may feel prepared to do is to sort through your parents’ lifetime of possessions.
The moment you step into the house, you feel overwhelmed. Where do you start? What should you do with everything? Just the thought of making all these decisions can be draining.
If you choose the wrong place to start, you might set yourself up for failure…and that will kill whatever motivation you’ve been able to muster.
What you need is some projects that can start you off quickly and successfully. With hope, these are also tasks that won’t require too much deliberation.
And if you are thinking that you are “cheating” by tackling simple projects, allow me to tell you that, no, you aren’t.
You also have some options here. You could do an easier project or two and then do something more challenging. Switch back and forth. And even though I’m calling these quick start projects, keep in mind that they can still take an hour or two to complete, depending on how much stuff you’re looking at.
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.