7 Tips for Cleaning Out a Home After a Loved One Dies

16 January 2015 by

Cleaning out a house after a loved one passes away is always tough, especially if every item reminds you of them. While there’s no easy way to do it, there are ways to make the process a little less painful.

Start With a Walking Tour

Maeve Richmond, founder of Maeve’s Method, says walking through the house before taking things apart can be therapeutic.

“You may choose to take photos as you walk around, or perhaps carry a notebook to write down thoughts that enter your mind,” she said. “Give yourself at least an hour to do this, as you walk you will no doubt pick things up, open and close doors, but resist the immediate temptation throw anything out. There will be plenty of time for this once the process of deconstructing the home begins.”

Don’t Be a Tosser or a Keeper

Aging, CD and Hoarding Specialist Maria Spetalnik, founder of Conquer the Clutter, said many people in grief have an “all-or-nothing” attitude. Either they toss everything or they can’t bear to get rid of anything.

“Neither of these attitudes is healthy,” she said. “The ‘Tosser’ often finds themselves wishing that they had kept some of their loved ones items and the ‘Keeper’ often finds themselves overwhelmed and unable to move forward in their lives. They usually need a neutral third party to help them decide how to honor the dearly departed while taking the next step forward in their lives.”

Hire an Appraiser

“Keeping a clear head and having an experienced hand to assist are the keys to getting through what is essentially a very daunting task,” said Estate Appraiser Helaine Fendelman.

“Having an objective party to assist in this process is very helpful for many reasons. First, the real junk has to be weeded out: leftover food, trash, unused pills, old newspapers and magazines. After that sorting is done and, hopefully, when all the heirs can agree, one appraiser needs to be called to help determine if there is anything of value.

Keep, Sell or Donate?

Russell Friedman, executive director of the Grief Recovery Institute Educational Foundation, Inc., recommends separating the belongings of the person who has died into three piles:

  1. Things you want to keep
  2. Things you don’t want or need
  3. Things you’re not sure about

He suggests giving the second pile to Goodwill and putting the third pile into storage.

Then, three months later, go through the same process with the items in storage.

“Usually, after two or three cycles, they wind up with exactly what they want to keep and can discard the rest without fear of losing something meaningful to them.”

Keep Greed Out of It

Richmond says the “I don’t know” zone can actually help your family avoid fighting.

“This zone is meant for items, both large and small, where an easy decision cannot be made in the moment, or where two parties disagree. Ask everyone involved in clearing to honor this space, and to move things into this zone when it is unclear what choice to make. We find that doing this allows strong emotions to dissipate. As the home begins to clear, those gathered can begin to review the ‘I don’t know’ items and begin discussion with clearer, calmer heads.”

Spetalnik recommends bringing a mediator or counselor in to help assure equitable distribution of items as well.

Bring in a Mobile Photo Scanning and Organization Company

Jack Perry, owner of Doorstep Digital, said his company often works with families after a loved one dies to ensure everyone gets copies of the photos they want.

“The best way to get photos to everyone after the death of a loved one is to scan them.”

Forget the Yard Sale

Spetalnik said yard sales are seldom worth the trouble. “A better option may be an estate sale,” she said.

Visit this blog Sunday for more about estate sales.

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