Clearing out a loved one's house
- Created: 01 February 2015
Sorting out the house of a parent, relative or friend can be extremely daunting, as it is not your property under scrutiny. This can be the case whether they are still alive and trying to downsize, or if you are sorting out their house for probate or selling.
So many memories will be attached to possessions, and it could have been years since some things were looked at, let alone used or sorted out. Here are some tips for making the process a little easier.
One step at a time
Don't become overwhelmed by the job at hand. Break it into chunks. You can do this by selecting a room or part of a room to do, or by allocating an hour or two every day, week or even month until the job is done. Ask anyone who has gone through the process already and they will advise you to begin as soon as you can - putting it off will only make it seem worse than it actually will be to manage.
If you are helping someone else sort out their house, remember that the things you are handling may well be very precious to them. Have a little empathy when suggesting what to keep, recycle or dispose of and go at the person's pace, however frustrating you may find it. Let them stop and enjoy their memories, look through old photos or try on forgotten clothing - this will help them come to terms with the job ahead. If you are sorting out a deceased person's belonging, be gentle on yourself as there will also be memories for you tied up in their things.
Set some boundaries
De-cluttering or sorting out a house tends to be easier if you set some boundaries first. Come up with questions that you will ask about each item, such as when did you last wear this garment, or does this electrical device work properly? Agree parameters to sort by too, such as getting rid of anything not touched for two years, or with a fault that you are unable to fix yourself. Finally, ask if there is anyone else who would benefit form the item more than you or your loved one. Charities will gladly accept donations in good, working condition.
Some people will be extremely reluctant to get rid of things that you might feel are not worth saving room for. However, you must respect that decision and work with them to find a suitable storage solution. Invest in pretty boxes for photos and old letters, for example, or vacuum-packed bags for clothes or bedding. In all probability, the person will never want to see the belongings again, but they will feel reassured that they are safe, and more willing to tackle the next stage of the sort out.
Possessions are often most valued for the memories they contain. So to save room and retain the happy connections, take photos of items before sending them out of the house. Get these made up into an album to enjoy at your leisure. The photos could be taken by an older child or teenager as a separate project for them while you crack on with the house clearance.
Call in the experts
If the job becomes too much for you, or you feel unable to lift heavy objects or carry out their disposal correctly, hire some expert help. They will know how to handle the various house contents, and will have the correct licences to do so legally and responsibly. It could also be handy to have a disinterested third party around to help finalise decisions on whether to keep, recycle or remove any items in dispute.