My mother loved her little collections of things. Her hall closet stored the vacuum cleaner and functioned as the art gallery for our childhood masterpieces, along with a skeleton that never made it back in the Halloween decoration box. And, my mother never experienced the digital age of photography, so stacks of photo albums could be seen in the house. But, to my mother’s defense, she looked at her photo albums like people read books.
Fast-forward to 2011 when my father moved to assisted living with two suitcases of personal belongings and his bed. During this time my mother passed away. Now my two sisters and I — in our emotionally and physically weakened state — had to clean out their house. A house we grew up in but no longer claimed as our own. Dread doesn’t begin to describe how I felt thinking about this task. But, my very organized husband and I made a plan to try and ease the pain and suffering of this task.
Step #1: Important Documents: Get Bankers Boxes and go room by room and toss any important documents (checkbook, bank statements, bills, tax returns, anything with a social security number, mail, etc.) in the boxes. Don’t read, look through or try to sort the documents. Just put them in boxes to be sorted at a later date. I recommend doing this first and removing the documents when the house is vacant. The last thing you need is to have the house burglarized and not have a clue what’s missing.
Step #2: Select a Family Historian: My sister volunteered — or more accurately was elected by me — to be the family historian. I figured since I was responsible for all the boxes from Step #1 this was a good way for her to help. Plus, she’s really good at things like this. She went from room to room and put all photos (framed, tacked to the wall, in albums, randomly sitting around) in boxes to sort at a later date.
Step #3 Gather What You Want: My siblings and I walked through the house and chose items we wanted to keep. If there was an item we thought the other might want, we asked before placing it in our respective pile. We were remarkably civil during this phase. I think we were still numb.
Step #4 Toss: Now what remains will either be donated or tossed. My sister arranged to have a giant (it took up their entire driveway) dumpster delivered and my brother-in-laws and nephews carried stuff (old pillows, outdated clothes, broken appliances, more mismatched Tupperware than one person should own, old garden tools, etc.) to the dumpster like ants marching to and from the colony. By this point, the emotional attachment was gone and we just wanted to clear out the house.
Step #5 Donate: The house now contained only things to donate. My brother-in-law arranged for the Salvation Army to do an estate pick up. The few things the Salvation Army wouldn’t take, he bought to a consignment shop. We talked about having an estate sale but didn’t have the desire or energy.
The entire process took about six weekends. It was painful but necessary. I hope this information is helpful and please feel free to share any tips you have.