hether you are dealing with the loss of a parent or you are simply helping your elderly parents move out of their current house, cleaning out your parents’ house can be a task that can seem daunting and overwhelming. Use this article as a guide to both prepare yourself for the task, as well as a way to organize your thoughts for moving into a space in which you are better able to be of assistance. There are a variety of ways to go about the task of cleaning out your parents’ home and this article will help you narrow down the playing field and give you the ability to have an outlook that is narrower in focus as well as scope. In this article we will discuss:

  • How to begin to clean out the home
  • Steps to take to better help you with this difficult and large task
  • Ways to work with your family for an altogether better experience
Clutter, including boxes and bins of items
Sorting through junk as well as treasures can lead to a number of interesting finds. It may be old memorabilia that you haven’t thought about for years or your parents’ prized possessions that they have never shown you! Photo courtesy of Urban Splatter.

How to begin to clean your elderly parents’ house

It may take some time, but doing a thorough job is key

Take the time to sort through items of importance to both you and your parents. These may be trinkets or papers, figurines or photos. Depending on the items you are clearing out, it may be more emotional that you ever thought possible, or originally had imagined. 

In the case of cleaning out a house with your parents, it can be both sentimental as well as frustrating. Here are some tips to better ease your mind and help you make the transition from childhood home to a smaller and more suited space for your parents. 

Be prepared for an emotional roller coaster.

Start the conversation of cleaning out the house in a way that is both sympathetic and thoughtful. It may be that your parents are not ready to start this process, but you think it is time that they start to move on from a house full of old memories and memorabilia. As a result, you can have an adventurous trip down memory lane with your parents as you sort through theirs and your old belongings.

It's a daunting task -- find ways to make it more manageable.

If you finally get around to starting to sort through everything, set realistic goals while making it fun. This can mean both setting aside a specific time where you are working, for example one weekend, or one Saturday. Then, divide and conquer even further by deciding to work on one specific part of the house like a closet or one storage unit. This can lead to both a better ability to sort through what at first seemed daunting, as well as realistic goals that lead to more efficient sorting in the future.

Making the task of clearing out your parents’ home fun can range from anything as small as taking frequent breaks for snacks and small talk, to listening to your family’s favorite tunes as you work. This will take the stress off of the task at hand and make it all the more entertaining.

While you most likely live near your parents and that is why you are tasked with the job, or you are in from out of town, it is important to take into account their wants and needs as well. Plan accordingly, either letting others know about what you are working on so they can be a part of it, or simply alerting them to the tasks so they know what to expect if they want some items that you come across.

It's okay not to save everything.

As we mentioned above, going through items that have an emotional connection to you or your parents can be just that-- emotional. In addition, it can be overwhelming trying to part with these things that have been lying around the house for what seems like forever. A lot of times, it is the parents’ first impulse to offer these items to the children. Then, you have to either let them down gently by telling them that you are not interested in these possibly historical items (whether they are books, photos, figurines, etc). If this is the case, do so with thoughtfulness, explaining that the sentimental value doesn’t hold true with you and these items would be better put to donation and onto another good home.

Donating items gives them new life without requiring you to take them home yourself.

Donating items is a big plus to going through your parents’ home. You can not only contribute to an organization that puts goods to another home, but you can successfully get rid of items that you no longer need or have a home for. Additionally, you can have a yard sale if you live in the suburbs, or if you think you have items of monetary value, you can hire an estate sale company to do an appraisal.

Let a junk company do the heavy lifting once you've sorted through what you want and need.

If you have many items that are not suitable for donation or sale, it may be best for you to hire a company that will dispose of the junk. Otherwise, renting a dumpster may be a good option if you think you can make good use of it. If your parents are moving to a smaller home and space is at a premium, you may find it helpful to not only digitize photos, but also take pictures of treasured items that are too large to make the move and make an album as a cherished keepsake.

Closet full of clothing
Paring down on items such as clothing can be a large task that can be more manageable when broken down into smaller tasks. Photo courtesy of Adara Home Health.

Steps to take to better help you sort through your parents’ things 

How to tackle cleaning out a home that has been abandoned due to a parent’s death

With this situation, it may mean that you are working with one parent who is still alive, or both parents are no longer with you and you are stuck with the task of cleaning out the home on your own, with your immediate family and siblings.

These tips will help make the task more manageable and altogether better. First, dividing the physical labor will help make the task easier for you. You can ask other family members for help, or close friends.

Break up complex tasks between different people or different days.

Sorting through financial and personal papers can be a tedious and emotional task. Getting help with it doesn’t make you weak, it makes you human. If you think some of the papers are too personal to share with strangers, then divide up the task into multiple days or even weeks. Make sure you find personal papers and set them aside. This can include your parent’s will, trusts and addenda; life insurance policies and statements, real estate deeds and titles; recent bank statements (you can get older ones electronically); stock certificates; 401(k) records; tax returns and receipts necessary for filing next year's income tax return. It is best to talk to an attorney about how to transfer assets to named beneficiaries.

Get a professional opinion.

Similar to working out of a house where your parents are still alive, you can hire an estate appraiser to value furniture, jewelry, and antiques. The appraiser can give you advice on what is the best route to sell all of your parents’ belongings, whether that be an auction, consignment, or estate sale.

Hang onto the items that are important to you and your family.

Talk with your siblings about sharing items that are of desire or importance. Hopefully you are on good terms with your siblings and you are able to equally divide everything. It can be useful to make a wishlist of what items everyone wants, and then go from there. Then, if one sibling gets more than another, you can equal everything out with a monetary gift.

Preserve sentimental memorabilia and photos. This can be done in a variety of ways, such as we discussed above in digitizing photos and taking pictures of special items. But make sure you don’t take for granted those irreplaceable items that you want to pass onto your children and family.

Donate clothes.

When it comes to getting rid of clothes, you can use donation services or consignment stores to try to get some cash. To clear out whatever is left, you can hire a liquidator, but make sure you do your research when hiring one to make sure you aren’t getting ripped off.

More clutter
If you have parents that accumulated a lot of stuff, work to organize it and pare it down to make sorting through it an easier task. Photo courtesy of Human Good.

Ways to work with your family to sort through your elderly parents’ house 

Getting family help makes the process easier

While it may seem difficult to put differences aside when working on the large task of cleaning out your parents’ home, getting along with your siblings or other family members will make the job a hundred times easier. Try to put your differences aside, and then you will more easily be able to conquer the many tasks required to work through the belongings.

Clearing out your parents’ home, whether because they are paring down and moving to a smaller place or because they have passed away, can be a labor of love and a large task that is hard to conquer. By thinking of it as just that, a labor of love and something that you can accomplish, you will better be able to make it out on the other side.

Jul 15, 2020