Purging after a passing; How to get through it

At one time or another in all our lives, we will have to clean out a home that belonged to a loved one or a friend. It  can be paralyzing to the  loved one that is responsible for the project.

I am hearing more stories of people letting houses sit. One lady told told me that her boyfriend has let his parents house sit for 10 years. I had another client that let her mom’s house sit for 5 years.

Money and emotion are the main factors in the situtation. If the family needs or wants the money for the property, then the clean out will begin soon. Also if the family member lives out of state, then usually the other members will schedule a week off to tackle the home clean out.

Is there any unwritten rule of when a clean out should begin?? No. I tell people to do it when you feel able. For everyone that is a different time frame. My Aunt Ada never purged her husbands things(he died 30 years before her). As I child I was amazed that all his shirts and ties still hung in the closet. My grandmother on the other hand, began purging my grandfathers stuff immediately. I think keeping busy helped her heal. She called all the male family members and gave them first dibs at his tools in the workshop.

How to handle this sensitive situation. Tackle one room at a time. The bathrooms and the kitchens are the easiest. Alot of time these rooms contain alot of items that just get tossed. Then move on to the storage areas of the home. Again, alot of items that might be trash or donate.

Once the trash or donations are out of the house, then comes the great divide. If their are multiple family members to split stuff with; get some colored post it notes. Have everyone go around the house and put a postit note on what they would like. If a few people want the same item, then it needs to be discussed among the family.

If there are items in the house that no one wants for their home, consider calling an estate sales person. They will price and sell the contents of the home for you.

As an organizer, I have done many of these jobs as well. I have done round one of the purging and sorting. This makes it easier for the family to get through the emotional process.

So, start the process when you are ready! Break it down by room. Do what you can and don’t overwhelm yourself!!


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  • You gave very good advice. How about going a step further and profiling some of the people who do estate work.
    Miscellania Antiques and Estate Sales has been doing sales, purchases and liquidations for 30 years. The owners name is Linda Mark, I'm her husband Gary. I'm no longer involved in the Estate Sales due to health problems, but if you would like, Linda's cell is 773-348-9647.
    Thanks for your time.

  • Great advice. Many people don't realize this process is one of the hardest steps after losing a loved one-- sometimes it can feel like getting rid of their stuff is really getting rid of them in your everyday life.
    Tackling one room at a time is a good way to start. I think it is also important to realize that stuff is just stuff: just because you are giving away a shirt doesn't mean you are giving away the memories with it. Sometimes it can even feel good to know that someone else may be benefiting from your loved one's things, especially if you give it to Goodwill or another charity-- kind of like a last pay-it-forward in their memory. Of course there is also nothing wrong with holding onto some things sentimentally.
    Thanks for the post!

  • Thank you for this article about such an emotional subject that all of us have been or will be faced with at some point!

    As another Estate Sales company, and I believe I am speaking for most, it is preferable that the family do no "tackling" of anything - all that our clients have to do is to remove the items that they would like to keep (or place in a separate room of the house) and not throw or donate one single item away, as the strangest items might have potential value. For example, a recent listing on eBay for some used lipstick from the 1960's fetched $55. An old bottle of perfume can bring hundreds of dollars, as can various items in kitchen drawers, etc. Many household items that have been tucked away for years and years are usually surprisingly collectible and valuable. Even vintage clothing has value in the right market.

    A good estate sales professional with knowledge about collectibles can pay for themselves by finding money for the family that they didn't know they had. They will sort and organize all of the items in the home and explore other selling options such as online/public auctions or private dealer sales to obtain the most money for their clients. They will also do all of the final donating of the unsold pieces, leaving the clients with an empty property.

    Please see our facebook page at www.facebook.com/allclearestatesales for a few other examples of items that many folks might very well toss in the garbage, and their realized prices on eBay.

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