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Sunday, July 16, 2023

How to Clean Out Your Parents’ House

Sooner or later, most of us will face cleaning out a parent’s home. Here’s how to make an enormous task easier and quicker.

You never realize how much stuff your parents have packed into their home until you have to clean it out. You may be looking at decades of acquisitions … newspaper clippings, clothing, holiday decorations, furniture, collections, tools. Many of those things will carry memories and emotions for your parents and perhaps you, too. 

The time will come when you have to face emptying the space. Maybe one parent has died and it’s time for Dad to go into assisted living. Perhaps the big family home has become too much work and they’re moving out to downsize. Or it could be that your parents were able to stay there until they both passed. Whatever the case, you’re looking at a massive job and wondering where to start. 

Family First

The first thing to do is check if anyone in the family can help you in this Herculean task. Then, check if a will specified who would get what. Are there any items that Mom or Dad promised to someone? As for divvying up desirable items, many siblings let the oldest pick first, then continue down the line in age and keep going until no one wants to lay claim to another item. Make sure you know how the items will be transported to their new homes, and who will pay for it.

Check for important papers, such as anything you’ll need to file tax returns. Anything you think you may possibly need can go in a box to be sorted later. Is there a will, power of attorney, medical directive or other important documents? This also goes for stray keys. 

Three Piles

Next, it’s time to sort. You’ll be making three piles: keep, donate, throw away. If you’re planning to have a garage or estate sale, put those items in a separate “sell” space. Pick one room to get done every day, or one corner. Think of doing the house bit by bit, and tackle manageable projects rather than thinking of the job as a whole.

Your “keep” pile will include photo albums, a treasured box of family recipes, and any other irreplaceable, sentimental items such as wedding rings. It will also include anything that a parent may need in their new living space, although you may pare down the quantity of towels, sheets, etc. 

The “donate” pile may have clothes, hobby items, linens, unwanted furniture and the like. You may be able to get rid of it by taking loads to Goodwill, ARC thrift stores or Salvation Army. Or you may have a veterans organization such as Vietnam Veterans of America that will pick up things by the truckload with advance notice. Salvation Army and Goodwill also have truck service available in some areas. Although it may not be free, in some areas they will send a crew out to remove furniture, boxes and other large items. 

The “throw away” pile may turn out to be your largest. Is there someone with a pickup to take loads to the dump? Or would it be easier to rent a dumpster to keep in the driveway and fill up gradually? Google “rent a dumpster” to find services in your area. Another option is to hire a junk team that will haul out large items for you. These companies often charge by the quarter truckload to the tune of about $250, but it may be worth it to have the manpower. Google “junk removal service” to find someone who does the work in your area.

Garage/Estate Sales

Holding a garage sale can be a great way to get a little cash for tools and some other items. You can do it yourself or hire someone to do it for you. Consider how much you will make, and if either option is worth the trouble of marketing, displaying items, getting change, and then disposing of unsold items. You may find it’s a good idea to follow your sale with a free day.

An estate seller may want a house full of antiques or other desirable items to auction off or sell. Google “estate sales” to find auctioneers/sellers near you. Look over their terms and ask questions about anything you don’t understand before agreeing to contract with a company.


If all this seems overwhelming, you’re right. Even jobs that aren’t exhausting physically can be overwhelming emotionally. You may be required to clean house upon the death of a parent, with a grieving widow or widower sadly examining every item leaving the house. Maybe you have taken time off work to get this done, or left your spouse with the kids. Stress can come from all sides, and that’s completely understandable.

Take time for yourself. Knock off every day at 4 pm. Take a bubble bath. Go for several short walks or one long one in a nearby park. You may also find that you and a parent can take a little time at the end of the day to record what your parent’s life was like growing up. Focusing on earlier memories can take your minds off the present and you’ll be left with a lasting account for family members to enjoy. You can use a recording app on your smartphone or write down the memories. Go here for the best recording apps to use with your iPhone or Android device.

Clean-Out Services

There are services that will help do all this for you and no one is going to judge you for using them! In many situations, it’s not only the best option, it is the only option. Try an option like Caring Transitions to declutter, downsize, help move a senior into a new living situation and even host your estate sale. This company truly does it all and will shepherd you through the process. 

If you have already gone through the home and removed everything you want to keep, you may want to hire a junk removal service to come in and take out everything else, then hire a cleaning service to get the home ready for sale. 

Selling the Home

You will likely want to hire a realtor to help sell the home. Call several and interview a minimum of three to five before making a choice. You may find that some want to fire sale the home to the first bidder, while others may be willing to work harder to get a better price. Ask questions. How many homes nearby has she sold in the past year? What kinds of unconventional financing might you be able to offer? Where will the home be marketed online? 

Once you’ve found a good realtor, listen to their recommendations. They may tell you to paint, or not to bother. Maybe you need to get those weeds in the front yard taken care of, or have someone mow. Let them guide you on how much needs to get done.

Moving a parent out and/or dealing with the death of a parent is a tough process. Cleaning out the home adds another load onto your shoulders. Try to get family and friends to help, or hire people to assist you. Take time if you can to process the situation, and to spend quality hours with a parent who may be grieving. Take care of yourself and know that your project is getting done day by day.