This is a guest post by Rebecca Bowyer from Seeing the Lighter Side.
Decluttering your own home is hard enough, but when you have to clear out somebody else’s house it’s even harder. When you’re clearing out a deceased estate of a loved one or friend it can quickly turn into a very distressing situation indeed.
Here are a few tips to help you structure the job, work through your grief and get it done. These tips are based on my own experience of spending 2 years helping my mum clear out my grandfather’s house, caravan and garage, all of which were chock-full of 60 years of accumulated possessions.
1. Find out who has an interest in the deceased estate
Before you start hurling things into skips or carting it off to charities, make sure you know who you have to check with first. The reading of the will usually happens soon after the funeral – this will give you the information you need. If you’re unsure, seek legal advice.
2. Remove anything you, or others, want to keep
Photo albums, special jewellery or a favourite mug. Whatever it is, make sure you locate it and remove it from the house first, to avoid it going missing or getting damaged. Chances are you’ll find other things as you go along, but start with what you know.
Also remove, or tag, anything that may be valuable and you want to sell.
3. Start listing items for sale
Take photos and upload them to Gumtree using the app, or post them in your local Facebook buy and sell group. Make it clear when you want them picked up and that it’s ‘local pick up only’. This will save you time, energy and money in disposing of goods, especially unwanted furniture. The money you make will also help you offset the cost of waste removal and cleaning.
Make sure you keep track of what you’re selling, and how much it sells for, in case you need to report it to the lawyer looking after the estate.
4. Check with local charities what they want
Depending on whether your main aim is to make money or simply to clear everything out, you may decide to do this before step 3. Often local charities will actually send a couple of people and a truck to do a walk-around of the house and let you know which items they will be able to re-home.
It can be consoling to know that your loved one’s possessions are going to help those in need. Again, as in step 3, it’s also less skip space that you’ll have to pay for.
5. Hire a skip and line up some burly blokes
My grandfather was a hoarder, which is why it took us 2 years to clear out the whole house. We weren’t under time pressure to do it and it was a truly massive job.
It can be hard to estimate how many skips you need – try to allow yourself time to order another one if you need it. Talk to the skip bin companies, they’re highly experienced in helping to estimate required skip space. We ended up going through nearly a dozen skips by the time we were done.
Make sure you book a few friends or family members to help you. You’ll need physical assistance to lift items into the skip as well as emotional assistance to select the items which won’t be kept, sold or given away.
6. Hire a self-storage locker
If you’re under time pressure or you simply can’t decide what should stay and what should go, don’t despair.
Hiring a self-storage locker is relatively inexpensive – around $100 per month, depending on how much space you need – and will give you time to sort through items at your leisure. Assuming you don’t own your own delivery van, helpful options can include free truck and driver, a free trailer to transport goods (drive it yourself) or a small shipping container which arrives at your location, you pack it and then it’s picked up again and taken to the self-storage depot.
If anything, the need to pay monthly fees might give you the motivation you need to make decisions about the remaining items!
7. Consider hiring a professional cleaner to tidy up
By the time we finished clearing out my grandfather’s house, my mum’s health had deteriorated, my brother had moved overseas, I had two small children and my sister was pregnant.
‘We’re hiring professional cleaners,’ I said to Mum. She didn’t argue. All we wanted by this stage was to get it done and put the house on the market.
For a few hundred dollars a professional team spent the day scrubbing the house from top to bottom. It would have taken us weeks of after-work sessions to get the same thing done.
8. Be kind to yourself
Clearing out a deceased estate is a really tough job. You’re dealing with your own grief, possibly anger at the person who has gone (for not decluttering their own house!) and the sheer physical and mental exhaustion of dealing with multiple contractors and doing a lot of the heavy lifting yourself.
At the end of the day, these are not just objects you’re dealing with, they are memories of a lost loved one. Accept that there will probably be tears, possibly arguments, and be kind to yourself:
- take pictures of the house before you start clearing it out
- share memories of your loved one as you work
- shout yourselves a meal and a drink at the end of the long days
- pace yourself if you can.
9. Declutter your own house!
Now that you’ve seen how hard it is to clear out somebody else’s house, spare a thought for your own kids – declutter and keep organised in your own home!