This past summer my dad passed away and we all miss him terribly. After a loved one passes away, there are many things to do, typically in phases. To understand these phases I wrote a past blog post to explain them, and you can read it by clicking on this link. This post deals with what my brothers and I went through when clearing out my dad’s house.
First of all, as you can imagine, or maybe know, this task or project is a very emotional undertaking. This is the house where my brothers and I grew up, so the memories are overflowing. After we got through the funeral, contacted an estate lawyer, took care of some financial issues, continued paying bills that accumulated from his healthcare and maintaining his house, it was time to start clearing out my dad’s house to get it ready to sell.
The decision to sell his house was unanimous. The 3 of us worked on going through 60+ years of our family’s things, most of it was from my parents (my mom passed away almost 15 years ago), but my brothers still have some things in the house. They have been working on removing and/or purging their things, which is almost done.
For my part, I didn’t think it would be an issue since I’m a professional organizer that has done this with my clients in the past. Boy was I wrong! What I didn’t factor in was the emotional aspect. The first time I went to work on clearing out my dad’s house, I came equipped with boxes, tape, sticky notes, a marker, trash bags, etc., the tools I use in my business.
I taped up some boxes and started categorizing items, the typical organizing process. It worked well for a while, then the emotions quickly flooded my system. I began finding things I haven’t seen in years, or ever. Then I did what all my clients do, I fixated on one personal thing, in my case, letters from my dad to my mom when he was in the army. They were married right before my dad was drafted and they were both young. These letters stopped me in my tracks! I laughed, I cried and saw a side of my dad that I’ve never seen. That was it for the day, I took these letters home to read at another time.
The epiphany was that I was too close to this situation and needed to hire a couple of my colleagues, which I did. That was the best investment I could have made! These colleagues, which are dear friends, worked on categorizing and purging trash with the criteria I set for them, while I worked on paperwork.
In a matter of a couple of days, these ladies got through every room and the basement in my dad’s small house. This project wasn’t done but they got it organized to a point where it was easier for my brothers and I to go through things. My brothers were amazed at the progress they made in a short period of time.
A benefit of hiring professional organizers is that they get so much done quickly because they can be objective, they have no emotional stake in this project. This helped us tremendously since my brothers both have full-time jobs so none of us could work on it as often as we needed to.
Clearing out my dad’s house is on-going, but we are getting closer to completion. There are some lessons I learned from this project that I would like to share with you in case you find yourself in a similar situation, they are listed below. The most important lesson not listed here, is that you need to be kind to yourself. You will probably still be grieving and none of us make the best decisions at this time. Don’t berate yourself for not getting things done, give yourself some time.
Lessons learned from clearing out my dad’s house
- Understanding that when you are overwhelmed, for whatever reason, you need to enlist the help of others that are objective.
- Work together as a team. This may not be easy for everyone; it depends on the relationship you have with those that are involved. Fortunately, my brothers and I have good relationships so there were no issues with who wants what. If there are, it may be a good idea to get someone that can be objective to help mediate the distribution of items.
- Put all photos you come across into a box, or boxes, label them ‘photos’ and store them elsewhere to sort through after the house sells. Sorting through photos is a very emotional journey that takes a lot of time that you don’t have at the moment.
- Paperwork is sort of on the same page as photos. Put it all in a box, or boxes, label them ‘paperwork’ and deal with it a little at a time. You may not be able to ignore all paperwork until after you sell the house, but at least it will all be in the same place for easy access when you need it.
- After the immediate family members determines the items they want and remove it from the property, or at least put their names on what they want, bring in other family members to see if there are items that they would like to have.
- For items that cannot be retrieved immediately, put names on the items and a due date for pickup. The idea is to clear out the house and some will drag their feet on picking up items for various reasons.