Have you ever had to clear out a home to sell after a death? If so, then you know how much there is to do. You also know that it’s an emotional journey. We learn things about our loved ones that we didn’t know as we cull through their things. These things are small pieces of their lives that live on through the memories they leave behind.
Several years ago, I had to clear out a home to get it ready to sell after my aunt passed away. I was her caregiver, although I didn’t live with her, for 8 years prior to her passing. My uncle died 8 years before my aunt and they lived in their home for more than 35 years. This post shares my experience.
Grief effects everyone in different ways – in how you deal with it and length of time. You never ‘get over’ the death of a loved one. Time may or may not heal all wounds, but it does allow you learn to live with the absence of them.
There are so many things to do after the death of a loved one, and you can read about the timing of some of those things in a previous post I wrote about that here. In a perfect world you could wait until you’re in a better emotional state to deal with the estate. But not every situation allows for that to happen.
If your loved one paid off the mortgage, then time is on your side. However, until you get the home sold, you have to pay for utilities, taxes and maintenance. So, if you don’t have the funds for these expenses, your timeline may be moved up drastically.
I was fortunate in my situation that it allowed the time and provided the funds to go at my own pace. Even so, it took me and my team about six months to clear out her home. My team was a few friends of mine and professionals working a few hours each week.
Assemble a team
When you clear out a home to sell, it takes quite awhile depending on how big the home is, and how much accumulation there is to sort through. And, you do need to literally go through everything. The reason I say this is because people put valuable things in strange places.
This is too big a job to do it yourself. You need help and you need to pace yourself. Even if you have the time, you can’t, or shouldn’t work on this every day for hours on end. You will become burned out right away, and remember, you’re probably still grieving. We don’t always think straight when we’re grieving.
Talk to family members and friends to assemble your team. Understand your team members availability and schedule some time, perhaps over the weekends to chip away at the associated tasks.
Make a plan
A plan has a goal, and when you have to clear out a home to sell, that is your goal – to get it on the market for sale. Clearing it out is the first step, then you have to make required repairs and possibly updates, but in this post, we will focus on the clear out. My plan was actually in my head, although some of it was on paper.
The Organizing Process
Being a professional organizer, and a project manager in my previous life, my mind naturally turns everything into a project. I think this actually helped me with the grief. In this scenario, I used three steps of the organizing process – sort, purge and assign homes. Purging and assigning homes go together in terms of trash, recycle, family & friends taking things, and donation. Some choose to have an estate sale but in my aunt’s case, it didn’t appear that she had the required minimum to benefit from hiring an estate sale company. These three steps took the process to the goal of getting the house on the market to sell.
Put Like Things Together – The Sort
The first thing I did was set up a staging area. In my aunt’s house, it was in the dining room which was the room in the middle of the house. We used boxes for sorting and sticky notes for the categories. We went systematically through each room, each drawer, each closet, the basement, garage and other spaces to put things in their categories in the dining room. The caveat to this, was that things in the basement and garage stayed in those places in their own categories.
The categories of photos and paperwork will be overwhelming. Don’t do anything with these categories at this time. Obviously, you need to take the paperwork required at this time, but nothing else. Take these categories to your home and work on them after the house is sold and you have more time, you will be glad you did.
Eliminate Excess – The Purge & Assigning Homes
As we went through the sort step, we found trash & recycling that went into the appropriate bins. You always find things as you sort that need to be trashed.
The family members then came in to walk through the spaces to choose the things they would like, and I made a list of items for each person. We also scheduled times for pickup – this is important because if the items are not picked up by the scheduled date, they turn into donations. You have a timeline to get the house cleared, and sometimes the recipients don’t deem the items important enough to adhere to your schedule.
The remaining items that weren’t chosen, or picked up by family members or friends, turned into donations. The donations were scheduled for pickup.
There were also some big items, or hazardous waste that were scheduled for pickup by a trash hauling service as the last step in the purge.
These are the steps I took to get my aunt’s house ready for sale. As mentioned earlier in this post, working on this for hours on end every day will cause burnout. Even though I paced myself, toward the end I got to a point where I was trashing things just to get it done. I was burned out and ready to be done with this project.
As a final note, I would like to recommend that you be good to yourself. Don’t take on too much too fast. Assemble your team and take your time if possible. Your loved ones would not want you to get stressed out over their things.