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How to Clean Out Mom's House When She's Gone



"My last parent recently died, and my sister and I are in the process of clearing out our mom’s home. Since she was still living in the house we grew up in, we were left with a house full of memories and precious things.

The problem that we’re having is that load after load of these sentimental items are winding up in our basements. I personally now have quite the pile going, and it’s growing with each trip to Mom’s.

I know that my mother would be very pleased to see that I appreciate her treasures enough to take them to my home. The thing is, I’m 55 years old and I’ve filled my house over time with my own things. Now I have extra furniture, statues, silver, and collectibles that are more than I can display, no matter how beautiful they are.

How does one sort out what to keep, what to toss, what to sell, and what to save for the next generation?"



First of all, my condolences on the loss of your parent. The role of supporting the remaining parent just ended, and the work of figuring out what to do with your parent’s belongings now begins. This will be a busy time for you physically and emotionally.

Cleaning out a house with a sibling is a big task, and an oddly rewarding one at the same time. You get to play with those tucked away toys, reminisce about the recipes your mother made as you clean out the kitchen, and share the stories of your youth. Oh, the work is real and tiring, but it is such good work to do.

When it comes to possessions, the hardest thing is figure out what to do with them, as you already have discovered. The lucky few have parents who were minimalists, disposing of or giving away all but a few items before they died. That isn’t most cases, though. Now is the time to work.

I recommend you start by taking a walk through the house with your sibling. If the will is not specific about who gets what, each of you should make a list of what you would like as you walk the property. If the will splits things evenly, the household goods should go the same way. Flip a coin and take turns picking items. If some items have significant dollar value, then see to it that the person who doesn’t get the item of high value receives a like share of other goods. With sites like eBay, Craigslist and others, it’s quite easy to determine what items are worth. Be fair and consistent. No trinket is worth a lifetime of resentment.

There will be overabundance in this process. That’s when you bring in grandchildren and their children to offload household items you cannot use, that a college student or recent graduate might appreciate. After that, move onto groups that will sell every remaining item and dispose of the rest to a charitable organization or the trash if appropriate.

Avoid taking home what you cannot use. It’s not necessary to hold on to everything. Yes, many things in your parent’s home have memories attached. Filling your home with things you cannot use, though, will perpetuate this problem and your own kids will inherit it when they clean out your home.

Go down in your basement and objectively assess the pile of things you have already brought home. Pick out several things that hold the strongest good memories for you and keep those. Then either sell, gift, use, or dispose of each item in the pile. What cannot be used needs to go. See the joy in providing useful kitchen gadgets, tools, clothing, dishes, lamps or whatever you have to those who can use them.

Storing items you won’t need in the next six months is fruitless, unless there is a future use or they will appreciate in value. Clutter doesn’t serve you.

Do let go of any guilt you might have about not saving everything from your parent’s home. It’s not possible to store another household within yours. A few cherished pieces is adequate. It’s not necessary to absorb everything.

Clearing out a parent’s home is such a large job. It must be done, though. Hopefully there will be a few treasures to keep and you will have some fun in the process of sorting through a lifetime of memories. Enjoy this time with your sibling, because the memories will be worth it.