Thursday, May 15, 2014

Part Two: Going through your parent's house

We had to go through my Mom's house soon after her death if we were going to get the house on the market during the prime selling season in her area. So Hubby and I got in the car and took three days to drive to my brother's house. We could have done it in 2 days and in fact I did make it home in two. However we took the time to enjoy a part of the country that we hadn't seen before and particularly enjoyed the drive through central Virginia - I think it was the Shenandoah Valley - during spring. After the first half day all of the drive was new to us.

Surprisingly we were able to set aside our grief and have a little vacation for ourselves. This was good because the next 7 days were hard work both physically and emotionally. 

I do have to mention though that we did not work on the house for 7 days straight as we had appointments with bankers, etc. and visited relatives and friends as well as those coffee and pastry breaks I mentioned.

Our goal with the house was to prepare it for listing for sale and showing by realtors. To do this we had to:
- Identify paperwork that needed to be saved.
- Find my Mom's ring that she had stored somewhere for safekeeping.
- Identify and remove the items we or our children wanted to keep or that we would sell separately through specialized sources (e.g. jewelry or antiques).
- Pack and donate or gift items that we weren't going to sell.
- Take to recycling or trash the appropriate items.
- Do a little cleaning and staging

To figure out the best way to approach this I had talked to my son about his experience working for a firm that helps seniors downsize or heirs go through homes. I also did a bit of online research regarding how best to approach this job. In the meantime my brother collected boxes and packaging materials as well as researching how to sell what was left of her furniture, decorative items and kitchen ware.

We were all quite familiar with our parent's belongings and both thought in advance about what we might want for ourselves or our children. We had 1 1/2 days where there would be the four of us working and then my Hubby had to fly home to go back to work.

It turned out to be wonderful to have the four of us working together. When one of us was feeling especially emotional it turned out that the others weren't so we helped each other through it. We stopped and had lunch together each day and went out for coffee in the afternoon and that was great. My SIL made sure we had delicious picnic lunches each day.

It would have been so hard to do it alone as I found out the couple of times later in the week when I went to the house by myself while my brother took care of other tasks. So I would highly recommend getting someone kind to help you if you are faced with doing this by yourself.

Here is how we chose to approach this task. I hope this helps someone else.

- We took to heart my son's suggestion to finish a room before moving on. By finish he meant to remove all items you had made decisions about.

- We designated areas where we would place the items each family wanted and those we couldn't decide on quickly. The idea of having a place to put things you weren't sure you wanted was a great one as it kept us moving forward. Over time the decisions about those items became easier.

- We also decided where to move the items we were selling separately, donating or gifting, and those that were to go to recycling or trash (areas in the garage in our case).

- First my brother and I walked through and discussed the items we already had in mind to take to make sure the other person did not really want it. This was easy for us and we are fortunate that way.

- Then we walked through the house and each took framed photographs, handmade items or gifts that were primarily of or from one family or the other. Framed photos that we both wanted were packed in a storage container for later copying.

- We did the same walk through together with our spouses to split up the art work done by our parents and other decorative items. We left art that we did not personally want hanging on the wall and later returned to it to take photos to send to the grandchildren so that they could pick what they wanted. Then we took the photographed artwork to my brother's house to await their decisions.

- Then my SIL and I started going through Mom's clothing while the guys helped pack it up and also packed up the jewelry to take to my brother's house to be gone through in the evening. If you go through someone's clothing remember that you need to check each pocket as you go. We had a laugh over this because rather than money all we found in pockets was Kleenex!

- While my brother and Hubby cleaned the outside entrance to the house and the screened porch, my SIL and I went through the upstairs bathroom, kitchen, china cabinets and writing desk.

- We kept on going through each room in this two story house the same way on other days. We found that we could consolidate items to make later action easier. All cleaning supplies went into the coat closet, all bedding and other linens in one linen closet, etc.

- We packed up all paperwork and took it to my brother's house to go through in the evenings.

- We left until the end all of the old photo albums and slides, genealogical records and other things that will take a lot of time to review. Fortunately there is room at my brother's home for storing them as we ran out of the ability to make any more decisions! If there was no place to store them I would have had them shipped to my home as there was not the emotional bandwidth available to go through them in a thoughtful way at that time.

- We left in the home for now the larger furniture items my brother and SIL are taking. They will move them in a week or two. We took everything else that was being removed to their house, to where it was being donated or gifted, packed it in my car or had it picked up by recycling/trash.

I'm sure I am forgetting something but this is what stands out in my mind. If you have other suggestions that might help someone else please add them in the comments.


  1. Having had to do all this several times, I know you are providing very good tips to everyone who may have to face this one day.

    1. Thanks Jackie. We are learning as we go and hoping that when the day comes things will go as smoothly for my FIL's estate.

  2. This seems like a good process. I know two people who have had to clean out the homes of "hoarders" and it was terrible for them to deal with so much waste.