Add your advice

I received the following comment on Thursday for Joanie and I am hoping those of you who have been through a similar experience might have some good advice for her.

Hi, Colleen!
You are talking to me. My mom passed away in October at 93. I was her main caregiver and, at her death, inherited her home of 45 years. I’ve been sorting, shredding, recycling, donating and throwing out ever since. I didn’t want to stay here but didn’t know how I would get rid of an old house in a fraying neighborhood.
Then my niece approached me with a very sensible plan. She is weighed down with student loans and can’t buy a new house but she loved Grandma’s house. I showed her all the problems and potential problems; she showed me a budget and estimates for a security system, new bathroom and eventually kitchen. She has the energy to paint and polish up the rest of the house. She even wants to keep all the furniture because she doesn’t have enough to fill a four bedroom home. Deal! She’s moving in October 1.
I’m relieved, pretty much ecstatic. But I still have to plow through papers, pictures, books and clothing and I’m losing steam. I’ve been working on the living room and dining room for months and it looks like I haven’t done a thing. I thought it was better to stick to one area instead of jumping around but now I’m feeling panicked because this still isn’t done and I’ve got the kitchen, bathroom, two bedrooms that are bedrooms, one bedroom that’s a study/library, one bedroom that’s a junk room I can’t walk through and a similarly junk filled sun room that I haven’t touched. The basement and attic are good to go because I cleared them years ago. The two car garage is unusable but it’s filled with my sister’s junk – not my problem!
I’m a list maker and I sketch out some to-dos for each day. I’ve been keeping a list of all the things I’ve disposed of, donated, gifted, recycled (1,418 so far) and I found it helpful at tax time to track my donations. Do you have any ideas to help me? Everything I touch is so personal and sometimes I feel like I’m throwing away my life and my mom’s – and my grandmother’s because her stuff is here too.

“If we do not feel grateful for what we already have, what makes us think we’d be happy with more?” — Unknown

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About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Madelaine Kirke

    I cleared my mother’s house after her death almost entirely alone. I’ve also done most of the work on two other family homes. Advice 1) Be kind to yourself. Every decision costs you energy. 2)Do the easy hits first (all that junk mail… the food cupboards for example). 3) Anything which hurts too much, box and deal with later. 4) set targets – for example, each time I visited my mother’s home I filled her dustbin, filled the car with items for the tip and delivered them, filled the car with items for the charity shop and delivered them and then, finally, filled the car ready to take things home for further sorting. 5) Items which someone else wants are the easiest – a friend mentioned that she was looking for a 3′ bookcase so I put one into the car and surprised her with it (she had no idea beforehand and was thrilled). If you give something away to someone who needs it, you get full retail price! 6) Never put things in the attic to sort later – your children will find them when you die and they will inherit the task.

  2. I saw once a company that cleans out entire rooms in exchange for being allowed to keep everything they can sell (and disposing of the rest). If there is anything of value to sell in that mountain of stuff that you don’t have any attachment to, it might be worthwhile looking for that kind of service. Of course the catch is that they have to be allowed to take all the stuff you point at (not take-backs after they have done all the work). So you have to pull out anything you are afraid to lose ahead of time.

    Thats the only thing I can think of other than enlisting a bunch of friends over a few bottles of excellent wine and fabulous finger foods! Make a sorting party!!!!

  3. Sometimes it helps to work on an area that is ‘easy’ so you have success early on. How about the bathrooms? Or the porch? Don’t focus on the papers now because they take so much thought. Go after junk and ignore the rest. I know people say to only touch things once as you are decluttering, but it may not be possible at this point. Move the ‘harder to decide on’ stuff aside and deal with what you obviously don’t want. Best of luck to you!

  4. I am glad that you found a great plan for the house and I know that you can accomplish this task. I agree with Willow, if you are stuck on the living and dining room take a room that you feel you can get through faster and do that. It does feel good to have something accomplished and that might give you more energy to go back to the living and dining room. I think the papers and photos are going to be the hardest and I might suggest setting them aside until later. I would separate papers from pictures and put all the paper in one spot and all the pictures in another. For things like clothing while they do remind you of your Mom and Grandma remember that the things are not your Mom and Grandma. Think of how many others you can bless with their clothing. If there are a few pieces you absolutely love then keep or take photos of them to remember that is fine but quickly box up the remainder of the clothing. That will help get rid of a lot rather fast. You could even go through the house and gather all the clothing. This would be one large task accomplished and many many other people will be blessed by this task. When I am getting rid of things I think about how they are not doing me any good sitting in closets, etc. and that they could actually be used by someone else and I choose to send them on with blessings to others. Books are another item that a lot of people have attachments to but once again they are not your Mom or Grandma – they are just books. If you see some you really think you will read or have some other particular meaning to you keep those but then donate the rest. Try to limit yourself to a certain number of books (or one box, or one bookshelf) but do set a limit. That also helps you know how much to keep and how much to donate. Remember so much that is in books can now be found on the internet and reality is that you won’t read all the books. Plus the longer they stay along the more musty they become – donate the great majority of them. The same goes for household things. We all have things that we need to run a household but again they do not define who we are. If you could easily go purchase something if you needed it, or have multiples of the same item, donate it. Right now I understand how you look around the house and see your Mom and Grandma’s life but keep in mind that the love they shared is in your heart and not in things that are weighing heavy on your heart and emotions. Release them to bless others and think about all the good you are doing. Good Luck. I know you can do this!

    • I really like this advice and hope I will remember to think of it that way when I will have to sort my moms things one day: Giving away your moms things is not giving away your mom or throwing away her life, it is more like a donation your mom makes, something good she does through you – so it is no disrespect for her life, but on the contrary something she sure would like more than you to be weighed with all those things.
      “Release them to bless others and think about all the good you are doing” – I wish you all the best for the big task you have ahead of you. Even if it is much work, it also might be helpful that you have a good goal and a timetable to do it, so you know the hard work will have a clear point where it is finished, when your niece moves in – otherways on can struggle with tasks like this for years

  5. An unbiased set of eyes would be a great help. Grab a friend and tell her to be totally honest with you as she helps you go through things. Give her permission to be the decision maker on items you can’t decide on. This will not be done in a flash, but there will be humor and memories shared and it will be much easier on your spirit.
    I did this for a friend whose husband passed away and she was drowning in stuff. It was a good way for her to move forward a little and it wasn’t so painful because she could reminisce as she parted with things. Huge donation to Goodwill resulted. It’s been several months and she hasn’t regretted it once.

  6. What a great plan for your house! What an incredible amount of work you have in front of you. When my mother passed 4 years ago, I inherited her things, my granparent’s things, my great-aunt’s things (she was single) as well as some things from my great-grandparents. Somehow I became the “keeper” of things. After shuffling, stuffing and moving all of this into my house, garage, spare room, I finally mustered up the energy to go through it this year. It is more emotionally draining than physical, because it brings back so many memories.

    One friend gave me great advice: find the things that you cherish, that you would display or love in your own home. Then the rest is just “stuff” – take the emotion out of it. That was the hardest part for me. But once I had my head wrapped around that idea, then I went forward with the 4 bin approach: keep it, donate it, sell it, garbage.

    Then it became a job – with set hours of how I’d attack it. I had to have a life to get away and “breathe” and not think about all that stuff. I made a list of things I thought might be valuable and then I would check the internet to see if it was actual value, or sentimental value. If I thought I could sell it in an estate sale, I reboxed it to be sold later at the estate sale. If I couldn’t then it went to donation or the garbage. I enlisted trusted friends to help, and one Saturday we ended up taking 800 lbs of things to the dump!!! Gone are the 20 years of National Geographics that we held on to. I tried 3 school libraries to see if they wanted them, and they said no – so off they went. I’ll admit, I winced as I threw them in the truck to go. But at the end of the day – the open space that came from clearing things out became the reward.

    Good luck with your journey!

    • As the almost-only heir of several generations of “valuable” stuff, I can identify with your phrase “the keeper of things.” My mom died 13 years ago, and my dad 7.5 years ago. I inherited lots of stuff, some historic from our hometown and other places, but most just valuable to the original owners. For a long time, it felt like I was putting more nails in my ancestors’ coffins when I got rid of anything- papers, furniture, dishes, etc. that belonged to them. It’s taken a longer time to internalize the fact that THEIR precious possessions don’t have to be mine.
      My wife and I haven’t even faced her side of the family yet. Her borderline hoarder parents are still alive in their 90s, living in their home of almost 30 years. It’s clean, but that’s about all I can say. There’s a path through the house and about 12 square inches of counter space in the kitchen and bathroom. We’ve already decided not much if anything is making its way to our home.

  7. I think enlisting your niece’s help or other trusted relatives to help might be useful. It can get very hard and energy sapping to try to clear out so many things all by yourself. Also, maybe it’s time to take a well earned break from clearing up, even if it’s just for a few days, to give yourself a breather. I’ve often found that when the clearing out starts slowing down taking a break is the best thing to do. I can go back to the task later and often with better insight as to what needs to go and what should stay.

    There is a term for it: decision fatigue. With so many things to consider, comes many little decisions that erode away our supply of decision making energy.

    I would also look to clear out like items. You mention clothes. Set a weekend aside and go through the whole lot, enlist help where needed. Ditto for the books … though a note of caution on those. My grandma had a habit of tucking papers, some of which were important, into books so most of her books needed to have the papers shook out of them before they were donated.

    Above all, be kind to yourself … this is a huge undertaking. Take care and look after yourself. Wishing you all the best.

    • I agree with the note of caution. My great aunt was a hoarder and kept cash inside newspapers and books. When she passed away, my great uncle and cousin had to check EVERY piece of paper in the house for money. But you can wait to do that–set aside the books, papers and photos to the end.

      • Willow,
        My grandparents were the same as your great aunt. They hid money in old margarine tubs, jello boxes, film containers, taped behind pictures, under furniture etc. My Mom and her siblings figured that by the time they discovered the hidden money, they had already potentially thrown away thousands of dollars. Such a shame that my Grandparent’s didn’t leave them a note attached to their will.

  8. You’re not throwing away your mom’s legacy. Her legacy was two daughters, a smart grand daughter….

  9. I wish I had some sound advice to pass on, but I’ve been dealing with this same issue for about 10 years. My mom passed 1976 and my dad 2005. As an only child I inherited everything and then some. My new husband of a year has been quite patient with me moving my “stuff” across the miles and now we are moving once again. I have a very difficult time disassociating myself from items that I can remember my parents using so I have two blenders, two ice cream machines, etc. I keep thinking I’ll sell these items on ebay but I’m running out of time. We are moving to a new home in August. I’ll be keeping my eyes out for more advice on the issue of donating vs. selling on eBay. Any suggestions will be gratefully accepted!

    • Hi Denise!

      If you have a new marriage, and you are moving soon, I truly believe you owe it to yourself to set up a new home with only YOUR stuff. Donate the old things. I believe your mom would want you to have the new technology, style, etc., if she were here today. Don’t limit yourself because of guilt. Hugs, congratulations, and good luck. 🙂

  10. Sounds like you are going one item at a time, and strongly link the people you love to the items. You might consider a more productive way to honor them- a photo album, or a journal of your memories, or one small box of items for each person. keep what YOU love and enjoy and use, and what your niece will use. Let the rest go in a wholesale manner, probably with the help of others. Clothes in a car load to good will, car load of books to friends of the library (after a shaking out as mentioned above), etc.
    Trash cans and recycling cans should be filled every week. Many thrift stores will pick up. My sisters and I are working on all the way out– taking the sorted boxes to the goodwill or thrift store of choice and not piled up in the garage.

    When I sort papers, I put on some thing good on netflix, or book on tape or Audible and have the box of debries on one side and the outgoing bags on the other. File cabinet is near by, as well as any other frequently used save piles. The entertainment keeps me going.

    Another tactic is to set the timer for 20 min and sort and toss. Then go do whatevery else you like to do for a while.

    Sometimes it is hard. Sometimes at get a second wind and go around tossing stuff. Remember that your mother and grandmother are not in the items. Maybe the item had meaning to them, or maybe it was just an item.

  11. Bless your dear heart. I can so relate to what you are going through. My dear mother passed away three years ago, and due to her apartment lease, we had to go through her apartment the very next day after she died!!! There was no time to even absorb or mentally process what was happening. I knew it was not the right moment to make any decisions, and I knew if I did, I would live to regret it, so we put everything we weren’t sure about in our garage. As time and emotions have allowed, I have taken it one box at a time, and I have waited until I could make rational decisions on each item before doing anything with or about them. I realize you, too, are in a very big time crunch, so my two-cent’s worth advice would be to box up every, single item you are not sure about and find a place to store them for a while. This will get the stuff out of your niece’s way, and it will relieve the pressure, yet, it will not be permanent or irrevocable. It will give you the time you need to be 100% sure about what you are doing and what you are letting go of. Be gentle with yourself. This is so emotionally draining and it spills over into our health. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself, and give yourself grace. There are still things in our garage, after 3 years, and I am not in any way pressuring myself to do this quickly. I just can’t. I am not physically or emotionally capable of stressing over it, so I do it when I feel like it, and when I don’t, I don’t. I am not sure if you have free storage available, such as your own garage, and this may not be possible. But, maybe just for the pictures and the papers, you could apply this suggestion…they seem to hold the most sentimentality. God bless you in your endeavors. My heart truly goes out to you, because I know so well how all of this feels. I hope you find a doable solution, and most of all, I hope you are kind to yourself and your own limitations. No one grieve the same way, and you should never be judged for how you handle any of this. I am praying for you.

  12. I agree with Cheryl and Willow. Rub the love off of your mother’s favorite items, remember why she loved those things, then remind yourself they are just things and allow them to go and bless the lives of someone else. If they are not blessing your life today, they are not worth your time or effort. You will always have your relationship with your mother and you can have it without things. She may not be here today, but you will see her again and she will be glad that her stuff did not weigh you down too much. (Maybe ask your niece if you can have the attic space to put some ‘harder to decide items’ into for decisions later. Sometimes with a predefined space, decisions are easier.

    • Rub the love off of it, and get rid of it! That might be the cutest thing I’ve read on here so far. 🙂

  13. I like what Cheryl had to say. Might I suggest that you take a couple of days or even a week and just rest from this. Then recruit a few friends to help you with collecting and sorting. Set aside designated areas and have them go through and gather everything of one type. Maybe one friend would gather all clothes and put them in one spot. Another would collect all books, etc. they would put the tiems in the designated spot. You might need to do this more than once so that you don’t have too many piles to find space to gather them in. Once you have the piles you can go through them to see if there is anything you really want out of it all. I would have all the papers & photos set aside in boxes to look at later. The books could be easily stacked in one place for looking at later too. Once you have the piles it is easier to just go through and make decisions–rags, donate, keep. I would keep very little of the clothes, actually for me none. You can either take a picture of the item or find a photo already taken with your mom/grandmother wearing the item. This is what I suggested a friend do when she was helping her friend with this same type of issue. There was a big living/dining area that they could easily get everything out of but the furniture. They then set aside areas, with signs to show what was to go there, and began going through the house and creating piles. With four people they went through the house in 3 days. It was a big house. They next went through the piles and created boxes of broken or damaged items, duplicate items, and items that were questionable. Once this was done all the damaged items were put in a rented trash dumpster. The duplicate items were put into boxes and a thrift store came and got them. The questionable items were all that was left for the relative to go through. She took a few days off and then with the one friend they tackled it all. It took them a couple of days. What was left was the papers and photos. Those were things that she took to her own home and went through as she was watching TV or in short spurts. It really does make a difference if you can find people to help you because most of the time the major decisions are the only ones you yourself have to make.

  14. After my Mum and Nana died within 6 months of each other, we were left with two households full of their things. Someone said to me, ” Hold on to the memories, but let go of the things.” There are a few very special things we’ve kept, (everything else was donated), but my Mum and Nana live on inside me, in my heart and my memories. Even if I did not have any material things of theirs, my Mum and Nana are with me always, as I know your loved ones will be with you.

  15. A comment I received via email.
    My best advice (vested interest here!) it get some help. This seems like a monumental task and going it alone, especially with the personal/sentimental aspect which can really slow you down, will be overwhelming. I recently worked with a widow to clear her husband’s home office of 35 years of paperwork. This was a man who kept everything, seemingly every piece of paper that ever came into his life. I sorted, edited, discarded, filed all the business-related documents and his wife worked with me to go through the family-related paperwork – that way we made sure I didn’t discard something that was valuable to the family. Having started with four bulging filing cabinets and 30 boxes, we narrowed it down to four filing drawers and a small box to go to the family “archivist”. I worked with her for about 15 hours/week for six weeks and her son told me it was worth every penny. Look for a professional organizer in your area, there are bound to be some who specialize in estates. If you are in Canada, this website has an easy search facility, I’m sure other countries have similar organizations –

    I hope this is useful,

  16. A comment received via email from Eleanor
    This stuff hurts and we can feel weighed down. But recognizing that and accepting it is part of the process. My advice is to take it bit by bit. Ideally, declutter with a trusted friend or family member who will understand your emotion but will also help you not to get bogged down. Remember, it’s always easier to deal with other people’s stuff than our own.
    A thought – could your sister remove her stuff from your garage or put it into store? Then you could use that to get stuff out of your house and consider it in a less rushed way.

  17. Bernice posted this advice on Facebook

    I think maybe she needs to allow herself a bit of a break from it all. If you can’t get away for a few days, then at least get out of the house for a day. Take a complete sabbath from it all and don’t even allow yourself to think about it. Then go back to it with fresh eyes, and maybe from a different direction. Also if your niece is younger and fitter, then stacking some, destination labelled, bags and boxes for her to shift doesn’t seem wrong to me.

  18. I received this comment via Facebook by Tanja
    Simple: Make a house sale. Label all that you want to sell, with prices. Advertise it in the shops in the area, and give a date (preferably a weekend). I’ve been to places where even the old magazines and school text book were being sold. I got some lovely wooden (Russian) spoons for a friend who collects them.

    In this way, people will be helping you de-clutter and de-stash; you never know what they will ask for (and you might have it). There is no need to make a list, since you are the sole owner, you do not have to account for what you do to anyone (I speak through experience, because I am giving things away to people who I know will appreciate them, and different charities, and people going abroad to help in voluntary work). And as a bonus you will even make some money.

  19. Wow. So many excellent posts here. Each posting has a gem of an idea in it. Thank you all.

    I am keeping this page as sooner or later I will be sorting through my father’s house full of stuff. He is 89.

    I really like the “saying”? The stuff is not your mother or grandma. Makes sense, because the memories are all inside us and we can recollect them whenever we wish.

    My mother passed away 8 years ago and father lives alone in a big house. Right now he doesn’t have the strength to get rid of anything, so I respect that and will go through things later.

    Not that he has so much stuff. I think a lot of stuff belongs to my siblings before they got married. Wish they would take their own stuff back. When you mention it, they say – Yes will have to do that one day – One day never comes, and it’s not that they don’t have the room where they live either. Hard to sweep etc with all the things around.

    Joanie, you are an inspiration – keep going.

  20. Thank you all so much for your thoughts and ideas and your kind words! I have been feeling kind of stuck and couldn’t see a way to get unstuck but you’ve given me some fresh ideas. I realize that I’ve gone through enough paper to find the things I need now: the deed to the house and my birth certificate and social security card so I can file for my retirement. Moving on to another category in another room may give me a second wind and help me pick up the pace. Just the thought of not facing exactly the same thing again tomorrow makes me feel better.
    I’m bookmarking this page so I can review it when I need another boost.
    Special thanks to you Colleen. You’ve created a wonderful community here at 365!

  21. Here is another email comment, this time from Elaine
    I’ll keep it simple. In October 1999 my mother died. In March 2000 my father died. In July 2000 my father-in -law died. We sold my house, my husband-to-be’s house and we were already in the process of building a new home for us, and we moved in November 2000, because we were getting married the following year. Both of my daughters had just moved out , continuing their lives elsewhere.

    During that time we also sold my parents’ home, and they had lived there for 56 years. My brother Wally , Greta, my sister-in-law and I took one day before the closing date and cleaned it out. IN ONE DAY.He had a small truck and took a few pieces of furniture and linens for their cottage , a few serving dishes from the china cabinet, the dining room set to Greta’s mother, some tools from the garage for their sons, and the sewing machine to their daughter. I took a crystal vase which was always on their dining room table, a chair from their living room, their china set and silver wear, a few towels, Mum’s teacups and saucers, a few serving pieces from their china cabinet, and Mum’s best jewellery and all their photo albums. Some unused quilts came home with me also and they are still in my close,t waiting to be rescued by my daughters, when they have space. The remainder, clothes and furniture and knick knacks, we immediately took to Salvation Army, and food items etc. went to the dump. All their possessions were disposed of in one day.

    They were frugal parents, generous parents, and loving parents. They lived a simple and mindful life and were kind to us and their five grandchildren. They were not clutterers and their home and yard were always tidy. My Mum loved music, and having family and friends around and could stretch a meal on a moments notice. My Dad loved the outdoors and fishing , and he enjoyed tinkering with anything mechanical. They had no bills and they had their paper affairs in order…all in one accordion folder. And their funeral arrangements had been in order also before their death (they were 86 and 87).I thanked my parents as we packed their “stuff” and had no regrets about what we gave away. I still have no regrets, 15 years later, as I continue to sort my own “stuff.”

    My advice would be to quickly read Marie Kondo’s book on the Japanese method of organizing and decluttering called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” then she’ll have only two decisions to make, what to keep and where to store it.If she keeps only items which bring her joy (except for paper), she’ll be able to discard unnecessary items quickly, instead of a little at a time. Sentimental items are the last of five categories of the KonMarie Method, and in her case, there’s a lot of sentimental going on, so it might be more difficult that when tiding one’s one possessions, but I think it will make her life easier, in the long run.

    Keep what sparks joy!

  22. So many good suggestions here! I have a sneaking suspicion I will be in this position someday with my own parents house… My grandmother/grandfather downsized their home a few years ago, partly to make sure that no one had to do what you’re doing now, so I had a chance to get things from her while she is still with us. I had several things I wanted and she was happy to part with them, knowing they would be used. In the few years since we did their cleaning out and moving I have enjoyed using several of the items I received from her, but other items I have since gotten rid of. Some have been passed to friends who I knew would enjoy something, but I will admit that some items ended up at Goodwill.

    Have you considered sitting down and spending maybe an hour or two just writing your favorite or most vivid memories of your mother? Then consider what items might help you hang on to those memories? Perhaps a specific list of items you’d like to keep would help you make decisions with less emotional stress and more quickly.

    I think donating to friends you know or local groups is easier than just dropping things at Goodwill, like they will be more appreciated or used by those who receive them. Asking a friend for help might open up some possibilities for targeted donations that will help you feel like your mother’s things are helping someone out in a specific way. Good luck to you!

  23. Hi Joanie,

    First of all, I feel for you. That is a big mountain of work facing you.

    Before you do any more sorting, select one or two things that you especially associate (in a good way) with your mom and grandmother. Put these aside to keep. Knowing that you have these items, you will be able to part with many other things.

    I don’t know who wrote this (read it in a blog and I am paraphrasing): The authors grandmother had some mugs that had heavy bottoms. She bought these when she had children around the house, as the mugs didn’t tip easily. The grandmother did not necessarily love these mugs, they were just practical at the time. So when she died, her grandson easily let them go. Many of the things in the home you are clearing could have been practical items, not highly sentimental items.

    My own mother found it difficult to part with anything. (I haven’t had to clear her house, since my brother inherited it to live in). But I think of the feelings she had about her things while on earth, she probably would have a different, more “heavenly” perspective on things now, less “grasping” and more “giving”. I don’t mean to make her sound bad, she was a lovely person, understanding, and generous with her time. She just had trouble parting with stuff. If you think about this possible change of perspective, you won’t need to feel any guilt or other bad feelings over parting with stuff.

    Someone here mentioned books containing important papers. I remember an aunt and uncle of mine clearing someones’ home and realizing after awhile that there was money stuffed between a lot of the papers. They wondered how much money they had already discarded in their haste to clear the home! It is good to check outerwear and clothing pockets, too.

    Get a dumpster delivered so that you don’t have a big worry about how to get things out to the trash. When the dumpster is full, call to get the company to fetch it and leave another empty. Repeat until the house is clear. It will cost something, which you can later deduct from the estate (keep records!!!). I don’t know where you live, but in the USA, you can also rent “Pods” to park outside and fill. These Pods can be moved to, say, a storage unit if need be. That way, you can keep some items that you want to take more time over.

    Others here have suggested sorting items into categories. I think this is good, especially in that you will get a sense of the volume of possessions in each category. There may be obvious duplicates which could make it easier to part with things.

    Contact any relatives to come pick out anything they want. I think if they do not make the effort to get there, you are free to dispose of things as you like. (Even family heirlooms or their stored possessions!)

    Document every expenditure during this process, including shipping and storage fees, dumpster fees, etc. You will need these to get $ from the estate, to compensate yourself. Keep track of your time also, because you should be compensated for that as well. As someone already suggested, get legal documentation with regard to the ownership and future living arrangements of the home you are clearing.

    Lastly, as several others have suggested, take care of yourself. I seem to remember someone else took a much needed vacation after their big house clearing. Maybe you could do that after the estate is settled, with the compensation you have earned 🙂

  24. I’m so afraid my parents are going to do this to me…but at least I know I won’t do it to my kids

  25. Here is yet another email comment. This time from Diane

    WOW, this post reminded me of what I when through when my 81 yr old Mother died 3 years ago. I also had a very old house with 4 bedrooms field to the brim with 40 years of her stuff. She was a hoarder, not the dirty type with food and waste all over. She collected paper, clothes and cook books. And I mean cook books, at least 1,000. Books where everywhere.

    I also wasn’t going to keep the house which needed at least $50,000 worth of work to make it decent. It was overwhelming to say the least.

    I had wonderful friends that helped me as I live across the county. It reached a point that they couldn’t do it alone. We went to the local half way house in town and I hired the recovery guys. They were grateful for the work and worked without complaint for cheap. I donated lots of household stuff to them as they need stuff to set the guys up after they have finished their rehab program.

    It took many months to finish it, but I knew I had helped others a mist my inherited mess.

    Hope this helps.


  26. I started to write a lengthy reply to the original comment, then saw Colleen was going to turn it into a post, which I think was a great idea!

    There has been a lot of great advice here, it sounds like we all wish we could teleport ourselves there to lend a hand.

    I’d take the advice to take a break and do something FUN. Have lunch with your best-friends, go to a carnival, do whatever needs to re-fuel your happy tank.

    Next contact the Eatate lawyer to tidy up legally the arrangement of your niece taking over the property.

    Do some google research into clearing out a parent’s estate. Articles like the link one of the 365ers had included above are excellent for having all your ‘ducks in a row’ to begin proceedings. These articles will also give you ideas on how you and your sister can deal with any tensions that might arise.

    Next gather as many banana boxes from the supermarket as you can get. These have handles cut into them and are reasonably shallow so it is easy to see what is in the box. Ask friends to collect too and look on Freecycle or Craigs List as folks who have used them to shift house often list to pass them on.

    You are someone who likes to write check lists so write a brief timeline between now and the takeover date.

    Right down to practical matters. Enlist help and make it a team effort. Dont forget to organise food and drink. Have all the banana boxes on site. Have a dumpster on site. (Keep receipts for all costs including the catering)

    Have the team begin to gather stuff from around the house to one central area. Books go into the boxes with spines up so you can see what is there at a glance. All ornaments and vases go into another box. All clothing goes into anothet box. Papers have their own box, likewise photos. Kitchenware, consummables like cleaning products, linens etc.

    Set to work. At the end of the day you will be able to look thru the vases, ornament etc as a collection to make decisions.

    Have a box for yourself. If there is something you want to keep put it in there, but limit yourself to that box.

    If your sister is able to get involved with this make a deal that if there are items you both want to put dibbs on, it goes into a seperate box and you two can negotiate that one later. The focus of the day is to sort stuff not get held up on decisions.

    If your sister is unable to participate, ask her if she is ok with you and your niece making the decisions or set up a skype session so she can view the boxes or take digital photos of the box (not individual items it would take too long).

    Review the boxes and decide what is going to be donated or sold. The idea of putting everything into banana boxes at the outset is to stop you double, triple handling everything and to make it easy to be collected by charity or dropped off as the case may be.

    If your sister wants to be involved, this would be the time for her to clear the garage of her stuff. This would allow her to use the dumpster and the pick up/drop off to charity opportunity. I assume your niece is your sister’s daughter. Your niece might feel obligated to store her mother’s stuff in return for this opportunity of the house. I’d suggest that you make clearing the garage part of the deal. Otherwise you are giving your niece the house EXCEPT the garage. You are clearing out your stuff EXCEPT your sister’s stuff. And you are more or less continuing the situation all over again.

    The thing about stored stuff is that 90% of it turns out to be easily eliminated upon opening.

    If there is a legit reason for your sister’s stuff to be stored there, make a deal that it has to be reduced so your niece can put a car inside. She may decide to take in boarders or room mates to supplement her income, in which case she may need that space herself.

    • Colleen had an email comment above that said hire an expert. I jokingly thought to myself, “Or call Moni.”

      Then I read Moni’s post. Enough said. LOL.

      I agree to get the legal issues settled asap. Is the niece going to rent or buy the house? Both parties need to understand what they are getting themselves into.

  27. Kathy mueller

    When I had to sell my Mom’s house in 2009, I had no one to help me clean out the house so I Hired 1-800 Got Junk? to empty out the house, after I had rescued important stuff. Also, I told the workers to save any photos & documents they found for me. This worked well for me, as I also had a tight deadline for this. It was worth the cost. The following weekend I had a cleaning service come in and do a thorough cleaning.

  28. Hi, Joanie. Would it help if you focus on what you want to keep and let everything else go? Keep those special items that evoke happy memories and that you have space for. I wish you strength and peace during this difficult time.

  29. Hi Joanie! I’m very sorry about your mom. I can’t give legal advice, but you do have some legal issues to consider. Is your niece going to rent the house or buy it? As long as you are the owner, you will be responsible for property taxes as well as all upkeep of the house and insurance. Think about whether you can afford major repairs, like a roof or something. You mentioned that the garage is unusable because your sister’s things are in there. If you rent the place out, that could definitely become your problem.

    I don’t mean to scare you! Sometimes these things work out beautifully between family members. But sometimes they don’t. Like I said, I can’t give financial or legal advice, but I do urge you to think about what financial and legal responsibilities you will have if you keep the house vs. selling it.

    As for the decluttering, keep going! And take breaks, like the other commenters have suggested. I hope the comments on this blog lift you up and help you through your challenge! God Bless.

  30. Hire a bonded and insured compnay that will do it and host a sale for 40% of the sales. It is worth it!! They do all the work you don’t have the energy or desire to do. You make some omney and it is done.