Fourth Thursdays with Deb J ~ Someone Else’s Clutter

Deb J

Deb J

We moved here to Arizona 5 years ago. We had very benevolent former owners. They just knew we could use a number of things so left them here for us. Along with a yard containing 6 fruit trees, two rosemary bushes, two grapevines, a jasmine, a honey suckle, 5 Texas Sage bushes, 3 western petunias, 8 rose bushes and a bougainvillea. They also left a couch, two garden chairs, a metal patio sink, and bunches of “construction/building” materials. Now, mind you, they had done a wonderful job of updating the house. The kitchen was “to die for” and the pantry and laundry area were very handy. They had screened the porch and then put lattice work around the patio so it was private with an arbor holding up the grapevines as the entrance to the patio from the yard. They had put in an irrigation system for all of the trees, bushes and flowers. It is a beautiful place that we bought for a song. BUT!!!! Why did they think we wanted their cast offs? Have you ever had this happen to you? You start moving into a house you think has been vacated only to find all sorts of detritus laying around. You aren’t sure what you might need and what is just junk. You don’t know the house that well yet. So what do you do?

I suggest you do what we did. We asked a couple of male friends to come over and gather all of the stuff from wherever it had been dropped. It was in the house, in the back yard, in the two sheds, and under the house in the crawl space. What was all of this stuff? Why did they leave it? Did we need it? The smart thing was to ask people to help us who knew construction and repair. They were able to decide what was important to keep and what was just junk lying around that the former owners didn’t want to take the time to dump. After a few hours the guys were able to haul off a pickup truck load of junk. One of them kept a good bit of supplies that weren’t even for our house but things that were used by the former owner who played neighborhood handyman. We still had a few things left that we didn’t need but we hung onto them for the next neighborhood rummage sale. These were things like lamps, a rug shampooer, two chairs, a side table, some indoor carpeting, some outdoor carpeting and some paint. When we were finished, the back shed was empty except for one piece of carpeting, some fencing and some replacement lattice pieces. The front shed was also empty of everything but some nails, screws, and special light bulbs. Under the house only held some extra piping for the irrigation system. The house, porch and patio were free of anything they had left behind. We found the couch to be so nicely made and comfortable that we gave our couch away and brought it in to use in our living room. It took awhile but it was soon all the detritus was cleared away and we had a nice decluttered house to move into. The next time I move I will make sure to tell the owners to take all their junk with them unless they explain why I might need something they want to leave.

Have you ever found yourself in this situation and what did you do to sort the wheat from the chaff.

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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About Colleen Madsen

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


  1. When we were at my mom’s in April, we were loading all the household hazardous materials into her van to take the facility where you take such stuff, from her shed we pulled out can after can of paint from the previous owners and a bunch of half-full jugs of oil. My folks have lived in this house for 10+ years. LOL I think Ma didn’t know there were places you can take this stuff.

    When we purchased our house in 2000, there were six broke down vehicles in the back yard and in the shed were several engines and transmissions. After the people moved out (taking the cars), the reality company had to take 19 pickup loads to the dump of crap before we took possession. I tell you, that was kind of freaky. Every time we till or dig in the soil, I unearth some rusty something-or-other and toss it into a pile. There is one thing left that I am scared to touch and that is two large diamondplate steel sheets that have been laying on the ground in the exact same location as when we bought the place. I’m afraid if we move them, there might be skeletons under them. Maybe a pit of used oil or something. Fear is a terrible thing. 😉

    • Michelle, this is the first time we have moved in and found so much left behind. It’s not fun and if you don’t know what it is or what you need it makes it even worse.

      Your situation does sound scary. I can’t even imagine all that stuff and then unearthing things in the yard. Maybe you should ask some big strong man to come move those steel sheets. And let HIM keel over from fright?! :-))

      • I have also found some pretty pottery/china shards, a mother of pearl button, a china doll foot, and when we discovered either the old original well or possibly the old outhouse, we dug up a bunch of liquor/medicine/ink bottles. I kept the neatest things. 😉

        • It sounds like you have a regular “treasure trove” in your yard. At least it is fun to see what you find.

    • Oh, the horror. I had the same thing happen to me 4 years ago, as I purchased my appartment : on the day of the sale, after we’ve signed the contract, the seller took of to the other side of France (she was a teacher changing schools) and I took the keys to go to the apartment. I had only seen it with her belongings still in it.

      And I discovered, to my abysmal despair, that she simply didn’t have the time to pack everything, that she was obviously still living there the very morning of the sale, as she left… a HUGE number of belongings. Includind still-damp towels one the bathroom floor, soap and shampoo bottles… In the kitchen : tens of cans and jar of home made (and rotten!) jelly or some indescribable things, opened rice packets and various food. Everywhere else : Dead potted plants. Cleaning products. Clothes drying racks (plural!). Mops. Spare tools and home improvements knick knacks… A lamp. Various buckets, tools. And so on and so on… I even found rolls of coin, for a grand total of approx. 20 euros :-/ An absolute nightmare !

      Luckily my mother was with me, as I was pretty shaken up by the “omygod i’ve just purchased my first home!!!”, at 30 years old… I wanted her to be with me as I took possession of my flat. But as we discovered this, I just wanted to crawl back home and she was almost crying to see how despaired I was. She was SHOCKED that someone would leave so much stuff behind like that.

      It took me almost two full days to try and sort through everything, to recycle/donate/trash appropriately. But in the end, as I still found things in the gigantic corridor closet, hidden behind other things, I decided that this stuff had to go, and I threw away everything left in a dumpster, I just wanted the stuff *OUT*, so that I could move in !

      So I feel for you, really, but as you say, “next time, I’ll tell them”, and double-check PRIOR to moving in. Of course, I also tell this story to anyone that is about to purchase anything off a previous owner 🙂

      • Frederique, I think yours sounds much worse than mine. While we had lots of items left behind most of it was outside the house and the house was clean. I can’t imagine coming into that. I’d have a panic attack too.

    • Michelle – I’m betting it is a mechanic’s pit, but worst case scenario if you do have a skeleton down there, the cast of NCIS might turn up, and that could be a silver lining.
      Just wondering if you got any further with Grandma’s afghan?

      • Hi Moni – not yet. Unfortunately, decluttering has taken a backseat to finishing house painting before we get our new roof. I am hoping that this weekend I get it finished. I also still have to paint an outdoor shed and then trimwork for both buildings. Hubby is still down from back surgery so it’s all on me. That’s okay because he is a horrible painter and a grumbler, to boot! It’s our anniversary on 9-4 and he asked what we were going to do for it. I told him I am painting the house and he’s gonna rest his back – doesn’t that sound like fun??? 😉

        • Michelle, I’m sorry to hear that you are having to do all of that painting. It sounds like you will be worn out by the time it is all done. Hope you husband is soon recovered from the surgery.

  2. My parents moved from suburban Australia to remote country Australia 3 years ago (after 40 years in the one house!) l can’t remember if they completely cleared all their stuff from the garage, but l do know they got a great deal on the new house.
    Not only was it a good price, but the previous owner left much of the furniture behind and it is good stuff.
    He used to live downstairs and rent upstairs to tourists over summer.
    So all in all my parents got 2 lounge suites, dining table and chairs, 6 breakfast bar stools (3 upstairs, 3 down), 2 microwaves, 2 fridges, the upstairs washing machine and dryer, at least 2 queen sized beds, bedside tables etc.…
    You get the drift, basically upstairs is a fully self contained separate dwelling.
    We talk about it now and can’t believe how good a deal they got.
    The previous owner was going to travel around Australia so didn’t want all that stuff.
    My parents have since had a garage sale and some of it has been given away or sold, but basically they moved into an already furnished house!
    The previous owner has moved back into town and l think he has realised that he gave my parents the bargain of the year!

    • Felicity, that’s a great deal. Not your normal happening though. I can just imagine how the previous owner is irritated at himself for doing it.

      • Deb J

        The previous owner owned 3 properties in a row, with direct lake views and sold them all, so he probably isn’t really kicking himself that much, he ended up a millionaire or very close to it.

        • Well, I guess not with that kind of in take. I’d say he can afford to buy whatever furnishings he wants now.

    • Felicity – I have friends who put their house on the market and do a very nice job of styling their house. Anyway, they got offered asking price if they could be out in two weeks BUT also it was conditional on accepting an extra amount to leave all the crockery, cutlery, linen, furniture, tv’s, appliances, even the kids beds and all the duvet covers, lawn mower etc. The new owners were immigrating and just wanted to walk in (they bought via viewing online). It was a bit startling but they accepted the deal and left with their suitcases and a few boxes of personal stuff that they excluded.

      • Moni, I have heard of that happening a few times too. It feels odd to have it like that.

      • Moni

        That would be a bit of a shock, but sounds awesome to me. Rather liberating – just to walk out with a few suitcases and the right price in your pocket.

  3. When we bought our house 13 years ago it had been empty for almost 20 years. It was 9 months before we had done enough work to be able to even move in to a part of it. It is a rambling farm and farm buildings the oldest bit dates from 1273 the most modern is Victorian. The first time we came to look around we had to climb through a window with a torch. You want to see junk! Just creating the garden was an adventure My husband is a medic and even he was dubious about one of the bones we dug up (it turned out to be a small cow not a human thigh bone….) But we were able to use a lot of the stuff we dug up. Door latches, hooks were the most useful. Tractor ball bearings, and animal skeletons were less so 🙂

    • Wow, Gillie! It sounds like you really took on a lot of work when you bought your house. But, it also sounds like you think it was worth it. I think finding all that stuff is fun. Except the bones.

  4. Nothing was left behind by the previous owners of our house…..except fleas in the carpet which we didn’t realise for a couple of weeks.

    • Moni, that’s worse than anything else we’ve heard about. I hope you were able to get rid of them quickly and without too many bites.

      • Deb J – we didn’t click initially that they were in the carpet and we saw our cat scratching which we thought was odd as she had had her monthly flea treatment just prior to shifting, but we treated her again but she didn’t stop scratching and then we were all getting bitten and so realised the problem was over the whole household. It took quite a bit of effort to get rid of them and a surprising amount of money.
        When we shifted in I was surprised to discover that the previous owner hadn’t had the carpets cleaned, heck they weren’t even vacuumed. Next time I buy a house I am definately stating that in the agreement.

        • It is amazing what people don’t do when they move out that they should do. I have a list of things that have to be done or I won’t move in. We also have an inspector check it out thoroughly because people will lie about what shape the place is in.

          • Deb J – I always leave a house – especially when we were renters – in immaculate condition when we left, windows, walls, ceilings, the works. And I rather naively assumed that was the norm. Most people I know would but my friend who is the lawyer tells me that here the seller isn’t actually legally obligated to do so. And also it can’t always be assumed that stuff on the property will be taken away. She now recommends outlaying in the agreement the expectations for cleaning and an inspection time prior to settlement time to make sure everything is up to spec and stuff on the section has been removed, plus a time that the seller must be out. She said there is a surprising amount of people who decide to just leave unwanted stuff on the property and then the buyer is fuming because they have to pay to dump it.

            What it comes down to is that no one likes to clean up after other people.

          • Moni, your friend is right about how many will not leave things clean and in good condition. We even have people over here who will take light fixtures, ceiling fans, appliances, etc. So there is much more paperwork about selling or buying a house then there used to be.

  5. Oh my! Thank goodness we did not have anything left from ANY previous owner. That would stress me out mightily! We had enough to fix up just from the messiness from years of disrepair. I feel for you with this story!

  6. In 1972, we moved into an older home in Evanston, IL. We bought it from the daughter and son-in-law of the original owners. The house was built in 1902, and the SIL had used the basement as the HQ for his business as an electrician. He wasn’t able to get all his stuff out of the basement by our move-in date, so he just came over any time he felt like sorting and packing. This went on for a couple of weeks. It drove me crazy to go down to the basement to use the washing machine, and find ‘Old Ed’ there. He didn’t find it necessary to knock or ring the bell. It was like having a haunted house!

    He never moved all the stuff out. We salvaged a couple of nice things (desk chair, desk lamp) but ended up having to get rid of a lot of it ourselves. In this case, we inherited not only clutter, but also the clutterer!

    On the other hand, we moved into a house in Montclair, CA back in 1965 and found a very nice crystal cake stand wedged in a kitchen cabinet. The previous tenants obviously couldn’t get it out when they packed up. It was in our pattern — Fostoria American — so we took the cabinet apart and added it to our collection.

    • Frances – oh my goodness! I just remembered my SIL and BIL bought their house and there was a shipping container on the front lawn that was supposed to be picked up but some months went by and it was still there. Then one day they came home and it was gone, just when they’d decided that they’d had enough and were going to have to take action or ???

      That would be kind of creepy having a stranger wandering in and around your basement.

      • Frances, Moni

        l agree, creepy to have someone who think they can just come and go as they please, wandering around in your basement.

        Something like that would really grate on me.

    • Ok – I think that’s funny. (Not that I would want my basement to be haunted by the former tenant.) One of my very favorite pots was left in an apartment I rented. When I was moving it, I pulled a chair over to see way at the back of this really high cabinet to be sure I had everything. Well, surprise me- there was a pot left by the previous owner back there! (Yes, I hadn’t noticed it in a year – this was a HIGH and DEEP cabinet.) That was probably 1984, and I use that pot 4 – 7 times every week.

    • Frances, most of the time the first thing we do when we move into a new place is replace the locks. We have found that means NO ONE can get in but us. I’d freak out if I found someone in the house like that. It’s spooky.

  7. The only things we have had people leave behind is paint so that we would know the wall colors and extra tiles and carpet for replacing as necessary. I make sure when I am selling a home that nothing is left behind. It is just better that way I think.

    • I leave behind paint, tile, and anything else that is specific to the house, along with the instruction manuals for the appliances. I also leave toilet paper and a roll of paper towels. In addition, I’ve drawn a map of the street with the names of the occupants and instructions to the closest grocery, etc.

      • Cindy, I am like you. I leave all the manuals, paint swatches, and any other things that go with what is left in the house. But I make sure to give it all to the new owners in a packet at the closing with a list of any other things we have left that are specific to that house.

      • I should have been more specific, we do leave behind manuals and house specific things like the garage door opener, but not personal things, like the things that Deb listed above. I don’t want to assume that the next occupant would want my left behind things. You have listed some great additional things for me to leave behind in the future, though.

  8. We haven’t had any leftovers from previous owners of our homes but we had some neighbors who unloaded all their stuff on us. They had children about 7 years older than ours, so when they offered the first few items, I accepted a desk and craft items. The next items I turned down but then my husband accepted a few items. Then, it snowballed. They had been wonderful neighbors but I could not wait for them to move so we could have a garage sale!

    Between our newly acquired stuff and a few of our own things – we made $800 at the sale.

    • Good stuff Vicki K, with my parents they sold some of the stuff that the previous owner had left and we sold some of our own stuff, l think we made about $300 or $400. Also l haven’t acquired much at all since then so that is good too! I think we only have one garage sale per 7 years or so in us! I couldn’t do it all the time.

      • Felicity…’one garage sale per 7 years or so in us’–hahaha–isn’t that the truth! It must take that long for the memories to fade of how much work and hassle are really involved.

      • Felicity and Vicky K, I agree with you about only having one garage sale every 7 years in you. Actually, I don’t have one ever in me any more.

    • Just the kind of neighbors you don’t want. Having a garage sale was a great idea. Good way to get rid of things.

  9. My house was emptied by an auction house. The owner lived out of state and just wanted it all gone. But the auction house sent in teenagers to do the emptying. The funniest thing they did was pull all the clothing off the hangers instead of picking the clothing off. Wire hangers are quite springy, I found them everywhere.

    • Mel, I can just imagine all of the hangers all over the place. I went into a rental one time to look at it and it was like that. It lookes like the people moved out in a real hurry. The rental agent told us that they were going to clean it all up before a new tenant moved in. They were going to have quite a job.

  10. My house was emptied by an auction house. The owner lived out of state and just wanted it all gone. But the auction house sent in teenagers to do the emptying. The funniest thing they did was pull all the clothing off the hangers instead of picking the clothing up off the rails hangers and all. Wire hangers are quite springy, I found them everywhere during those first few days of scrubbing and painting.

  11. The prior renters that lived in my home (which I now own and do not rent) were wanna-be mechanics. For YEARS I would find weird car items in the garage . . . they sort of came out of the ground over time. It was very annoying. We also had to clean the loft in the garage and many items went straight to the curb. It was a huge mess once we got into it, but we did make some scrap money at the time off some of the stuff left behind.

    Then it didn’t help when my mom moved, and thought it would be funny to have a truckload of boxes delivered to my home while I was working. At the time I had innocently given her a spare key for emergencies, but when I saw what she did I changed my locks. Imagine walking into your nearly empty basement and find it completely FULL of boxes, paint, and other cleaning supplies she could not take on her move across the state. I was FURIOUS. For weeks I came home after work and went through boxes. We ended up having two yard sales, and finally we loaded up the rest (in four loads) and took it to Goodwill. I still have not forgiven her for that, and she thought it was “funny.”

    • Michaela, I think I would be pretty upset too if anyone dumped stuff on me like that. I would forgive her but I sure wouldn’t ever let her have a key again.

    • Michaela – I would be really ticked off if that happened to me too! That was using you as a dumping ground for her unwanted mess. Its bad enough when parents leave an overfull house in an estate to be cleaned up but to be alive and well enough to skip to the other side of the country is just unfair and irresponsible. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but it would make my blood boil if it happened to me. At least if one has to clear a house for a deceased relative, it can usually stay in the house while its being dispersed.

  12. Den J – The first house I bought had a HUGE storage shed, and it was completely full when I took possession. I probably spent a year slowly sorting through it so that I could make the best use out of what was there. What I remember was boxes of materials for teaching preschool, an empty beer keg, a car hood, and (wait for it) a kitchen sink!

    In our current house, a crazily heavy sleeper sofa was left behind. The boys who helped me with some construction project happily hauled it off. The owner also left some “useful” things in the shed, most of which were not useful. Nonetheless, many of them hung around for 10 years – until we tore the shed down this spring.

    • Cindy, it sounds like you had a fun time (not) with all of that stuff in the shed. Our two sheds are so cleaned out now that it is wonderful. The back one has next to nothing in it and the one at the end of the carport has the Christmas stuff, my mobility scooter and some tools. When I think of what they had when we started I am so glad it is over. When the weather gets cooler I think I am going to clean out some more and try to reorganize what is there.

  13. I can understand how you feel inheriting other people’s junk. When my dad sold his home, he had a lot of stuff in it and he was too old to worry about how to dispose of it. There were several bids. Some wanted so much stuff done, but one guy offered to take the house the way it was and my dad could leave everything he wanted in the home and just go. Even though he bid less than some of the others, he got the home because he was willing to just let my dad leave and shut the door and leave whatever he didn’t want to take. Just something to think about from the other end.

    • Spendwisemom, I can understand your dad’s situation. He got a great deal What gets me is when people leave stuff without your permission.

    • Spendwisemom – sounds like your dad made a wise choice accepting the lower bid that allowed him to leave without the burden of disposing of the household. At least it was an agreed decision between the two parties.

  14. I haven’t commented in a long while, but I just had to chime in today!
    I’m glad you lot are all still so passionate about decluttered living. And sorry for all you who have got dumped with Other peoples rubbish. Here in the Netherlands we have rules (like we have for everything!) that the seller and buyer of a house tour the house one last tim etogether before finalising a sale and straight after that the keys change hands. If anything is left or is missing the sale can be still called off or delayed. Like wise rentals are inspected and if not left clean and in good state you will not get back your deposit.

    Unfortunately this meant that when my sister quit uni and lost her apartment she moved all the stuff she had filled a 70 square meter apartment with back to my parents place. It was already quite cluttered att my childhood home. Now there are rooms where you can hardly move and I’m sure the floors have started caving in in some places. I went there today. I cried in the bathroom, had dinner, and came back home. I was supposed to helm my mother prepare for guests arriving next week. But with a one year old kid to whatch after I lasted only a couple of hours in that kind of environment.

    It made me think about the little pleasures a decluttered home gives:
    I love it that my daughter can run aroud the house without bumping in to things all the time.
    I can walk around in the dark without my glasses on, whitout breaking my legs.
    I know where I can find …… (insert item)

    • hunter_xs, I’m sorry things are such a mess at your parents. I can imagine how you feel there. I went to a friends home the other day and couldn’t stay long. Not only was it so cluttered you could barely move but it was also dirty because they don’t move everything to clean. It set my asthma off in a few minutes. It’s great your house is decluttered so you and your daughter can move around without mishap.

      I wish we had a law that said you had to do what you do in the Netherlands. I thought we had something like that but it doesn’t seem to happen.

  15. This was the exact situation I found myself in when I moved into this house.

    I’ve lived here over 9 years and it’s only now where I’ve started to tackle the previous owner’s pile. I’m happy to say I’ve lowered the pile a fair bit.

    Hopefully the rest of the pile will be gone soon.

    • Ron, I’m glad you are finally able to declutter some of the leavings of the previous owners. I hope you are able to soon get rid of the rest of it that you don’t need.