Clearing out your parent’s home after their death is both emotionally and physically taxing. Within a short space of time, you are required to consolidate a very dear person’s life, while grief is still deeply rooted in your heart. Memories will intrude as you walk from room to room in their home and see walls and corners filled with their belongings, bringing them to life again. The thought of giving their things away and removing their presence seems so disrespectful and irreverent. You have a longing to leave everything the same in a time capsule that can reflect their very last essence.
Just as you wondered how you would possibly cope in a world without them, so too it seems impossible that you would ever be able to do away with any of their belongings. You want to hold onto everything of theirs forever. Unfortunately, you cannot.
So how do you start the cleaning-out process with tight deadlines to meet and a long to-do list? The answer is one step at a time, and then one day at a time.
Secure the Property
You may not be able to immediately clean out the house after your parent’s passing, so you will need to ensure that the property is secured or make contact with their landlord, if they have been renting, to make the necessary arrangements.
Assess and List Your Priorities
You will first need to make a realistic assessment of how big the “clean-out” is going to be. This will entail differentiating between essential tasks that need to be taken care of immediately and then the less critical tasks. Making a list of the priorities and their timeframes will put you more in control of a seemingly impossible situation. Having a Sonja Smith Life File at hand, will ease the burden. Download the Index here.
Some of the items on your list to consider are:
• Financial: Recent bank statements, account statements, medical bills, SARS
• Policies: Insurance, Will, shares, investments, annuities, pension, medical
• Documents: ID, passport, marriage certificate, divorce certificate, death certificate, firearms
• Home: Insurance, title deeds, bond statements
• Car: Insurance, vehicle licence
• Pets: Finding a new home for them
• House contents: dispersal and disposal of belongings
Don’t Do It Alone
During this time, you need to lean on your support system, especially in the first few weeks. Don’t close yourself off to everyone. People care and want to help you. Divide your list of priorities and task different people within your support system with various tasks.
You will need to determine how long each task will take before your parent’s home is cleared. This may be overwhelming in the beginning as you will uncover items that bring back so many memories of the person whom you have lost. Remember to take breaks as you need them to avoid an emotional overload.
Sorting A Deceased Parent’s Belongings
This has to be one of the most challenging and emotional aspects of tying up a loved one’s estate. People can take weeks, months or even years before they are able to face this significant task.
When you do finally feel ready, the most important thing is to remain organised and methodical by sorting items as follows:
• What items will I keep?
• What items will others want?
• What items will be donated?
• What items can be recycled?
• What items can be sold?
• What items can be thrown away?
Where to Start
The easiest is to start with one room at a time and to move around the room from your left until you have finished. You can then move on to the next room similarly. Preferably start with rooms that may not be so emotionally hard to deal with, depending on your level of grief at the time.
Remember that you will need ease of access, so make sure that the boxes are packed and stored clear of doorways. Use coloured labels or stickers to separate the items and be realistic about the things you separate in terms of their usefulness or sentimentality. If nobody is going to wear the clothes or read the books, then rather donate them to a charity in need.
For those hard to part with items, remember that you can always take photos of them and create a memory book afterwards. If it all gets too much for you, your loved one’s belongings can be separated and put into boxes for a later stage, when you are feeling stronger.
Making the Clearing Out a Little Easier
Before you start clearing out each day, bring yourself some drinks and snacks and make sure that there is soap, toilet paper and towels available for the cleaning up. Open the curtains and windows to let in some fresh air and light. Turn on the radio to break the silence.
At the end of each day of your sorting, throw away the rubbish and take the donated items to charity immediately. Try not to work yourself until the point of exhaustion and when you go home, remind yourself that you are one day further than you were the previous day.
Absent Family During the Clearing Out
If there is a family member who cannot be present during the sorting, make sure that you ask them if there is anything specific that they want to keep as you may not realise how much sentimental value something may have for someone else.
Be Patient with Yourself
Clearing out a deceased parent’s house is not an easy process. You will need to allow yourself time and acknowledge that you will feel a lot of emotions during the process. Once you have finalised your task list, you will need to establish the time limit for each task.
It helps to keep these goals as small as possible so that you can cope emotionally. Giving yourself these goals will also allow you to see the results during this emotionally draining process and ensure that you set boundaries for yourself.
Lastly, remember that surrounding yourself with people who love and support you, will bring shared memories, some tears and some laughter.
You can rely on Sonja Smith Funeral Group to handle the arrangements for a parent’s funeral, cremation and/or memorial service with efficiency and empathy, ensuring that the final farewell is arranged with care and attention to detail. The branch closest to you can be found here.