Several have asked about my tag line, “No closet too small! No estate too big!” and wondered just what I do when it comes to estates or clearing out the family home after a loved one has been moved to a skilled nursing facility. If you’ve read my blog from the beginning, you know how Managed Chaos was born when the time came for me to clean out my parents’ home of 57 years.
An Emotional Task
Going through the family home is an emotional task, and just like other organizing tasks it can help to have a professional there to keep you motivated, accountable, and focused. It’s also a very personal task, as you are faced with going through every single piece of paper, every drawer, every closet, every single item of clothing, furniture, dishes, wall hangings……. You get the idea; every single thing in the entire house from attic to basement. As with many organizing tasks, often people just don’t know where to start partly because there’s so much to do and partly because it means facing those emotions head on. That’s where I come in.
Option 1, Working Ahead of the Family
I’ve done these tasks in two different ways, depending upon the needs of the family. In cases where it’s just too difficult for the family to enter the home with it looking as it did when the loved one was still there, I’ve gone in ahead of the family and basically dismantled everything, organizing items in like groups, such as putting all the wall hangings in one room, all the dishes out on tables and counters, all the correspondence in boxes for each family member, etc. And there’s always a box of “ask the family” with items only they will know how to handle. Then, when the family comes in, it’s basically a house full of items to go through easily, and no longer really feels like home.
Option 2, Working Alongside the Family
The other way I’ve done these tasks is to go in with the family members and help them to go through each of the items, suggesting ways to honor their memories, ways to dispose of or sell items, etc. If the family is not all present or if they don’t live close by, I’ve prepared spreadsheets complete with photos so that they can email it and make decisions about items via correspondence. Some families have difficulty deciding on a way to divide up items, and I can provide guidance in that area, although for some families, the use of a professional mediator can be beneficial.
It Takes Time
Whichever way is used, one of the important things to remember is that this task is not something that can be rushed. Every single item must be gone through and touched. Often times older generations stashed cash and important papers in places we wouldn’t think of today. I know of one person who actually put cash in her air vents! (Yes, you read that correctly.) Other places are in tins or cans or mixed in with other boxes of papers that may appear to be trash. You never know what you might find when you’re clearing out a home, but the important thing is to take your time and go through absolutely everything, piece by piece.
Assisting at All Stages
As with any organizing task, confidentiality is key. It’s a major part of honoring these memories and helping families through the process. I’m there to help, to listen, and to make it go a little smoother. Once the contents are sorted and distributed, I can then help the family make the decision of what to do with what’s left, whether it’s donating to a charity, having an estate sale or auction, or using a junk hauler.
I have to admit, that helping with estates is one of my favorite parts of this business. Not only do I get to help families through a difficult emotional time, but I always feel blessed at the end because I get to hear their family stories and help them to honor those memories in ways they may not have thought of.
I hope you’ll consider me or refer me when the time comes for you or a friend to face this difficult process.
No closet too small! No estate too big!