How to Empty the House

As you look around the house, you may notice a table filled to the brim with papers and all manner of other things that sorely need to be cleaned; and when you start cleaning, you might find other things you forgot about. You may start to look around your bedroom and find an old box hidden in the back of your closet, and it’s filled with loads of things that no longer work. But you haven’t gotten rid of them. Why? Chances are because you forgot about it or they hold some sort of sentimental value to you. So you then become faced with a dilemma—to throw it out or not? While such a decision might be difficult, it can be even more difficult if we are helping to take care of an aging parent.

Everyone has junk and things they don’t need or use anymore. It can start to pile up on anyone for a variety of reasons, such as having an elderly relative move in. Before you know it, it can seem like an overwhelming task trying to sort through it all. Here are some tips that will help you (and your loved one) to be able to part with all that stuff that’s piled up or you forgot you had:

1. Start Yesterday.

Almost everyone has had the feeling, when faced with an ever-growing mountain of stuff, that they should have started this sooner. The earlier you start sorting through things, the sooner you can get rid of what you no longer need and have a cleaner, safer house for you and your loved ones. If you need some help getting your relatives to part with some things, appeal to their better sense. Say something like, “It’s going to be a lot more difficult for me to do this by myself when you’re gone than to do it together now.”

2. Snap it, dump it.

If a relative doesn’t wish to part with a particular something, it isn’t necessarily because he or she actually wants the thing around; rather, it’s possible that there are memories attached to the thing and he or she does not want to lose it. If that’s the case, take a picture of the item, and then get rid of the item. You’ll have less clutter and they’ll still get to keep their fond memories. Everybody wins.

3. Box it and “forget” it.

If there are things that you are certain no one wants to see again—but your relative still says the thing’s important—try some different boxing methods. Get some official, sturdy moving boxes, and label the contents. Then, you can move the cluttered stuff down to the basement or to a storage unit. In most cases, the item is never asked about (and thus never seen) again, but your loved one can still rest assured knowing it’s safe. For any items you might want to leave out, write down the significance on a piece of paper and stick it to the bottom.

4. Develop some questions to sort by.

The questions you ask depend on the situation, but you can still have some fun with it. Things like: “When was the last time you wore it?” (if it’s been over 2 years, it goes out.) “Does it work?” (If it doesn’t, get rid of it.) No matter the questions you ask, try to focus on the potential gains of not having it around, like less to clean, safer floors, money, and helping someone else, rather than the losses.

5. Distinguish saving from collecting or hoarding.

To us all that stuff might look like just junk, but trying to understand his or her motives for keeping it can help us better know how to proceed. For instance, someone raised during the Depression could keep stuff because they “might need it one day.” Collectors could possibly be persuaded to cash in on any collections due to the climate of the economy, or you could work with them to divide the collection up among grandchildren as gifts. Hoarders, though, are often sick, but you can sneakily get rid of some of their things with much less fuss. You just have to learn how to spot one.

6. Use cleaning as an alternative.

You might be able to get a parent to consider cleaning by simply suggesting that you spend maybe one evening per week or maybe an hour per evening just cleaning up stuff. You could also use this as an alternative to watching something you’d rather not.

7. Enlist professional help.

In the event of a crisis or if you’re not in town, you might look into locating a senior move manager. These experts know what to do with all that stuff you don’t want or need anymore, and also some empathetic ways to help someone to give it up willingly.