Clearing house after the death of a loved one

After the funeral comes the job of clearing out the house – our tips.

When an elderly relative who has lived in the ‘family’ home for many years dies, sorting out their belongings can seem overwhelming. Recently, my mother-in-law passed away and left her four-bedroom home of the past 20 years packed to the gunnels. Like many of her generation who lived through the Depression and World War II, she found it very difficult to throw anything out. After all, who knows when one will need 15 rolls of upholstery fabric?

Unfortunately, it is not as simple as hiring a skip (we needed three) and chucking everything in it. There may be something of financial or sentimental value amongst all the ‘stuff’. Money tucked in the pages of books is a particular favourite of that generation. The possibility of finding it is a sure way to get the kids involved helping you clear out.

At a time when landfill is an increasing environmental problem, it is really important to recycle, re-use and donate as many items as practical.

A number of the charities have collection services – but be warned, they can be quite selective about what they will take and they definitely won’t take mattresses.  Most councils will have a mattress recycling depot you can use, as well as an electronic recycling centre for old computers and the like.

There will be items you want to, or believe you can, sell. Be prepared for the fact that ‘collectibles’ such as Lladro or stamps no longer hold their value as the number of collectors dwindles and demand drops.  Check out similar items on eBay to get an idea of their real value and then factor in the time it will take to photograph, list, sell and send it before going online.

There are companies who offer a ‘clearance’ service.  Be very careful when selecting one of these firms. Ideally, you want a company who will take all the remaining items (post clean up and charity) regardless of value; you will probably get a slightly lower return on the valuable items but the effort and time it saves is well worth it.  Get two or three companies to quote and do not be afraid to ask for references.

If there are some items you believe to be truly valuable, it is worth getting one of the reputable auction houses involved, however, they will charge a fee of up to a $1000 depending on how much there is to check.  Before they come, make sure you have all the items separated and identified so the valuation can be as quick as possible.

In some families there can be a dispute about what something is worth. Don’t do all the legwork yourself; take photos and then ask them to get two independent valuations.  It is not surprising how often people lose interest in an item when there’s some work involved in obtaining it.

You will need lots of garbage bags and packing boxes. You can buy second hand packing boxes from storage companies and they will buy them back when you are done (depending on the condition). They also sell butcher paper and bubble wrap for breakables and tape for boxes.



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    17th Nov 2017
    Don't throw out stamp collections nor the stamps on your current postal mail. The Uniting Church in Australia will take both and raise money for charity work -- see
    17th Nov 2017
    Don't throw out stamp collections nor the stamps on your current postal mail. The Uniting Church in Australia will take both and raise money for charity work -- see
    Lord John
    17th Nov 2017
    I grew up with 3 sisters. After my mother passed away 2 years ago, my younger sister and I had the unenviable task of removing 65 years of collected things including my cub uniform and my father's WWII Air Force great coat and fatigues jacket. 30 bags of clothes to the recycle bins, 3x6m3 and 6x4m3 bins and numerous kept items later the house was clear. An extremely physically and emotionally draining experience.

    As you stated, check everything. My sister found some papers hidden away. It wasn't info on a hidden stash somewhere but something far more valuable.

    A full sister.

    Mum had taken herself off to Sydney in 1947 to give birth, from where the child was adopted, returned to the outer Melbourne suburb, married the child's, and our, father and had 4 more children who knew nothing of our eldest sister till 18 months ago.

    As you say, check everything.
    17th Nov 2017
    I hope you have been able to find and be united with this new sister. What a story!
    Lord John
    17th Nov 2017
    Thanks Jenny, we are united now. Although six years separate them, my new eldest sister and my youngest sister could be twins. If I had visited Sydney 2 years ago, I would have done the biggest double take had I walked passed my unknown big sister.
    17th Nov 2017
    I find it extraordinary that most charities won't take mattresses in very good condition. There are people who are homeless and surely the shelters need constant replacements of clean bedding. I gave the mattress from my parents' guest room which had been well covered and only slept on once to the Lions Club Bargain Centre. It was immediately bought by an overseas student struggling to furnish cheap accommodation. The money raised went to local charities.
    17th Nov 2017
    I had an old futon and put it on gumtree for free and a young fella came and picked it up to put in his van for travelling.
    18th Nov 2017
    Most charities who have shops won't take mattresses due to the unknown provenance of them.

    Some could have very nasty insects in them, or someone may have had a skin condition which could spread and become an epidemic.

    I certainly wouldn't purchase a second-hand mattress, myself.

    17th Nov 2017
    Perhaps a little removed from the topic but a suggestion before it's too late. I finished up with the family photo album and can't put a name to a high percentage of the faces. I have no idea who these people are nor where or when the photos were taken. This exercise has prompted me to put a description on all of our current photos and I recommend that others do the same.
    17th Nov 2017
    I had this problem too from my parents' photos so I threw them out. Too many possessions are like millstones round your neck as you age.
    Downsizing is cathartic.
    11th Mar 2018
    Very sensible "Old Man".

    Jennie - your response made me cry. Did you contact your parents friends - or other family members? They might have been able to identify the people - or have been happy to take them off your hands.

    Future historians trying to do the family or town history are "gutted" by such losses.

    One of my father's sisters stood for days burning books, photos, albums, tapestries, lace, furniture and other items - without telling anyone she was about to start the cleanout or asking if they might be interested. My father went to the property at the first opportunity (the weekend after the death) and was in time to save a photo of his maternal grandmother. He was so angry and hurt that his sister (who always "travelled light") had made such a thoughtless decision).

    Sometimes historical or genealogical societies (in virtually every town or state) are pleased to receive family records, photos, or papers - as there are always future researchers for that family or location.
    18th Nov 2017
    My business specialises in the clearance of Deceased Estates on Central Coast NSW. Some things to consider when clearing out Deceased Estates are: After calling in your chosen charity, utilise any kerbside collections that you have available, if any. Leave scrap metal items to one side so metal scavengers don't have to go through everything to find it. blankets and towels to animal welfare groups, vets etc, who will possibly arrange pick up for you. Send craft items to preschools or seniors knitting groups, call a scrap metal collector from the newspaper, people will pick up metal to make a few dollars for themselves. If you are close to a landfill and only have a few items, call someone from newspaper or Gumtree who has a ute, much cheaper. Skip Bins come in various sizes, no need for huge Bin if you are only going to half fill it. I hope these tips help you in your time of need.
    1st Dec 2017
    My mother requested that family members take what they have bought her over the years which made things easier. It can be a traumatic experience.- Before she passed she distributed photos to family members.
    16th Dec 2017
    I found a lot of charities are very fussy what they accept now. Some that the attitude that if they can't sell it fairly quickly in one of their op shops they aren't interested. Because of Occupational Health and Safety Laws and the risk of people who visit the stores hurting themselves, they hav to be able to store things such as wardrobes, dressing tables etc against their walls. They won't take the old type of bed that has metal springs in the framework. Somebody might jamb their fingers in one. I asked one charity why they couldn't store some of the items to give to those whose houses were destroyed during a disaster.....They weren't interested in my idea......When there is a disaster those same charities call for urgent donations. I ended up dumping resonably good furniture that nobody would take. Friends of ours had a very solid good quality wardrobe. They reckoned they wouldn't be able to sell it as people don't want that style now. Another person I know offered a wardrobe with a matching mini-wardrobe attached to the top of it. The charity the elderly lady offered it to would only accept it if it was dismantled for them. She had no family at all, and she wasn't going to pay somebody to dismantle it to give it away.
    20th Dec 2017
    Just another helpful hint, if you have a local Facebook group, like 'buy, swap, sell' you would find people who are moving into their first home who need anything and everything to furnish it. Offer things for cheap/free if necessary, at least it is going to a good home and saving tipping fees, good luck

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