Perhaps the first consideration before cleaning (aka, throwing stuff out) at a parent’s house is to determine why you are helping to go through years of stuff. Is your parent moving to a smaller home? Will the house be going up for sale after a death? Will an adult child be moving back to the house? Or, do you have a parent who will continue to live in the house and you want to clear out clutter that could be confusing or could create an injury hazard? This question will determine the level of cleaning you will be doing.
Creating a Plan for Cleaning and Organizing a House
Before you do anything, walk through the house taking pictures. Stand in the center of the room and snap enough pictures so you have a 360 degree view of each room. Whether or not you’re emptying the house, this step helps you see what you’ve accomplished.
Next, list all of the rooms in the house, any sheds, porches, garages, attics, etc. Some of the areas you may want to divide into smaller sections, such as: basement/exercise area; basement/laundry room; basement; storage area. List closets individually and separately. You may also want to list congested hutches, dressers, shelf units, etc. as separate entities if you like the sense of accomplishment you get from crossing something off a to-do list.
Don’t consider these steps a waste of time. If you hired someone to do this task, they’d go through the house to get a scope of the job. Also, if you feel overwhelmed and want to procrastinate, this starts you moving.
Organize Your Life
Consider how many years your parents lived at the house and estimate a week, minimum, for each year of residence (if you have a lot of time, estimate a full day for each year). Now, consider how many hours you have to give to cleaning, on average, each week. Next, consider how many people will be helping as this will greatly speed up the process (and another reason that list will come in handy). If you are working by yourself and you have only an hour a week to work on this project, you’ll be frustrated with your progress by week two.
Establish an area in the house to accumulate collectibles and antiques for future appraisal or division among family members. If the parent continues to live at home, group like items on shelves or tabletops as this may help the parent realize that they can winnow through belongings they have in multiples. This is also a technique interior designers use to accentuate collections and make them look more impressive.
Set up another location for bags and boxes of items that will go to charity. This way you can see when there is enough stuff to warrant calling for a pickup or making the trip to a donation center yourself.
Helping a Parent
If you have a parent living in the house, he or she may or may not be thrilled to have your help. If one area creates an argument, try another room or type of item (canned goods instead of books).
Again, group items, whether they are water globes, cans of tuna fish, bank statements, mugs, or magazines. This way your parent can see what they have in abundance. This may (may) eliminate a fight over removing a stack of old newspaper.
These steps can give you a sense of accomplishment (cross things off that list) as you create clarity within clutter. Look at each part of the house as a separate entity so you don’t feel overwhelmed by thinking about “the house.”