Tips for Clearing Out the Home of a Loved One

5 tips for clearing out the home of a loved one whether it’s through loss, downsizing or becoming a multi-generational family.


Tips for Clearing Out the Home of a Loved One

As we get older, we find ourselves taking on responsibilities that we never quite imagined. Whether it’s due to the loss of a loved one, a downsizing situation or becoming a multigenerational household, at some point you may find yourself in the position of having to clear out a loved one’s home.


Thankfully, there are resources to guide this process and the following tips may help as you navigate this journey.

  • 1

    Talk openly but listen more

    When the decision has been made to downsize, or a relative has passed, have open conversations as early on in the process as possible. For those who are downsizing, make sure you start the discussions by asking what that looks like for them and how you can help. As the person helping, your most important task at first is to listen. We all come to the table with specific ideas of how things should be done and it’s very easy to take over but hearing what your loved one wants and is important to them is a critical first step.

    Matt Paradise of Massachusetts assisted his in-laws with clearing out their home so they could move in with he and his wife. He shares, “My wife and I were careful not to take over with our opinions. For example, we had ideas on how to maximize the value of the home as we prepared to sell it. We were careful to consider my in-laws budget and time frame. They were interested in selling as soon as possible so the stress of owning the home wasn't an ongoing burden.”

  • 2

    Approach it with sensitivity, dignity and respect

    You may be entering a loved one’s home after they have passed or you’re helping aging parents or another loved one move out of their home and to another location so want to be mindful of the situation at hand. Let your loved one take the lead especially if it involves downsizing items which can be very emotional. For the home of a loved one who has passed, this can be emotional for you since you’ll be taking the lead on how to handle the contents of the home.

    Don’t feel pressure to keep things out of guilt but always keep your loved one front of mind when making decision of where items should go. Donating to those in need may be a good way of honoring them or passing sentimental items to family members who might appreciate them.

  • 3

    Collaborate as a team with clear goals

    Matt and his wife found that ensuring goals were clarified was a helpful thing, “We found it helpful to clearly identify the goals of cleaning out the home and moving,” identifying what was most important to all involved. Feel free to throw out ideas which can sometimes lead to unexpected collaboration as Matt and his wife found out.

    Matt didn’t realize that his in-laws weren’t familiar with yard sales as he had assumed so he was thankful that he brought it up. He says, “There is value in not taking things for granted and presenting new ideas. We suggested a yard sale for the many years of accumulated belongings. My in-laws weren't familiar with the concept and didn't think anyone would want old junk. Their minds were changed after we made several hundred dollars. My father in-law was so excited that he didn't need to pay for junk removal, and on top of that, made money!”

  • 4

    Expect to feel a range of emotions

    Whether you’re the person doing the clearing out or you’re assisting a loved one, expect to feel emotional while going through the process. Matt reiterates this by saying, “My in-laws were emotional that we offered to move them into our house and care for them into retirement. Building a sizable addition for them to move into was stressful. Though the process was a significant sacrifice for everyone, we knew that taking care of them was the best for our family. Keeping that in mind helped to keep everything in perspective. We wanted to honor family and care of aging parents.”

  • 5

    Embrace that things don’t always go to plan

    The famous writer Robert Burns wrote, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” These words ring true in this situation. When you’re taking on a job as big as clearing out an entire home, know that it will be impossible to fully control every step of the process. Matt shares, “My wife and I are careful planners, but we're learning to let go of the things we can't control and fully embrace the messiness of life. We can't change her parents to make decisions according to what we think is best and vice versa. We can't control health challenges or emergencies. They have and will continue to come, and usually it's never a good time. That's all just part of life and living it to the fullest.”

The bottom line is taking your time, respecting those involved and doing the best for your loved one in the end. It may end up leading to a whole new perspective and life. About his in-laws living with them, Matt shares, “We've found that the living arrangement is enriching. Our son finds additional security in experiencing deep familial roots.”

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