Make an Estate Sale Cleanout Easier and More Eco-Friendly

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Nobody wants to think about an estate sale

You may be tasked with selling a loved one’s home and belongings before the realization that they have passed has barely settled in.

We become responsible for the people that go before us as we get older – and their belongings. Sometimes it’s easier to pack it all in boxes and take it home, put it in the garage, and deal with it later. Except that later never comes. Then your family members have your things to cope with but, in addition, all those boxes you brought home years ago.

I work with family members who are selling a house for their deceased loved one I offer a couple of options. They can follow through to dispose of all of the items that are left once all of the important items have been claimed by the family,  Then they can let me know when the house is ready to put on the market.

Or they can give me the keys and be done. I’ll take care of everything while keeping them informed all along the way. They don’t have to add overwhelm on top of grief because they don’t know what to do with the belongings that are left behind. 

She said, “I’m exhausted.”

Recently my client gave me the keys and said, “I’ve had enough.” She had done as much as she could and was exhausted. She was working full time and then spending every weekend cleaning out the house. Her family had owned the house for 40+ years. It was full of wonderful memories and a lot of items that held no significance for her. It’s really hard to make the decision to throw things away but what else can you do? You can’t keep it all.

10 tips to make An Estate Sale Cleanout Easier

I have a process that I’ve worked out over the years to make sure as much as possible stays out of the landfill. Here are my 10 tips to make it a little easier when you manage the remaining belongings yourself:

1. Getting organized and coming up with a plan will make an estate sale cleanout easier

The first thing you’ll need to do is to get organized whether the occupant of the house was elderly, owned the house for many years, was a hoarder or just collected a lot of things, .

Go into each room, take a look around, and assess what’s in there.  You’re not going to remember what you saw if the house is overly full of belongings. Take notes and/or pictures.

Then take some time to think about where to start. Some people will start with one room at a time. Others will gather all similar items together. For example, put all the clothes together in one place. Try to have a plan beforehand to keep you from getting overwhelmed.  And when you do get overwhelmed, it’s time to take a break.

Everybody seems to collect bags. Do you have a stash of grocery bags at home just in case? You can use those bags to help you organize items.

2. What to do with medications when managing an estate sale

Call the local pharmacy to find out where you can drop off old prescriptions. One task done and one less toxin in the dump.


3. Donate food to make estate sale preparation easier

We’re probably all conditioned to donate food. If you’re not sure where the local food collection site or senior center is located in your community, Google it! Be sure to check the dates on everything before taking it home or giving it away.

4. Recycle everything possible when handling an estate sale

Another thing we’ve been conditioned to do is recycle everything possible. You can create “stations” where all the items are collected – including recycling – and then put into bags. Or you can roll the cans close to a door and toss everything recyclable in there.

Over time, it’s easy to lose track of what has been collected.  I sold a house for a family whose aunt had so much paper we had to use a trailer to haul it away. 

5. Don’t throw anything away before you look inside

Look inside whether it’s a book, a jacket, or a couch. Not only do we lose things but we forget where we put them. Check the pockets of clothing, flip through the pages of books, and look under and between the couch cushions.

From personal experience

When my father died, I was going through the boxes that had been left in the attic by my thieving family. They were too lazy to go up there and get them down. There were all sorts of handwritten notes, strange letters that didn’t mean anything to me, bills, and statements. As I went through the box, one piece of paper at a time, I found one that said something like, “Thank you for opening your Ing account.” I pulled that one out, put it aside, and kept looking.

That Monday I called Ing Bank and told them who I was, gave them the account number, and asked how much was in the account, if anything. Of course, he wouldn’t tell me. He couldn’t divulge that kind of information. He explained what I had to do to claim the funds. The one question I was quick to think of was: Is it worth going through the process to get the money? He said, “Oh, yes, it is.”

Okay. I mailed off one of the 15 originals of the death certificate I had purchased. I was down to a lot fewer than 15 by then. Every organization that you want something from needs an original. (This reminds me of another tip: If you’re the trustee get a lot more originals than you think you’ll need.) Then I waited. There ended up being $39,000 in that account.

Now, eventually, the bank would have found me – I hope. They’ll go in search of the person after a period of time goes by and they haven’t had any contact from the account holder, no transactions have gone through, their calls and letters are not answered,  Who knows how long that would have taken. So be sure to open everything and look to see what it is before you throw it away.

6. Blankets, towels, sheets can be donated

Use the towels and blankets for packing delicate breakables if you’re packing for your next move or packing items to ship out to other family members. If not, call your local pet shelter.  It’s a real treat to walk into the Humane Society with bags of blankets and towels. They’re so appreciative. The last time I went, they thought I was leaving and said “thank you.” I was walking out to get more bags from the car! That simple donation really helps them cut costs.

Pet carriers, cages, and supplies can also be donated.

7. More on donating during estate sale preparation

If you’re donating a lot of things to one organization ask them if they want the small appliances for the cords – not the appliances themselves. I learned through our local SPCA that they wanted the small home appliances for the copper in the cords. Nobody wants the old vacuum cleaner or hair dryer. Donating them keeps them out of the landfill.

8. Google it

If something looks like it might have value but you’re not sure, Google it. I can look at something and tell if it has value but I can’t tell you how much value, Prices, and trends change. The important thing is not to get rid of that ugly table before you know what it’s worth.

Dad’s Table

I recently helped a client get the ready to put on the market for rent. The family had chosen the things they wanted. What was left needed to be disposed of. There was a coffee table that was pretty ugly – at least to them. It definitely wasn’t my taste but for whatever reason it looked like it could be “something.” I Googled my description; the colors, and that it was a coffee table. It took me a while but I actually found it. It was a Hollywood Regency coffee table retailing at about $3,000.

Just because it’s ugly doesn’t mean it’s not valuable to somebody. There are plenty of things that have value that you might think are hideous. There are consignment stores, estate sale companies, and antique dealers who will give you a valuation of items. Call one of them before you call the hauler, .

9. Call PARCA

Thirty percent of PARCAs, Partners & Advocates for Remarkable Children & Adults, budget comes from donated clothing that they then sell by the pound. They’re a wonderful organization that has helped so many families. Consider them when disposing of clothing.

10. Calling the hauler is the last thing to do when doing an estate sale cleanout

Be sure everything left in the house is meant for the dumps before you have the hauler come out. They don’t make money standing around. They’re going to come in like stampeding elephants to get everything out as quickly as possible. Before you can say, “Not that!” it’ll be gone.

If you’d rather not deal with it, call your favorite realtor to see how they can help you.

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