There comes a time in most people’s lives when downsizing is necessary. Your parents might have reached this point, especially if their nest is officially empty. Downsizing is when you move from a larger home into a smaller home. Similarly, many older people downsize before moving into a retirement or nursing facility. If you have elderly parents, downsizing is a common experience.
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Helping your parents downsize brings everyone closer together. Not only do you have the opportunity to help them sort through their most important belongings, but you take charge of this important life milestone. Similar to having a talk with parents about end-of-life planning, helping your parents downsize into a smaller home is a necessary part of aging.
Because downsizing is a big task, here are 20 tips to quickly clean out your elderly parent’s home.
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Tips for Deep Cleaning Your Parent’s House
Deep cleaning your parent’s home is an understandable challenge. If you grew up in the home, you might have a lot of memories. Sifting through your parent’s things brings these memories to the surface. In addition, your parents might not be able to clean their home as thoroughly in their old age. These tips make the cleaning process less demanding.
1. Search for financial and legal documents
One of the first steps should be to search for financial and legal documents. These are likely stored in an office, filing cabinets, drawers, or even under the mattress.
Taking the time to search for things like an advance directive and insurance documents before starting the deep cleaning process ensures they aren’t lost in the chaos. Once you find these documents, secure them in a safe location.
2. Create a sorting system
This process is less stressful if you have a sorting system. You’ll need a way to identify what to keep, what to donate or sell, and what to throw away. This isn’t always simple, especially if family members fight over what to keep or what to throw away. To keep your system organized, use color-coded stickers or create organized piles for each category.
3. Divide the labor
Cleaning a home comes with physical labor. This could be a big task depending on the size of your parent’s house and the state its in. Luckily, you don’t have to take on this burden alone. Divide up the physical labor amongst your friends and family.
Don’t wait for anyone else to make decisions. Assign jobs as needed and don’t be afraid to ask for help. For larger homes, it might be worth hiring a cleaning professional to assist with this process.
4. Be meticulous
Cleaning gets tiring quickly. Most of us aren’t used to deep cleaning for hours on end or days at a time. It’s normal to feel exhausted. If you’re tempted to cut corners and avoid cleaning out certain areas, think again.
You never know what you’ll find in a stray drawer or in the back of the closet. Being meticulous is key to this process, even if it takes longer.
5. Preserve memorabilia and photos
You’re likely to come across memorabilia and other photos during your cleaning. These are irreplaceable, and you should do your best to preserve these. Store them in a safe place away from other cleaning supplies. Even if you don’t have physical space for these, they’re easy to store digitally.
6. Rent a dumpster
You’ll quickly discover that you have a lot to throw away. Unfortunately, most of your parent’s things likely won’t be needed or wanted. This is normal, and you shouldn’t feel any shame about disposing of things you no longer need. They served their purpose for your parents, and now it’s time for you to throw them away.
Because the pile of things to throw away quickly grows, consider renting a dumpster. This is simpler than you think, and it allows waste management professions to remove these unwanted belongings as soon as possible.
7. Repaint the walls
If you’re preparing the house for sale, you should consider repainting the walls. When walls have holes and other signs of wear and tear, this is a turn off to buyers.
Aside from removing any hangings and artwork, be sure to fill in the holes and repaint. The best color to paint is a fresh shade of white. It’s surprising just how refreshing this is for an older property.
8. Deep clean or replace the flooring
When going through the home, you’ll likely notice the floor isn’t in its best shape. This is normal for any home that’s been lived in for a while. Whether you’re planning to sell or keep the property, it’s worth updating the floor.
Wait until all of the furniture and belongings are no longer in the home. From there, it’s much easier to update the flooring. You might choose to replace it altogether or just hire a professional cleaning service.
9. Check the ceilings
Another area that often goes unnoticed with deep cleanings is the ceilings. The home’s ceiling takes a beating over time as well, though not as much as other areas. Check the ceilings for signs of wear and tear, like cracks in the paint.
And, replace any outdated light fixtures. Just beware! These get dirty over time, especially when they’re not properly cleaned over time. Replacing them with new, updated features makes the home a brighter place.
10. Clean top to bottom
Finally, once you clear the home of your parent’s belongings, it’s time to really get cleaning. Deep cleaning means taking the time for those smaller touches that are easily overlooked. If your parents were elderly, these areas might not have been cleaned in some time.
Pay close attention to the things that wouldn’t be easy for an elderly person to clean. These are the places to spend extra time to return the home to top condition.
Tips for Organizing, Keeping, and Selling Belongings
Aside from deep cleaning the home, there are other practical steps to take. From securing the property to staying organized, these tips will prepare you to handle these belongings with confidence.
11. Change the locks
One of the first things you should do when you clean the home is to change the locks. Why? Because you don’t know how many keys your parents might have given to the house. These might be in the hands of friends, family, and other people you don’t know.
Even if your parents trust these individuals, it’s a good idea to change the locks. Since collecting all the spare keys just isn’t practical, changing the locks helps you sleep better at night.
12. Forward the mail
When mail starts to stack up, the home becomes a target. Thieves look for homes that look empty. If there is mail piling up by the door and in the mailbox, this is a bright flag for criminals. To be safe, collect your parent’s mail regularly.
You should also file a form with the post office to have this mail forwarded to the new address.
13. Plan your parent’s will
Believe it or not, this is a great time to talk about dividing your parent’s assets. A will is a legal document explaining your parent’s wishes for their property after death.
Since this might be the last time everyone has a chance to go through personal belongings, it’s also a good opportunity to have these talks.
14. Hire an estate liquidator
If you have a large number of items you plan to sell, an estate liquidator does this for you. They know the market, and they’ll be a fantastic asset when it comes to organizing and selling your parent’s things.
While you can always do this yourself, the time might not be worth the effort.
15. Look for vintage
Believe it or not, there’s a large market for vintage fashion. When cleaning your parent’s clothing, pay close attention to labels, quality, and wear.
If it’s in good condition, you might try your hand at selling these items online or at a local consignment shop. They might be worth a pretty penny! Again, an estate liquidator might help with this.
16. Donate to charity
It’s normal to feel a mix of emotions when handling your loved one’s belongings. These all had meaning to your parents at one time. In the case of items you no longer plan to keep, consider giving to charity. Letting these items go to a good home helps you feel more at peace about your decision.
17. Keep family away (for now)
When you just start to go through your parent’s belongings, keep family away from the home. When you have a rush of family members, emotions run high. It’s hard to keep track of what you’re saving and what’s taken.
Instead, keep family away until you’ve already gone through the home. Bringing in smaller groups of relatives keeps the tension down. Make sure your parents feel in control of this process.
18. Pace yourself
You don’t have to go through all of your parent’s belongings at once. Stumbling upon things you haven’t seen before or in several years is understandably a challenge. Set deadlines and goals for your progress. It’s okay if you can’t get everything sorted in one (or even a few) sessions.
19. Learn how to let go
Letting go of your parent’s things often feels like you’re letting go of a part of them. While this is easier said than done, take strides to learn to let go. This won’t be easy, but it is possible.
Remember that your memories of this home and the belongings live on even if the things are no longer with you. For those belongings that are especially hard to say goodbye to, consider taking a photo.
20. Surround yourself with support
Finally, when organizing your parent’s things, surround yourself with support. This could be other family members or even friends who have never met your parents. Your support system is an exceptional resource when the going gets tough. Let them be the voice of reason when deciding what to keep and what to part with.
Take the Process One Step at a Time
Cleaning your parent’s home in preparation for downsizing is no easy task. This is a time when emotions are high. You’ll discover things you didn’t know your parents had, and you’ll learn more about them in the process.
Be sure to take each step one at a time. Depending on your deadline, you don’t need to rush through everything. While cleaning the home, you’ll likely shed tears and laugh a few laughs. Let yourself experience this process with your loved ones.
- Ekerdt, David J, and Aislinn Addington. “Possession divestment by sales in later life.” Journal of Aging Studies vol. 34 (2015): 21-8. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.