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Clearing Out the Past: Deceased Estate House Clearing

When it comes to deceased estate house clearing, there is relatively little tradition on how to go about it compared to organising a funeral.

Yet, you may be faced with a lot of possessions to sort through when a close friend or family member passes away, especially when they haven’t cleaned up before their death. Here are some major things to consider when choosing how to deal with a deceased estate.

Importance of Clearing Out a Deceased Estate

It can be challenging and even unpleasant to declutter after a loved one passes away, but it can also be a necessary step in moving on.

The physical act of decluttering might help you come to terms with the death of a family member. Sorting through their stuff and recalling more positive memories of them, rather than only those connected to their death, could aid in the mourning process.

Challenges Faced When Clearing Out a Deceased Estate

deceased estate Little Miss Organised Brisbane

When a loved one has passed away, there are several difficulties to overcome:

1. First, it can be quite difficult to separate your desire to have a connection to that person from your desire to be surrounded by their personal belongings while you are grieving their loss and cleaning out their possessions.. 

2. Second, you typically would find decluttering your own life to be challenging. When you add another person’s possessions on top of that, it becomes even more difficult, and you might not know where to start.

3. Third, you may have personal histories with some possessions, which could increase your emotional connection to them.

Hence, you may give everything value and importance and may not know which items were really cherished by the deceased.

4. “How long should you wait before trying to declutter after a family member passes away?” is another challenge and a question that several people grapple with.

However, there is no right or wrong response for when to remove a deceased person’s possessions. It all depends on the individual, whether you feel ready to go through with it.

5. Last and perhaps the most limiting complication is when an estate is worth a lot of money, you might not be permitted to begin moving items while the probate process is ongoing.

Preparing for the Deceased Estate House Clearing

Here are some helpful tips on how to declutter when someone you love died:

Getting Organised

Start with the items that are least sentimental. They are easier to get rid of and will enable you to kickstart the decluttering process.

But before you start moving anything, ensure to get everyone (family and friends) involved. You may never know what trivial object holds a lot of significance for someone else.

Sorting Items Into Categories

You can start sorting your personal belongings first because you will find it easier to work through your own stuff.

Here you can experience some major victories by starting to reduce the things that you own and become accustomed to the letting go process.

You may then go into more emotionally complicated zones if you’re feeling confident and beginning to reap the rewards of letting go. 

Choose a few cherished objects that hold fond memories for you and that you adore. After that, go to a small category, such as jewellery and accessories.

After this, you can broaden into more substantial or intricate categories while always moving at a speed and size that seems comfortable and beneficial to you.

Deciding What to Keep, Donate, or Discard

Choose the items that will go to your loved one’s preferred charity or other preferred charity organisation such as Friends With Dignity.

This will give the procedure some context, which helps simplify the difficulty of how to get rid of emotionally sensitive personal belongings like donating clothes, accessories, and other cherished items.

If the deceased person has left behind a pet, attempt to find a compassionate friend or family member to take the pet in.

Your loved one would have wanted their cherished pet well taken care of. But if you truly can’t find a new home for the pet, ask for assistance from a local pet-rehoming organisation.

Creating a System for Distribution or Sale

Don’t toss away anything that you have not carefully examined. You may look back and wish you had donated them, offered them up for sale, or preserved them as some treasured memories.

So ensure that you create a plan for distribution or sale and get any family member or close relatives involved in the process. They might want to take some stuff for the grandkids or themselves.

The Importance of a Clean and Safe Living Space

Personal belongings Little Miss Organised Brisbane

Deceased estate house clearing can help you honour your loved one’s memories while also accepting that you must go on with your own life. Also, keeping your home clean will lower your family’s chances of being exposed to indoor contaminants, including allergens like dust mites and germs.

Your physical health and general sense of well-being depend greatly on how clean and uncluttered your living space is.

Hiring a Professional Organising Service

Oftentimes, when faced with deceased estate house clearing, it can be challenging to find the time to do everything on your own, and working with a specialist might relieve some of the stress. You may need a professional organising service especially if there’s lots of clutter in the property.

If the home is large and full of possessions it may take more time than you can afford. That’s where a professional organiser can step in and help.

Tackling the Cleaning Yourself

If you decide to handle cleaning out the deceased estate by yourself, start by wiping down the surfaces and getting rid of any pollutants, dust, or dirt. To do this, wipe them off with a hand towel and some cleaning solution or spray.  Then use a disinfectant wipe or spray that is suitable for surfaces and possessions.

Listen to Kelly and Bonnie Black discuss more about how to clean out a deceased estate on ABC Radio:

Kelly:

When someone you love dies, you’ve had the funeral, one of the last things that needs to happen is sorting out their house and belongings. It can be a bittersweet time when you find objects that bring up memories that have great meaning to you. But what do you do with all the things that you don’t want to keep? How can you avoid getting bogged down in the task? Bonnie Black is from Little Miss Organized. Hello!

Bonnie:

Hi, Kelly. How are you? 

Kelly:

Good. Look, something we don’t think about until we’re there. It’s really something we don’t put a lot of thought into.

Navigating the Complexity of Estate Planning and Inheritance

Bonnie:

And look, with all these funeral planning ads that you hear these days, it’s not a topic that people actually want to talk about with their loved ones who are older. Nobody wants to think about the imminent doom of death, but it’s one of those facts of life, isn’t it? Birth, death, marriages, taxes, all those things.

Kelly:

That’s exactly right. And for some people who are organised, they make it very easy for those who were left behind to divvy up whatever needs to be divvied up. Others don’t leave a will of any kind, and nobody really knows. But then there are those who are like locusts after somebody has died and before the body is even cold, have ripped through the house, taken what they wanted, and the rest of the relays get there and go, What happened in Nana’s good dining suite? And Wait a minute, where did the jewelry go? So there are lots of levels of how this happens, and either the feelings of goodwill and togetherness that can come from it, or families that are totally split by what happens after someone dies.

Bonnie:

And look, it’s a really emotional time for people, whether you loved or didn’t particularly like the person who’s passed away. Whatever has happened in the past, it is a really emotional time. So if there’s other factors in play, like you don’t have a will, or things weren’t be quashed, or perhaps they hadn’t done any cleanup in the years prior to their death, then it can be a real feeding frenzy. And that can be really hard to deal with, who’s in control, who’s taking over, all that thing. 

Options for Dealing with Inherited Belongings

Kelly:

1300 222 612 this afternoon. If you have an object that you treasure after someone passed away, a loved one died, what is it? Tell us about that and what it means to it. It might be something very small and insignificant to somebody else that would just mean the world to you. 1300 222 612 this afternoon. So what do we do with other people’s things?

The Role of Charities

Bonnie:

Look, there’s so many things that you can do. It depends on what it is that we’re talking about. So often when someone has passed away, they leave a whole lot of furniture, and it might not be our style. We’re seeing now as the generations grow up. I’m in my 30s and a lot of people my age don’t want our parents’ taste in furniture. We would like to be able to buy our new things. Whereas people who are more in their 50s and 60s, I find, tend to still like some of the things that their parents had. So there’s that factor coming through.

And a lot of people who are getting elderly don’t really take that into consideration that their children or their grandchildren actually don’t want any of their furniture or any of their crockery because it’s a whole different generation of taste this time. So, places like Friends with Dignity, who helped set up homes for domestic violence victims. They’re our favourite charity to donate all our furniture and all our crockery and all that thing, too.

And you can just send a photo of what you want to donate to info@friendswithdignity or donate at www.friendswithdignity.org.au. They’re wonderful because everything that you don’t need any more that doesn’t fit into your house or is not part of your style, they’ll actually take it and they’ll go and put it to good use somewhere else. And that’s what I love about being connected with charities like them.

Honoring Loved Ones’ Memory Through Thoughtful Handling of Belongings

Kelly:

So even if you don’t want it and the item is still in good nick, there are ways to make sure that it still has another life somewhere else with somebody who needs it.

Bonnie:

Absolutely. And we call it giving it a chance at a second life because not everything that you don’t want needs to go to the tip. And in fact, 90 % of the items that we get rid of don’t need to go into the landfill. They can be reused by somebody else.

Kelly:

And is that part of honouring their memory?

Bonnie:

Definitely. Because I think people hold on to the stuff of loved ones past because they don’t want to just throw it into the landfill because they think, Oh, that’s not honouring their memory. That’s not what mum or gran or whoever would want me to do with it. And the guilt factor can sometimes come in, what would they say if they saw what I was doing with this? Or all that thing. And especially if you’ve had someone in your life who might be a little bit of an emotional manipulator, they might say to you, now, when I’m gone, don’t you do this with that? And they might place some rules on you. But if you do want to honour their memory, keeping everything in a back shed where it’s getting dirty and dusty, that’s not honourable.

Kelly:

So what are some tips for cleaning up a deceased estate?

Effective Strategies for Dealing with a Deceased Estate and the Importance of a Support Buddy

Bonnie:

Look, the first thing to do is to actually have a plan. So whoever needs to be involved, get everybody together, have a big family powwow, use video conferencing if people are not all in the same location, but get everybody on the same page. Because if one person jumps in gung ho and the other people feel like they haven’t been included in the discussion, then that can really cause some fairly big issues. So making a plan is definitely the first step.

And then, of course, having some things in place for when you’re actually going through and doing the organising and the sorting of things, making sure that you keep what needs to be kept and maybe needs to be valued by someone donating the things that are donatable that nobody else wants, tossing the things that are rubbish or recycling, and just making sure that you’re not distracted while you’re doing it, that you’re actually getting in there and being really efficient, if you like.

Kelly:

Yeah. How about having people with you? Who’s good to have there doing this job as well?

The Importance of a Support Buddy During Deceased Estate Cleanup

Bonnie:

Look, you’ve always got to find a buddy when you’ve got to do a deceased estate. So whether it’s a sibling or a partner or just a loved one in general or even just a friend, find a buddy and have them come along with you because it can be a really emotional time. And if you find that you’re the one out of all the siblings who’s doing the cleaning up and you’re on your own, you can feel lonely, you can feel more grief. You don’t have anyone to share those memories with.

And there’s something special about being able to go through somebody’s things and say, Remember when mum did this? Do you remember this? And just actually honouring their memory by sharing that with their buddy as well. And the buddy keeps you accountable. When you need a break. They say, Okay, time to have a break.

Exploring the Potential for Estate Cleanup Services and the Role of Objective Support

Kelly:

This would be a really good business. It would be. I reckon it would be. Cleaning up. Maybe people are already doing it. I’ve just never had to avail myself of it. But that idea that once you’ve gone through and decided who’s getting the jewelry and whatever else, for somebody else to actually just come in and deal with the rest of it.

Bonnie:

This sounds like a business for Little Miss Organized, doesn’t it, Kelly? 

Kelly:

It does. But certainly not me because I’m like, Oh, I don’t know what to do with it. So finding a buddy and somebody who’s… So is it good to have somebody there who’s not going to fall maybe into the same traps as you emotionally? That they’re the people who are able to say, you actually don’t need to keep all your names towels. It’s okay to let those things go.

Bonnie:

Yeah. Sometimes we do need someone who’s maybe a bit of a third party and who doesn’t have an emotional investment in what you’re actually doing because they’re the people who can actually be honest and objective and say, Look, quality over quantity, and you just need to pick the things that mean the most to you rather than keeping everything.

Kelly:

Yeah. Now, we’ve got Jen from Willington Point. Hi, Jen.

Jen:

Hello.

Kelly:

What do you have that is a treasure to you that belonged to someone, a loved one who passed away?

Navigating Inheritance Decisions and the Value of Family Discussions

Jen:

Well, I haven’t quite passed on yet, but we’re great grandparents now, so we’re obviously sorting things out. And I went around all the family and said, is there anything special you’d like? Made a list. The only thing that everyone in the family wanted was the Mahjong set. So that’s going to be the one thing that’s going to be a problem, who do we leave it to?

Kelly:

Well, that’s when the bribes start, isn’t it? That’s when you start whose child is named after you, for example, who takes you on the best holidays, whatever. So it’s interesting. How do you know that? Has everyone talked about that?

Jen:

Well, yes. But as I said, I went around and we got reasonable things and everything, and one wanted my writing zero, and one wanted something else, and one wanted a funny little table that’s absolutely useless to anyone that has memories. We’re just saying it’s the memories, but every single one of them said the Mahjong set.

Kelly:

Well, that’s for them to sort out after you.

Practical Strategies for Organising and the Concept of an “Elsie Basket”

Jen:

Go, Jen. Once we’re gone, it’s not going to matter. It doesn’t matter to you at all. I think that will be one thing that will stay in the family, though, by the sound of it. Which would be great. 

Kelly:

Yes. Beautiful. Thank you, Jen. 

Jen:

Thank you. Bye-bye, Jen at Willington Point. 

Kelly:

Fancy knowing that there was that one thing that they were all after.

Bonnie:

At least it’s out in the open.

Kelly:

It is. They can start to talk about it now. Georgia on Twitter says, my mom has a photo of her dad who left the family when she was eight. He died in 2013 and it’s the only thing she has and treasures it. There we go. You never know what it is that is going to be completely meaningful to someone else. Now working methodically as well, what does that mean? Because I have no idea, trust me, when it comes to cleaning a house. It’s like, oh, no. Yeah, shiny, I’m finished now.

Bonnie:

Yes. One of the tips that we use when organising is actually to have an Elsie basket. So this might just be your laundry basket and you have this to work with you. And this works well when decluttering any space, but can also be helpful for deceased estate.

The Practical Use of an “Elsie Basket” in Organising and Decluttering

Kelly:

What’s an Elsie basket?

Bonnie:

It’s wonderful. So the Elsie basket, or we called it the Elsa basket for a few years when the frozen thing was no big. The Elsie basket is where you put anything that belongs elsewhere than the room that you’re working in. So say you’re working in the kitchen and you find things that belong in the office or in the laundry, you don’t want to go down to the office and put them away then because what happens? It just sits in the basket in the office. You get distracted.

Kelly:

Yeah. Oh, there we go. 

Bonnie:

Yes. And then all of a sudden… What would I do with it? All of a sudden you’re in the office thinking, I’ve got to clean this up. And then you go to put something else away, say, down in the bedroom and you get distracted down the bedroom. You’ve watched me.I have done it. I know. I am aware of everything. We’re all the same, really. So the elsewhere basket is where you put all these things that you can put away at the end of your time, doing some decluttering and some organising. So this is helpful in working methodically through a deceased state is making sure that you’ve got an elsewhere basket and then emptying it periodically if it’s getting too full.

Staying Organized

And just starting in one room and working your way through. I mean, when we had two of our grandparents pass away last year on different sides of the family, the cleanups were both very different. I, of course, had a really big hand in both of them because of what I do. But my mum, for example, I had helped her declutter over four years beforehand because my upper had passed away quite some years ago, and I knew she would be needing to move into a low care facility. And so I gradually worked with her over four years, getting rid of things.

And she did the requital thing of, okay, I want this to go to that person. We labeled and we took photos. And so when that time came after she passed, it was much easier for us. All very clear. I was very organised. It was wonderful. Whereas on the other side of things, on my other side of the family, trying to work through some of those things were a little bit more tricky because my grandmother, who is still alive after my grandfather passed away, she’s not got her memory.

And so trying to remember, were these particular items for this particular person? And what do we do with this? So it made the process a little bit more tricky. And because there wasn’t just one person in charge of the process, there were several people you were always trying to defer and make sure that everybody was happy and make sure that everybody was on the same page of where we were going and what we were doing. Yeah, it does make it difficult. It can make it hard.

Personal Experiences with Deceased Estate Cleanup

Kelly:

Peter’s at Bundaberg. Hi, Peter. 

Peter:

How are you doing, Phil? 

Kelly:

Good. What’s that object you have that’s really meaningful to you?

Peter:

I still got it. It’s an egg beater that my nana had.

Kelly:

What are those really old egg beaters?

Cherishing a Family Heirloom with Sentimental Value

Peter:

Very old ones, yeah, with a book bearing her old fashioned, really old. She’s been gone about 30 years. She was 90 when she passed, and she got the egg beater in her glory box when she was 16. I used to go to her house all the time. We lived there for a period of time when I was little and making cakes and biscuits and everything that they used to do back then. And then my mum got it when my Nan died. And then she gave it to me. There’s a heaps of photos of me making cakes with this egg beater when I was about four or five.

Kelly:

That’s lovely. 

Peter:

And then I’ve still got it now. And my wife can’t find one like it anywhere. You can buy the same egg beater. They’ll laugh for a little while. They go in the dishwasher once, and then they’re all rough. That’s it. They’re done. They go in the tank. But yeah, it’s up real well. And it’s just every time I really use it, I think, I remember using this when I was… And I say that to my daughter, and she goes, why do you keep it? She only a little. But she’ll work it out eventually. And I said the same thing when I was 10 or 12, I suppose. But yeah, and it was just where I have a very special bond with my nanny. She was just the nicest person I’ve ever met in my life.

Kelly:

That’s beautiful.

Peter:

That’s lovely. I named my daughter after her. There we go. I need a middle name because it was a bit old. I did that with my daughter, Nel, after my grandmother.

Donating Items from Deceased Estates and the Role of Charities

Kelly:

Yeah.

Peter:

Mine’s Heather. 

Kelly:

Beautiful. 

Peter:

My name is Heather. That’s her middle name.

Kelly:

Yeah. Peter, thank you. Great story. I loved it.

Peter:

All right. Cool. Bye.

Kelly:

Peter from Bundaberg. The old egg beater why not? Ash has called in. Ash is from Gibbet. Hi, Ash.

Ash:

Hello. How are you doing? Good.

Kelly:

How are you?

Ash:

Not too bad.

Kelly:

Do you get a lot of these donations from deceased estates? 

Ash:

Well, we do from time to time. We get a lot of people who are sometimes simply moving house or sometimes people have passed away and people want to know that the item from their loved one is going to be appreciated by someone else. And one of the best things you can do there is go around the house, take some photographs of items, perhaps you’re not sure what to do with it, but it’s really high quality and you can give it to somebody else who really needs it and make a huge difference in their lives.

Kelly:

Yeah, I think that’s great. I mean, people have favourite charities or whatever. It’s just a really good way, isn’t it, to make sure the good furniture. And a lot of people take a lot of care with their things to make sure that it gets that second or even third or fourth life that it deserves. So is it just a case of getting in contact with you as well, Ash?

Donating Items from Deceased Estates through GiveIt and Listener Experiences with Cleanup

Ash:

Well, just go through the website and literally snap a few photographs of the items that you’ve got to give. Go through giveit.org.au, upload the photographs there, giveit.org.au. Upload the photographs there. Give it a little bit of a story if you like. But for the most part, just upload the items and then charities that are registered with us around Australia can see it. It’s a free service and they can see it just like an online gum tree. But instead of selling, you’re asking you to give. And yeah, you could help people. Thousands of people used to give it every week.

Kelly:

Good stuff. Ash, thank you so much. You’re on ABC Radio, Brisbane and Queensland. It’s 5:03. Bonnie Black from Little Miss Organized is here. We’re talking about deceased estates, how you clean up and get organised after the death of a loved one, especially when it comes to their possessions. Owen McDowell, hello.

Owen McDowell:

Hey, Kerri, how are you doing?

Kelly:

Good. So what did you do?

Creative Family Auction for Inheriting Belongings and Ensuring Fair Distribution

Owen McDowell:

Look, what we did was we had a little private auction. There were some items in the house which a number of us kids wanted. So we didn’t know how to do this. We said, let’s have an auction. We had a private auction. So when we auctioned everything amongst ourselves, it set a value. Say you come to 100,000 or whatever, we divided it by three, and then we said, Okay, well, that’s the value of all the assets. So I purchased 50,000 worth of stuff so I had to pay some cash in. And until we all got squared up and level and there were no fights, no arguments. I bid my behind off for a very big person, but I got it cost me. And it was fine because that was what I wanted more than my sister. 

Kelly:

So it was an in family auction.

Owen McDowell:

In family auction, the four kids, and we bid for stuff that we wanted and we outbid each other or underbid. And it worked fine. There wasn’t a single argument about a thing. 

Kelly:

Okay. 

Owen McDowell:

It was really wonderful.

Kelly:

That’s okay if you’re all financially about the same. What if one of you is mega rich?

Owen McDowell:

Yes, clearly that could be a bit of a wrinkle, but we didn’t have that. We just knew that if you’ve been high, you’re going to have to pay. But yeah, you’re right. If one of them had been a wealthier. But for you, guys, it worked. 

Kelly:

Maybe that’s something for people who are listening who are in that same situation where it’s fair. That’s one way to do it. Why not? Who wants it the most? 

Creative Family Auction for Inheriting Belongings and Ensuring Fair Distribution

Owen McDowell:

They’re just willing to put their money where their mouth is. Not a single fight. It was really nice because it is a traumatic time for everybody.

Kelly:

It is. It is. Owen, thank you for sharing that.

Owen McDowell:

Yes. Okay. Have a good day.

Kelly:

You too. Owen McDowell. And just finally, Bob is at Strathpine. Bob, hello. 

Bob:

Hello, Kelly. How are you? 

Kelly:

Good. What’s the object you have passed down through your family?

Bob:

I have a small Bible. It’s probably about 6 inches long, which I don’t know in the metric, 6 inches long and probably about 4 inches wide. I have a Bible that obviously I got from my father when he passed away. Well, I got it out of his possessions, which weren’t very much. And I’ve kept it since 1957 when he passed away. And I believe by the inscription on the front, it was given to him by his mother. So it’s got a small inscription. Would you like me to read it to you? 

Kelly:

You’ve got 10 seconds.

Bob:

Okay, I’ll do it. 

Kelly:

You’re right. Go. 

Bob:

Remember, Albie, who gave you this, when other days shall come, when she who had thy earliest kiss lives in her narrow tomb, remember twice your mother could gave the gift of one who died to save. I bid you keep and read the book. And when the parting time should come, I shall hope. I shall have a hope. 

Kelly:

Bob, I’m sorry, I’m going to have to leave it there. It sounded lovely. But thank you for sharing. Bonnie Black from Little Miss Organized, thank you as well.

Bonnie:

Thanks, Kelly.

Kelly:

And it’s a minute, two, three.

Conclusion

Many people hold on to their loved one’s personal belongings as a way to feel closer to them. This is completely natural and understandable. But sometimes this can hold you back and keep you in the mental state of them still being around. 

Deceased estate house clearing can be a way to move on from grieving and finally coming to terms with your loss. Sometimes when people finally get rid of a deceased person’s possessions, they can feel like a weight has been lifted and suddenly feel ready for a new start. 

However, it is never a good idea to rush or force yourself to clear out a deceased estate when you are not ready. Every person is different, and so you will know when the time is right for you.

Learn more about decluttering your home and eventually accepting what you must do.

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