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How To Clean Out Your Grandma's House

How To Clean Out Your Grandma's House

Freda Heller

I'm sorry I've been MIA. This is the longest I've gone without posting, and it feels like forever. I have a good reason--promise. I've been busy and stressed and feeling less than inspired. I promise we'll be back to our regularly scheduled San Francisco programming shortly, but first a little update on me.

How to clean out your grandmas house
my grandmother was fabulous

I run Limitless San Francisco in my free time, and I haven't had much time or space or even thoughts to myself lately. My day job is managing all marketing at a world-class architecture firm here in SF, and we've been crazy busy. Which is great, but leaves little brain power left over at the end of the day. My family has been having a tough time lately, with multiple loved ones fighting illnesses, and all the grieving, stress and heartache that comes with loss.

We lost my grandmother in November, but I really felt the stress of everything over the last few weeks. Her estate took a while to be settled, and then the house sold. She was lucky enough to live to 99 and stay in her own home, but that means there was a lot of work to do. It was stressful, and painstakingly slow at times, but we did it! It's empty! I wound up in charge of the whole thing for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I'm easily the most organized when it comes to packing, moving, donating, etc. I've been fully pre-occupied with it, and wanted to share a comprehensive list of tips and pointers. 

photos by robert heller
how to clean out grandmas house

1. Try to watch out for all those feelings

This was hard for me, but it's probably the most important part when it comes to emptying out a loved one's house. I don't feel much/any/even a little attachment to most material objects. My grandma had a detailed will, and made sure each of us knew in advance what we were getting. But, this still left lots of stuff. She had less things than the average person, but there was still a lot. My dad isn't great at downsizing, and had a tough time with many of her items. Asking him specifically if things could be donated or given away was the best way of going about it, but it took up large chunks of time. I felt like I was on one of those hoarders shows.

vintage polo advertisement robert heller
cleaning out your parents house

2. Make a plan, and DELEGATE!

I took some time and made a list of all the types of items I knew were in her house, and researched things like how to recycle mattresses, what items our local animal shelter would take, which charity were we going to donate most of the household items and clothing too, and who could help when. I got really good at giving people tasks to do. Try to make everyone feel useful and included, and give them things to do that they can be successful at. While my dad isn't good at going through things, he's great at dropping off donations, telling off people on the phone, and knowing what papers need to be kept. My sister wound up taking a good chunk of the furniture and kitchen items, so helping her get packed and organized made it easier to see what needed to be donated.

We made a new rule in my parent's house that would work for anyone having trouble downsizing or decluttering: If it has your name on it, you can choose to throw out/donate/recycle it. No one else can question your choice, and no one can look through your trash. I also cleaned out and organized part of my parent's garage and their guest room. I threw out middle school report cards, a flat volley ball and a bunch of random things I'd thought were cool when I was 12. My mom recycled magazines, old mail and lots of random stuff. Marie Kondo would be proud.

how to empty out your dead grandmas house
my grandma was an instababe before that was a thing

3. Don't be afraid of making decisions

Everyone in my family is older than me, except for my sister, and I'm still not quite sure how I wound up in charge, but I did, and it was a lot. But, I also know that if I hadn't stepped in, we'd be coming up fast on our closing date with a house full of stuff. I'm trying to get my parents to downsize their stuff, so I knew they really didn't need any more stuff to deal with. There was a lot of family art that wound up coming to their house, but other than that almost everything went somewhere else. Kitchen stuff, clothing, bedding, towels, furniture, collectibles, books, cds--everything got donated.

It was hard for some of our older relatives to see that the younger generation has little to no interest in collecting more stuff. My dad was legit surprised at how happy the animal shelter and local Discovery Shop were with all the donations. He was impressed that someone on Craigslist would not only want all four mattresses and frames, but would show up less than an hour after they were posted and haul them away. 

Did you know:

You can donate old towels, bedding, sheets, blankets and heating pads to your local animal shelter? Check with them first, but ours was happy to have a whole SUV full!

San Francisco offers a free large/bulky item pick up, but not every city does. Check with your local trash service. In SF, they'll take mattresses, old furniture, electronics and even building supplies.

Women's Shelters always need new and unopened personal care products, soap, hair products, make up, etc. They can be hard to find, but easy to contact. Sometimes they'll offer to meet at a local parking lot to pick up the donations. This may seem strange, but they're protecting the annonimity and safety of their residents.

Faith organizations are great for connecting donations with families in need. My grandma's temple took a lot of her kitchen supplies and pantry staples. 

We donated a lot of her personal items to her local American Cancer Society Discovery Shop. My grandpa died from pancreatic cancer, and my grandma loved shopping at the Discovery Shop. Proceeds fund cancer research. 

*All photos by my talented late grandfather, Robert Heller. He was always taking photos, especially of my grandmother, Freda. They were married when she was 19 and he was 21. They were each other's person. <3

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