Downsizing: Emptying Grandma’s House

Written by Martha on August 21st, 2009

Grandma’s house. What images come to your mind when you say that phrase?  Do you smell tempting aromas of special family meals?  What lasting bits of advice ring in your ears?  Do you have the recipe for a traditional family favorite that takes you back in time when you take the first bite?

Grandparents are a rich source of history, tradition, wisdom, and unconditional love.  We wish their influence was unending, but time will not allow that.  At some point, grandma and grandpa’s children are faced with moving or emptying the contents of a home that is filled with memories.

As a professional organizer and a child who has both moved and emptied her parent’s belongings, these are a few suggestions for making that process easier.

  1. Plan the clean out day(s) ahead of time. Set the date, inform all family members, ask for RSVP.  Gather packing materials, markers, Ziplocs, and trash bags.  Choose a charity for unwanted items.  Be ready with drinks and a quick lunch for all.
  2. Take care to be both inclusive and sensitive. Each family member is dealing with strong  emotions.  Decide on a “time-out” signal that means “I/you need a break!” with no questions asked.  The message being – all are welcome, we care, and please respect the feelings of others.
  3. Decide on an equitable division of belongings. My mother let each child make requests for things that were meaningful to them before she moved.  Coded colored sticker s placed on desired items throughout the home, or a draft pick style event would also work
  4. Get an expert opinion on valuables. These are two appraisal organizations that can steer you to the expert you need:
    Appraisers Association of America –
    American Society of Appraisers –
  5. Make a deadline for pick up. Make sure everyone knows that anything left in the grandparents’ house by a certain date will be delivered to charity with NO exceptions.  Schedule a pick up of larger furniture items for donation on that date if needed.

With a little planning and a lot of patience, emptying the family home can be rich with memories and fun.  Take time during lunch to play, “I remember when…”   That is what family gatherings are all about.  It’s not about the stuff!

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