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Tips for Emptying a Loved One's Home

Are you tasked with emptying out a loved one's home? There can be a whole range of situations that can create the need for this including downsizing, an unexpected illness, or a loved one passing away. As a REALTOR® and move manager, I have helped dozens of clients through this process, and I know it can feel daunting. It is a large undertaking even in the best of circumstances. The good news is that you can take some steps now to help alleviate some of the challenges that come with this situation, and there are some great tips to help you get through the process now and in the future. It is important to note that there is no situation that is the same. While there can be similarities among families going through the process of emptying a loved one's home, each situation will be different and not all of the tips below will necessarily apply to every situation.

It may be helpful when starting the process to prioritize your goals given your particular circumstances. Understanding whether speed, cost, or details will drive the process can make a big difference in the overall task. If you are under significant time constraints, you won't have as much time to go through every item and may need to make decisions about sentimental items faster than you may like. If organizing, cataloging, and methodically going through the home is your priority, it is important to understand that this will be a long and time consuming process and will require a lot of patience. If financial constraints are a concern, or you don't want to or can't go through the home yourself, it is important to understand what you can afford in terms of bringing in outside help - or not.


  1. Identify and focus on what is important to you/other family members: Have a plan for important items such as valuables, paperwork, family heirlooms, digital information, and photographs.

  2. Take inventory and determine who wants what: Take a detailed inventory of items in the home and write them down, along with photos. Decide what items may be going with your loved one to their next residence, what items can be donated, what items are trash, and what items want to be kept by a family member.

  3. Moving the stuff - hiring outside services is often very helpful: That said, there is usually a cost associated with using outside help, and the ability to afford to pay for movers may not be in the budget. That said, there are other ideas, and some may have little or no cost (or no upfront cost) including having an estate sale, renting a dumpster, donating items to charitable organizations, item removal companies, and more.

  4. Special items: Chances are good that the home will have some type of paint or hazardous chemicals that cannot go in the regular trash. There may also be personal papers in need of shredding. Check with local recycling centers or the city website for where you can safely take care of these types of items.

  5. Be willing to part with items of value: Perhaps there are items left over that have value after the estate sale and family members have selected items from the home. You can post items on places like Nextdoor or Facebook Marketplace and post them for free, pick-up only. If you know the items could be used by a local organization, try reaching out to them to see if they would like the item.

  6. Bottom line: Emptying out a loved one's home will be exhausting, emotionally draining, time-consuming, and expensive. As much as you can, be patient with yourself and others helping you. Take time to take breaks, stay hydrated, and eat. Keep only the most important and necessary items. And consider starting a similar process at your own dwelling now over time, so that when the time comes to empty your home, a lot of the hard work will already be done.


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