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  • Holly Colby

From Massachusetts to Florida: Cleaning Out the House of a Loved One

One of the many reasons that motivated me to want to help others is because I have navigated many moves, locally and interstate, cleaned out homes of loves ones, and have decluttered homes.


When it comes to cleaning out a loved one’s home when they’ve passed away is very stressful and emotional. This process is even more complicated when you don’t live in the same geographic area as where the home is located. This happened to me a couple of years ago, right before the world was plagued with the pandemic.




The Backstory


My Uncle passed away in 2019. He lived just south of Daytona Beach in Florida, in the house that my grandparents built and lived in for over 20 years before they died. My grandfather was an antiques dealer so he had left behind a lot of interesting antiquities and other types of 'collectible' items. Over the years, my uncle, who moved into the house, continued to add to this collection and eventually proved to be a great ‘Collector of All The Things’. I'm sure if you have grandparents, aging parents or other relatives that keep random possessions, you can relate to this.


My uncle was sick for some time and had a caretaker who helped him. She had been the primary local contact for him, let's call her Kate. Kate was the one who notified me of my uncles passing, along with other important details for me to know like the attorney information and that I was a new owner of the Florida house. Wow, ok, great, so now what? I called his attorney for the details.


I was working full time in Massachusetts, I had no local connections in Florida to help me manage the process of what was about to unfold. The challenge was, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I didn't have family to help, I didn’t know the house was full of possessions, I didn’t know my uncle became the 'Collector of All the Things' and had added to the collection of things my grandfather had. I certainly didn’t know I was going to wind up selling the house.


What I knew was that Kate had unrestricted access to my Florida house. This included my family's antiques, belongings, my uncles Chevy-SS, the storage unit, the safe, absolutely everything. Since this was now my house and I was now personally responsible for it, I needed to protect myself from any liability or financial risk with someone having carte blanch access to the house. I had to jump into action.

 

So what did I do?

I had some experience in dealing with the passing of family members, but not from 1600 miles away. I should have created a plan, but there was so much I didn't know. I immediately jumped into action and learned as I moved through the process:

  1. I changed the locks remotely. To mitigate any risk or liability, I removed all access to the house by changing the locks and removing access. I was surprised how easy this could be done from a different state. I didn't share this information with Kate so when she tried to access the house (unauthorized might I add), she was surprised. I learned later that prior to changing the locks, she helped herself to truck loads full of possessions from the house.

  2. I requested time off from work. There was no funeral, but my company still allowed me to take bereavement – 3 days. Typically, this time is spent making funeral arrangements and holding services. But 3 days doesn’t really give anyone time for travel and funeral services let alone other arrangements like clearing out 30 years of junk. But I needed to know what I was dealing with. This was  before COVID, so  working remotely was not an option.

  3. I flew to Florida and assessed the situation. My first trip I wound up at the house by myself for the first couple of days. My uncle clearly wanted to be the best at the 'Collector of All The Things', and he did not disappoint. The house was a somewhat organized mess of antiques, collectibles, paperwork, clothing, medical equipment, and boxes. They don’t have basements in Florida, but they have garages! So guess what? The 2-car garage was filled with boxes of years of collectibles. The car was parked in the driveway.

  4. I hired a landscaper. Houses that have overgrown lawns indicate a house is vacant and tend to be magnets for squatters. I found a landscaper to keep up with the yard. I found one working on a neighbors yard, he was known in the neighborhood, we will call him Fanny. Fanny wanted a monthly retainer paid in advance! The nerve of this guy, right? If the circumstances were any different and I was local, I'd tell him to go kick rocks. But, Manny got very lucky that day and I hired him to tend to the yard for the next several months.

  5. I installed security cameras around the property. I also let the neighbors know that I would be watching from Massachusetts. This gave me a great deal of peace, except knowing first hand that Fanny wasn't really earning his retainer.



I was able to accomplish very little in the first few days in Florida. I had limited time and while my now-husband came to support me, we both had to get back to work. Which we attempted to do, but our flight back was 'indefinitely delayed' overnight causing both of us to miss work (and important presentations) the next day.

 

Fast Forward


I would have loved to have kept this house in our family. But the reality was at that time, I couldn’t. Financially it didn’t make sense. My uncle was sick for a long time so the home itself needed a lot of work, my uncle smoked in the house for years, and aside from the many possessions, the house needed a full cleanout and updating to current standards. We couldn't stay there. It was filthy.

Messy Cluttered Garage
This is the 2-car garage. Behind is us boxes of stuff.

Over the course of the next several months, my husband and I took 6 trips down to Florida. We brought in a dumpster, got a POD, brought in an auction team to sell off some items and help offset the costs of the house. We got down to business and went through every box, every closet and the garage cleaning out the house to the best we could.


I wound up selling the house. It needed too much work and money to bring back to life. Over the span of a few months, factoring in travel, meals, utilities, accommodations, car rentals, landscaping, etc. etc. etc. I could have bought a brand new car for the amount of money I spent to get to Florida, stay, get around and take care of the house. Talk about taxing.


 

Conclusion:


This experience was my first reality into what it takes to manage the clean out a loved ones home from a distance. I learned the hard way that I've dedicated my Here are some key thoughts for preparing for and cleaning out a home, whether its local to you or across the country.


1. Declutter and rehome what you can: If you have boxes of belongings that you haven’t accessed in months, or in this case years, get rid of it. It’s not doing you or your family any good.


2. Managing the process can be challenging: Managing the clean out of a house, or even a simple decluttering, can be emotional and challenging. Let alone if you need to do it from another state. Its time consuming and can be financially taxing.


3. Always plan for the unexpected: Anyone who has worked on any type of project is familiar with Murphy’s Law. Any project will have complications. In this case having to go to another state, always plan for flight delays and cancellations, bad weather, tasks taking much longer than you planned for, etc. etc. If you and/or someone helping you is due back at work, prepare for delays along the travel home. These are projects and anyone familiar with projects know that if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong - Murphy's Law.


4. Managing a clean out requires support: Whether you're going it alone or are asking for help from your friends and family, managing a clean out is time consuming. Especially if you want to, or have to, go through all the home items. When recruiting friends and family, just remember that they're helping out of the goodness of their hearts. Be kind to those who are willing to help you.


5. Hire when you can: Finding trustworthy resources who are efficient and effective can be difficult in a time of grief, when you’re not familiar with the area or lack of resources. Find someone who can help you manage the end-to-end process so that you can focus on your day to day. In my story, having a trusted and insured local resource managing this process would have saved me money, time, and a whole lot of stress.



 

I started Adaptive Moving Solutions to help people. I've gone through many moves myself, for family and friends, and cleaning out the homes of loved ones who have died. I understand, first-hand, the mix of emotions, challenges and finances that can be associated with the cleaning out process. I'm dedicated to making local connections and find trustworthy contacts so that you can benefit from what I learned.


Whether you’re a family in need of support, or an individual who doesn’t have a family to help support you, it is my goal to ensure that you have a trusted point of contact. As your contact, your project management, you have the freedom to focus on your daily life while I focus on your project. Contact us today to discuss what I can do to make this process easier for you and your family.

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