July 11, 2014

A step-by-step guide to cleaning out the family house

The task can be daunting, but getting family members involved and using a clean-out service can make the task of cleaning out your parent’s home manageable.

My brother and I recently finished a six-month process of cleaning out our childhood home.

It started in January, when I spent a long weekend going through more than 1,000 books, most of which my Dad was donating to his local library branch in Tulsa, Okla., for a fundraiser. The process was hard work, but fun, as my father regaled me with stories about almost each book.

But the effect on cleaning out the house was negligible. So far, the house was winning.

The next attempt came a month later when my father moved to a two-bedroom unit at an assisted-living facility. He took some bedroom furniture, a table, some chairs, a few lamps, a couple of bookcases, a computer desk and the kitchen table. And that hardly made a dent in what remained.

At this point, it dawned on us that we needed some professional help.

We developed what became a four-step process: let the family pick through what they want, sell what we can, donate whatever they’ll take and finally hire a clean-out crew to get rid of the rest.

Here are some tips for cleaning out a house in our area.

Family giveaway. We found it much easier to look around a house for things we wanted than to try to sort and categorize the whole house. We started at the top with my dad, worked down to siblings and finally opened up everything remaining to cousins and in-laws. When necessary, we used tape to tag some items, but in general if you wanted it, you had to take it then. Otherwise the stuff could hang around for months.

Don’t be surprised if some pieces tussle around for a home. My grandmother’s secretary desk started out with a cousin, but ended up back with my brother because of shipping costs. At the same time, some fun family mementos, like my grandmother’s old steamer trunk, went to a niece I would not have guessed would want it. Nice to keep it in the family — but also to have it out of the house.

Sell. I have three boxes of stuff from my mom’s curio cabinets sitting in my office right now waiting to be sorted, but my brother had better luck with some of the furniture. He contacted a consignment shop and sold the dining room table and chairs, living room sofas, a chair, a lamp and some light fixtures.

The process is easy, said Dan Redoutey, owner of Second Home Furniture Superstore in Arlington.

“We like to see pictures,” he said. “Take them and email them to us. We’ll give you an item-by-item appraisal with a high and low price within a couple of days.”

Once the items are at the store (you can get them there yourself or they’ll pick them up for a fee), Second Home will re-assess the furniture and give a more concrete quote. If you like it, you will sign a 60-day contract, splitting the proceeds 50/50, Redoutey said. If it doesn’t sell in that time frame, Second Home gives it another 30 days on the floor. If it still doesn’t sell, then it has to go.

“We completely change the showroom floor nine times a year to maintain a fresh and new inventory,” he said. Ninety percent of Second Home’s 5,000-square-foot showroom is used furniture.

Other furniture and furnishings consignment stores in the area include Furniture Buy Consignment on Hulen Street in Fort Worth and a number of stores in Dallas, where the market for used furniture is stronger. Or you could try selling online on craigslist or eBay. Another option is having your own estate sale or hiring a service to have a sale for you.

Donate. Now that you’re into the “everything’s gotta go” mode, let local charities help you out. Goodwill Industries of Fort Worth won’t pick up individual items (which can be dropped off at one of their centers), but their Home Pickup Service will take most of a whole house for no charge, said Beth Reneau Bankston, director of donated goods for the local nonprofit.

“We ask that the items are boxed or bagged and how much furniture there is so we know how many workers to bring and what size truck,” she said. “We get a lot of calls after an estate sale where we take the rest.”

There are a few items Goodwill won’t take, such as food, used tires or trash. But even opened boxes of Q-tips and other bathroom and kitchen items will be taken and recycled, she said. Working or nonworking electronics, including televisions and computers, and appliances will be refurbished and resold or broken down for parts, she said. The nonprofit will even take mattresses, which are sent to a recycler, Bankston said.

“Our goal is to resell or recycle 90 percent of what we take in,” she said.

Customers get a receipt for the donations that can be used as a deduction at tax time. Bankston recommends taking an inventory of what you’re donating while boxing up the contents, then using the donation value guide on Goodwill’s website,, to add up the donation value for tax purposes.

To schedule this service, contact Goodwill at 817-310-1004. Numerous other local charities offer free pickup of home furniture and contents as well, including the Salvation Army, The Arc of Texas and Catholic Charities of Fort Worth.

Clean out. For those who lack time, health or desire to box and bag a whole house, there are a number of local clean-out services that will do it for you. But it will cost you.

“We do a whole house once every two weeks or so,” said Ricardo Hernandez, owner of Junk Guys DFW, a Fort Worth-based clean-out service. “We charge by the truckload and stack purposely to maximize space.”

One truckload costs $400, he said. The company will go room to room clearing out everything, including cabinets, bookcases, attics, basements and garages. Hernandez said the crew sorts items into three piles: one for donations of things like canned food and furniture, one for recycling electronics and one for items they want to keep for themselves, Hernandez said. The rest goes into the trailer to be dumped.

Our clean-out service in Tulsa took two truckloads after all of our sales and donations. We paid $800 for the four-hour service, which we found worthwhile to get the house on the market sooner.

If you worry that you’ve missed something important still in the house, most clean-out services know what to look for and set it aside. Ours found a box of old letters from my grandparents that they asked if we wanted to keep, which we did.

Hernandez said his crew also looks for memorable or valuable items and have found photos, a diamond ring, a college national championship ring and $500 in cash that were returned to the homeowners.

But he cautions family members to not become too sentimental with most items.

“If you have to think about whether you want it or not, it’s trash,” he said. “If you hesitate, it’s junk.”

And chances are if you didn’t miss it before, you won’t miss it now.

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