Cleaning out an elderly parent’s house is difficult manual labor. Add the emotional weight of sorting through years of memories and it can be overwhelming. It helps if you can approach the project as a professional, estimating the scope of the work and stocking up on the key supplies that will keep the project moving forward. Here’s our checklist for evaluating and preparing for every job.

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Assessing the Job

Go through every room and roughly estimate a measurement of its contents in terms of cubic yards. It’s not a precise calculation, but a cubic yard is about the size of a dishwasher. So make a mental note of approximately how many dishwashers’ worth of stuff is in each room. Then separate all of the items into four piles: trash, donate, sell and keep. That way you can estimate a volume for each group and plan your supplies accordingly.

__ Boxes (or bins)

One cubic yard will fill 3 small moving boxes. Some people prefer clear plastic bins because you can see what’s inside them, but we use boxes because they’re less expensive. Plus, it’s easier to drop boxes off at donation centers than it is to unpack and reuse the plastic bins.

__ Packing Tape

Get one large roll (with a handled dispenser) for each room.

__ Trash Bags

A 50-gallon trash bag will hold 1 cubic yard of material. Make sure to use bags that are at least 3 millimeters thick. Thinner bags will tear, creating even more work. We plan for one 25-count box of trash bags per room. 

__ Face Masks

Every worker should wear a mask at all times, and plan to use three masks per person per day. Never use anything without a rating of N95 or P100 - masks without those ratings aren't safe. You can find them in boxes of 10 in the paint aisle of most hardware stores. If the job requires more protection, such as a respirator mask, you should hire a professional. With that much mold and contamination it could be too dangerous for amateurs to handle.

__ Gloves

We often choose nitrile or polyurethane gloves because they are easier to work with. (It’s difficult to grasp small items with leather gloves.) With nitrile govesl, double up by using two at a time. Plan for each person to use two pairs of gloves per day.

__ Safety Glasses

There will be dust and other particulates, so everyone needs eye protection.

__ Work Boots or Shoes

All footwear should be leather with hard soles that nails can’t penetrate and toes that can withstand something dropping on your foot—because something is always going to drop on your foot.

__ Water

This is hard, physical work, and it’s easy to get dehydrated. No energy drinks or caffeine, bring a case of water for each day, and expect to drink four to five bottles of water per person per day. Sports hydration drinks also taste amazing after cleaning all day.

__ Large Glass Jar or Fishbowl

These are for collecting the inevitable loose change you’ll find as you clean, and you’ll be amazed at how many coins you’ll find in a house. We use glass so everyone can hear when coins are dropped into it. That helps build momentum.

__ Sharpies

These are indispensable, and everyone should have several of them because they’ll be put down and misplaced throughout the day. We use both silver and black (the silver shows up on black trash bags), and we suggest starting every day with three of each color in your pockets.

__ Ground Tarps

Weather permitting, we prefer to do any sorting outside. Tarps protect the items from dirt and grass stains. We use large tarps, either 6’ x 8’ or 10’ square. You can find them in a hardware or home improvement store’s paint aisle.

__ Portable Storage Units

These are optional. If there’s no yard or the weather isn’t suitable for working outside, storage units can be used as a work area for sorting and packing.

__ Miscellaneous Items

It’s helpful to have some folding tables, rakes, cleaning rags, and trash cans on hand. A small pocket knife is helpful for opening boxes.

If you are cleaning out an elderly parent’s house, start the job with enough of the right supplies to save time and energy. You don’t want to have to keep running out for odds and ends, and work won’t stop just because you ran out of boxes.

Learn More About Senior Moving


At Wayforth we work with families in transition. We can empty an entire house within days, sorting what items to keep, sell, donate, and discard. Our employees pack and move everything, then prepare the house for sale. Call us for a free consultation.

Our advice is based on our experience cleaning out and settling estates for our clients. Each project is different, and each state's laws are different. We always recommend that you consult personally with experts about your particular situation before making any important decisions.