The Big Clean Out

By Barb, writing happily away in her study in Portland, Maine

A slightly different version of this post appeared on along with a list of things to consider if you are hiring a company to clean out a house. But I thought this was such an amazing resource, Maine Crime Writers readers might want to know about it.

I mentioned here in this post that Bill and I are selling our house in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. The decision was difficult, but the part that I thought would be the most agonizing, cleaning out a place that had been in his family for thirty-five years, wasn’t nearly as awful as I thought it would be.

I recently calculated that Bill and I, either solo or with other family members, have emptied eight houses in the last ten years. This has included helping elderly parents downsize from big old homes, emptying their vacation homes, and finally, emptying their downsized homes when they were gone. Honestly, we’ve gotten pretty good at it.

The spring/summer of 2017 was the trifecta. We cleaned out my mother-in-law’s chock-a-block full apartment following her death, helped our son and his family clear up, clean out, and move from Connecticut to Virginia, and moved ourselves from Somerville, Massachusetts to Portland, Maine.

One task remained. We bought the house Boothbay Harbor, Maine from my mother-in-law who was, to put it kindly, a “stuff” person. A true materialist, she imbued every item she possessed with an emotional memory. A chipped teacup reminded her of a trip to an antique store with a girlfriend, a stolen menu (or worse) brought back a special meal. Over the years we’ve owned the Boothbay house, my husband and I have tackled many projects: clearing out a bedroom and sitting room for our own use, making the other bedrooms and living spaces, “useable,” and removing twelve tons of stuff from the basement (according to the tipping fees). In a piecemeal fashion, we gave the stuff to charity auctions, hospital thrift shops, libraries, and antique booksellers.

Dining room looking into the living room before the clean-out

But since my mother-in-law still came to the Boothbay house every summer, we could only do so much. There was still a lot to do when we decided to put the house on the market. And after our travails of 2017, we were physically and emotionally exhausted from cleaning out. There had to be a better way.

Then I read an article on about services that would help prepare houses for moving, downsizing or sale. I decided to find out if there was such a service in Coastal Maine.

It turned out there were several, with different levels of service. There were antique dealers and auction houses that would come in and skim the good stuff. There were firms that would organize estate sales, and there were liquidation companies that would come in and pay by the pound.

We interviewed three, and chose Caring Transitions of Coastal Maine, because they offered a comprehensive service. They would start with the mess that we had and we would end up with a house that was broom clean and ready to put on the market.

Working with Helen and Bob Johnson, our local Caring Transitions franchise owners, we determined a process, a date for them to start work, dates for our estate sale, a total cost of the labor for them and their helpers to do the clean out and run the sale. The costs would be either partially or entirely offset by their 30% take from the estate sale. This told us our maximum financial exposure and we had deadlines–July 9, when Caring Transitions would start work, July 20 and 21, the dates for the estate sale, and July 25, the day the house would be left broom clean.

Dining room during the clean-out

Every weekend during June, my husband had a different group of his siblings, their spouses, and their children up to the house. They took what they wanted, and, because we knew the heavy lifting would be done by others, what would have been work weekends turned into times for nostalgia and saying good-bye. Our own kids and grandkid came for the long Fourth of July weekend, and as soon as they cleared out, Caring Transitions arrived.

The master bedroom set up for the sale

The service was exactly as advertised and it was amazing how efficiently the team went through all the stuff. Photos, documents, and other personal items were put aside for us to inspect. Everything else was priced and displayed for sale. The estate sale was well-advertised and crowded. As soon as it ended at 3:00 pm on that Saturday, the estate liquidators showed up as arranged by Helen and Bob. Charity shops came and picked up stuff on Monday and Tuesday, and the house was ready to put on the market by the end of that week. Our stair-climber, which got only a lowball bid at the estate sale, was later sold on Craigslist.

Dining room after the cleanout

In the end, we did better than breakeven. We were a few hundred dollars to the good. We were thrilled. If we had done the work ourselves, we would have paid for dumpsters, and trucks, people to carry heavy stuff from the third floor, and tipping fees. Even more important to us, our summer would have been miserable, I would have been hopelessly behind in my writing deadlines, and the house would have gone on the market even later in the year.

The attic after the cleanout

If you find yourself in circumstances similar to ours, I cannot recommend this route enough.

The house is still for sale by the way. In case you are interested the listing is here.

About Barbara Ross

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries. Her books have been nominated for multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and have won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Portland, Maine. Readers can visit her website at
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10 Responses to The Big Clean Out

  1. Gram says:

    I love this house. Fifty years ago it would have been perfect for us with four children. Now we too are cleaning out the stuff.

  2. Lea Wait says:

    So impressive, and what a recommendation. Since the house I live in has been in the family for over 70 years …I’m printing out your blog for future reference!

  3. I sent the link to the first article to my 86 year old friend and her daughter – who are faced with clearing out Annie’s house!

  4. bethc2015 says:

    You describe the process so well. It is agonizing. Sad to lose such a family treasure but it can certainly become a liability. Hope someone buys it who will treasure it as much as your family did..

  5. Sandra Neily says:

    That was great Barb…..have sent it to several folks. A real service. And FYI, This is a perfect service for folks who have a hoarding problem. There are services that specialize in tenderly working with people who have this affliction. Especially when it becomes a safety issue in someone’s home. (Not a habit over time, an affliction.)

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