Wayne Hays’ 10th birthday in 1968 was something. The day was gift wrapped with a poodle puppy named Sam and a family move into a house on Powers Boulevard in Chanhassen, which served as the family’s homestead until last year, when his mother, Jennie Hays, passed away.
The Hays family, including parents, Walter and Jennie, and children, Wayne, Cheryl Buscho and Kathy Burgess, moved that year to Chanhassen from Cincinnati, Ohio, where the family briefly lived with grandparents after Walter concluded his Air Force service. A job offer from Honeywell drew the Hays family here.
Hays, who lives in Spring Valley, Wis., recalls youthful days spent fishing on Mary Lake and playing football in the yard with teams made up of neighborhood kids. Runs to makeshift end zones steered clear of the family’s vegetable garden, which yielded green beans, onions, potatoes, tomatoes and the like for Jennie to harvest and can to help feed her family. “Pretty much standard fare for country people. They were both hillbillies—one was from Kentucky, and one was from Virginia. They grew up that way,” Hays says of his folks.
Walter passed away in 1981 from complications after heart surgery. In the following years, Hays encouraged his mother to sell the house and travel, but Jennie had other ideas. “That just wasn’t her deal. She liked to sit at her home,” he says. Jennie lived in the family home on Powers Boulevard up until her death at 83 years old in 2016 from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
After her death, the Hays children were faced with packing up the house before putting it on the market. A local real estate agent recommended they call on Empty the Nest, a residential clean out service, to help pack up the home. “It was an overwhelming situation,” Hays says. “[Mom] had been in the home since 1968, and it didn’t seem like she liked to throw stuff away.”
If parents haven’t already moved from the family home, the death of the remaining parent can bring an extra set of losses to the survivors. Preparing and selling a family home, which is decorated with memories—joyful and painful—can unleash blankets of emotions already threadbare from grief. Additionally, navigating the needs and wishes of siblings can add another uncomfortable layer to the situation.
Sharon Fischman understands from personal experience. “My parents passed away, and I went through this process. In addition, I had a life-changing experience and was grateful for my community’s support and, therefore, want to be sure that the work I do is helping others,” she says. In 2011, she launched Empty the Nest. “[The] business started in my garage, grew into a store in Burnsville for five years and moved to an expanded location in Golden Valley last year,” she says. The service now employs 26 team members.
“I was a move manager for eight years, kinda like the wedding planner of a move, coordinating all aspects of [it],” Fischman says. “I saw there was no easy, one-call solution for everything left behind. It was an overwhelming puzzle to figure out for the homeowner a process to empty the home they just left.”
Empty the Nest may be the important piece to the puzzle, along with its retail site stocked with items homeowners determined they don’t want to keep, donate or toss. “Empty the Nest provides a one-call, wall-to-wall home cleanout service, except for hazardous materials and alcohol. [All] the inventory in our retail thrift store is from home cleanouts. We sell selected items from home cleanouts to cover a portion of the cost for the homeowners,” Fischman says.
Items not salvaged for the retail store or suited for disposal are donated to organizations. “We consistently partner with TechDump for electronics, Bridging and Salvation Army. We’ve had special events with Loaves and Fishes, Shoe Away Hunger and various charities,” Fischman says.
Fees are based on the scope of the project. “We calculate the labor cost of packers, professional movers, recycling, garbage, distribution to charities, et cetera and then determine how the family can benefit from our thrift store,” Fischman says. “We guarantee that the value of select items at the Empty the Nest store covers a portion of the homeowner’s cleanout costs.
“We enter people’s lives to provide this service during a time when people and their families are the most emotionally vulnerable and overwhelmed,” Fischman says. “We are very respectful and sensitive during every step of the process. Our initial consultation can often include very personal conversations as we are welcomed into their family and their home.
“The first phase is for families to determine what they are keeping. Then Empty the Nest can do the rest,” Fischman says. While staff works to ensure the process is seamless, there can be some hiccups. “Generations have unique perspectives on values, and we need to respect their differing views,” she says. “For example, some people feel that every item should stay in the family. Others are more focused on getting the most return on valuable items. Our advice is to determine family goals and keep them in mind throughout the process. Often a more simplified process for emptying the home will benefit everyone.”
Hurdling familial dynamics is just part of what the Empty the Nest team faces.
“We navigate situations on a daily basis,” Fischman says. That can include moving extra-large furniture over balconies or removing upright pianos, safes and oversized freezers from basements. "We work in all home environments and have learned that each home is quite unique,” she says. “One day, we may be in a pristine home and another day could be a home with everything tossed about plus mold and mouse feces. We are non-judgmental and understand that living circumstances are what they are, and we have been chosen to provide a service that will greatly benefit the homeowner.”
Hays says his family members had a chance to take any items of significance prior to the Empty the Nest team’s arrival, but it was still difficult to determine what to do with the remaining items. “Everything that [family members] would touch had a memory, but [staff] could come in and wrap stuff up,” he says of the day Empty the Nest worked at his mother’s home. “I took [Bushco] out to lunch. I knew she’d have the hardest time with it. By the time we came back, the house was almost empty. I’m so thankful they have that service.”
Clients for Empty the Nest are as unique as their circumstances and needs. For those living away from the Twin Cities, their absence from the process can add another layer of stress. “We may work with extended family that live out of town and their parent is in the Twin Cities. We help people who hoard and their family to unburden their lives,” Fischman says. “We’ve sat with crying families that have recently lost a loved one or are just emotional about moving to assisted living.” The team has also worked with families with loved ones who have dementia, mental health or financial issues and loneliness. Some clients are simply moving to a warmer climate and not taking any of their home furnishings with them. “We connected with more than 1,000 families last year, and are on track to exceed that number this year,” Fischman says.
“The one common thread of our clients is the desire or need to empty a space. And we provide the confidence, resources and have an effective and efficient process that helps people feel good that their reusable things will find a new home,” Fischman says. “They minimize what goes into the landfill,” Hays says. “It’s just an amazing concept.”
“It’s incredibly rewarding at the end of any project when the homeowner gushes with gratefulness, which is a common occurrence,” Fischman says. “We appreciate knowing that our services make such a difference in people’s lives—the homeowner and all those that benefit from the cycle of reuse that we provide at the thrift store.”
Sharon Fischman, owner of Empty the Nest, offers good-to-know tips.
- Determine a timeline for the project.
- Everyone in the family should have an opportunity to decide what they want to keep.
- Scan family photos and personal documents, so they can easily be shared.
- Agree on how you handle the things that are left once everyone takes what they want—do it yourself or hire a service to provide guidance and expertise.
- Work with a real-estate agent who shares your goals and get guidance on how to sell the house.