Have You Started Death Cleaning Yet?
“I’ve never seen the settlement of an elderly person’s estate that didn’t involve at least one Dumpster,” said an estate lawyer.
If you have helped with the post-death cleanup of a relative’s worldly possessions, you know the lawyer’s words are true.
Margareta Magnusson, an elderly Swedish artist and author, would like you to make the lawyer’s words a lie by engaging in the gentle art of Swedish death cleaning while you are still alive.Enjoy her reassuring 3:47 minute video.
Imagine, you could die tomorrow, and who is going to take care of all this crap?Margareta Magnusson
What is Death Cleaning?
Death cleaning is making life easier for your grieving family and friends by sorting, organizing and, where necessary, getting rid of stuff before you’re dead and they are left with the hassle.
Who Should Death Clean?
I remember informing my high school English teacher that I had no intention of ever dying. Clearly, I was too young to start death cleaning. But once aware and even minimally accepting of your own mortality, you’re ready to begin.
Why Should You Death Clean?
There are advantages, of course, for the people you are leaving behind. For example, there are fewer squabbles over who gets what because you’ve sorted it out in advance and perhaps even already given them whatever they’re desiring. There’s also less angst about who has to take stuff that they didn’t want when you were alive, don’t want when you’re dead, but feel guilty about pitching. And let’s not forget that you’ll save your loved ones money. It is expensive to get rid of stuff, whether that involves renting a dumpster, hiring a professional downsizer, or delaying the sale of the house for the time it takes to empty it.
There are also advantages to you. A report in Psychology Today cites no fewer than eight ways in which clutter is distracting, guilt-inducing, frustrating, and stressful.
When Do You Death Clean?
Death cleaning is not a weekend or holiday event. You will never check it off your to-do list. It is an ongoing process that ends only when you die.
However, within the span of time from now to your death (which I hope will be decades from now), there are some ideal times to death clean. Moving from one place to another tops the list, especially if you are moving to a smaller place and must downsize.
And, of course, if you are paying to keep stuff in storage units, that’s another good time. The self-storage industry in the United States made $24 billion profit in 2014. Amazingly, 50% of people who rent self-storage units are smily storing stuff that won’t fit in their homes, even though house sizes have almost doubled in the last fifty years.
How Do You Begin Death Cleaning?
Magnusson’s book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, will be available in January 2018 if you feel the need. In the meantime, she offers a few suggestions:
- Stop acquiring stuff! Research proves that happiness returns to pre-acquisition levels soon after you make a purchase.
- Tell friends and family what you are doing. It helps you to be accountable and, if you wish, gives them an opportunity to tell you which of your possessions they would treasure.
- Start with the easy stuff–the clothes that don’t fit or are worn to threads; the extra dozen plates in the kitchen cupboard; the wedding gifts that were never opened because, really, how many fondue sets can you use?
- Sort through photos, children’s artwork and other sentimental memorabilia last. If you do it first, chances are good that you will be derailed by memories.
- Keep whatever you want. No one is saying you have to empty your house before you die.
- Get rid of any secrets that could harm people you care about. If there’s something you don’t want to dispose of, but don’t want anyone else to see, keep it in a box marked “Discard without looking.”
- If you aren’t using something, give it now to someone who would love it. You get the added bonus of enjoying their pleasure in your gift while you are still alive.
- Put all financial papers in one place, along with a list of passwords to online accounts.
- When deciding what to give, donate, or toss, ask yourself Margareta’s question: “Will anyone I know be happier if I save this?”
Do I Need to Move?
There were many times in the last few years when I was convinced that I needed to pack up and move. Since retiring, I’ve craved a sense of ease, typified by my dream of a cozy little house with wide plank wood floors, sun-filled rooms highlighting my few simple yet exquisite possessions, gauzy white curtains dancing in the gentle breeze from the ocean that’s just beyond my front door. Yup, your typical beach-house fantasy.
Prime among the many problems with this fantasy is the fact that I love my current home and property. When I do decide to move, I will be a horrible, demanding nightmare of a client for some poor unsuspecting real estate agent because I will want a smaller version of exactly what I have. My home was designed by an artist so it has some unusual features, such as hallways that are extra-wide so that artwork shows well. It would be easy enough to build another house like this one, but it won’t be easy to find one.
Fortunately, my minimalist beach-house envy has faded in the past six weeks of sorting, organizing, discarding, donating, and getting ready to sell my stuff. I got the fresh start, the new beginning that I was craving, by touching every single item in my home and reliving the memories associated with them.
So I’ve Started Death Cleaning But…
I’ve always had a box marked “Throw Out Without Looking if I’m Dead.” Makes me sound mysterious, doesn’t it?
Edit your life frequently and ruthlessly. It’s your masterpiece after all.Nathan W. Morris
My passwords are in a file that is not password-protected.
I’ve gotten rid of a bunch of stuff. And, since this isn’t my first decluttering rodeo and I love to organize, I have more empty drawers, open surfaces, and sparsely filled closets than most people. And yet, and yet…there’s still so much stuff that, if I died tomorrow, my heirs would be dealing with my stuff for weeks.
Death cleaning, I’m learning, is daunting and definitely a long-term process. I’d better start by figuring out who might want my 41 Kris Kristofferson CDs. Oh, dear. This could be more difficult than I thought.
What do you own that you absolutely love, but suspect no one else would want?