Keep Your Death in Mind While Decluttering

“While one would usually say ‘clean up after yourself.’ here we are dealing with the odd situation of cleaning up before…we die.”

Margareta Magnusson on döstädning, or “death cleaning”

Years ago, t-shirt and bumper stickers spouted the immortal words by Malcolm Forbes, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” With the contemporary voluntary simplicity and environmental movements becoming so prevalent these days, this quote seems even more archaic than ever. No matter how many belongings, homes, tchotchkes, and toys you own—you’re still dead.

You can’t take clutter with you, but you can leave it to your loved ones.

Photo by Kasman

About a year ago I had to clean out the apartment left behind by a deceased relative. I was the only person available at the time to take on the task and it was a difficult one. Not only did I have to go through the personal belongings of a deceased person, but they had kept just about everything. Old bills and receipts, pill bottles, newspapers, old food, and dying plants were only a small portion of the items left behind. There were also large pieces of furniture, electronics, toiletries, and those unwieldy mattresses that no donation center will ever take. Out of all the items left to me, I only kept a book and a neglected houseplant.

For every item you want to keep, decide whether or not someone else will want later.

Photo by portraitoftracy

Unfortunately, this person didn’t have the time to take care of their personal organization before it was too late. So, when should this type of difficult, yet necessary, organization take place? No one expects to pass away unexpectedly, but it happens. What we all know is that it will eventually happen to all of us. What we can plan for is that our personal items don’t become a burden for the people we leave behind.

The title comes across as morbid, but the book is about freeing yourself and your family from unwanted items.

Photo by Simon & Schuster

In the middle of the popularity of Japanese tidying and sparking joy, author Margareta Magnusson wrote The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter. Her book is not morbid, but it brings to light a topic we don’t usually want to think about: our own mortality. In a way, the book title not only hits you over the head in a tender way, but it re-defines why you should be decluttering.

Magnusson advises to keep your home (no matter the size) organized for you and your family after you are gone.

Photo by Skitterphoto

Most people declutter in order to move into a smaller home, clean up after a life change, remove unwanted items from their space, and calm their anxiety. The next phase should be to continuously declutter and organize to preserve our own dignity and bring more peace to family or friends. In the end, the decluttering is not just about death, but about a better life.

A few tips on Swedish death cleaning from the Washington Post.

By Christina Nellemann for the [Tiny House Blog]

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