The Necessity of Death Cleaning
On my reading list this month is the book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson. As harsh as that term seem to us in North America, Death Cleaning perfectly describes the act of purging and sorting the belongings of a lifetime before you die. This process should be done by everyone. Just before Christmas last year, I helped a client deal with her mother’s apartment after her sudden death. My client was totally overwhelmed. Her mother had lived in her small apartment for twenty years and it was full of antiques, knick knacks, and closets and cupboards full of things she no longer used. Not to mention the absolutely full fridge and two freezers. The whole process of purging, sorting, and finding new homes for things took weeks. Luckily my client had the time to do most of the work. But what if she had a demanding job, young children, or a sick father?
With this challenge in mind I recently started helping my mother sort through her belongings and I was amazed by how much she has been keeping. When you have the space, you can keep more stuff than you need. She knows where everything is, she has her own systems, but since retiring she hasn’t had the need to purge. I have vowed to help her get rid of the things she no longer needs, and to help reorganize the things she still uses, one room at a time. It is best that we do this now, together, before she is gone. For two reasons, we get to spend time together reminiscing about her and my father’s history, and my brothers and I will have less to deal with later on.
No one likes to think of the time when their parents will be gone. But it is a reality. And when it happens, their belongings will become our responsibility. It is much better to tackle this obstacle before grieving and other stresses become part of the picture. Starting early means everyone can share in the celebration of a full life. And for your parents, whether or not they are planning to downsize to a smaller house or just tidy up, they get to experience how freeing it can be to let go of a lifetime of things. It doesn’t mean throwing everything out. Those things that are precious can be brought to the front and enjoyed more fully.
My Grandmother was exceptionally organized. She also had a lot of beautiful antiques. Many years before her death, she and her daughters inventoried everything she owned and assigned it to her 4 children and 12 grandchildren. We even got to walk around her house and pick out the things we liked the best. She then prepared a booklet for each person describing what they had been given, its history and how my Grandmother came to have it. After she died, with incredible efficiency, 3 moving trucks arrived at her house. We all knew what had to go where. There was no fighting, no discussion, just simple moving. Of course it was incredibly sad but it would have been much harder to deal with had there been no system.
Keep in mind this process can be started at any point in your life. Hanging on to things you don’t need can only serve to wear you down. Regular purging is good for the soul. Just don’t throw everything away. What you don’t need someone else might really cherish. What seems broken to you could be a challenge to someone else. Whats seems old and rusty to you could be a collectable to someone else, or it could be turned into something else.
So I encourage you to start the discussion with your family now. You never know what you might learn. And letting go of the things we don’t need and treasuring the things we love is essential to living a life that is simpler, deeper, and open to new possibilities.