Death Cleaning is the practice of purging your home of things you don’t want or need so that your relatives won’t have to undertake this monumental task when you die.
Although it has been identified as Swedish, it’s a practice known to many cultures.
It might seem gruesome or depressing, but I believe that the whole concept of getting rid of junk as made popular by the minimalist movement can offer peace and serenity that is anything but depressing.
I started ridding my house of excess stuff after I watched “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” back in 2019.
“Tidying Up” asked us to think about all the stuff we shove to the back of the closet (or squirrel away in guest bedroom closets) that we never wear, use, enjoy, or even remember exists.
I began with my bedroom closet and moved on to dressers, cupboards, and mudroom cubbies and baskets.
My children teased that I was getting a bit extreme, so I offered them the stuff I thought they might want. Did they take anything? Nope. And the charities I gave the stuff to were happy to have it.
Summer Happened On The Way To The Basement
After the upstairs purge, I moved on to the basement. This is the dreaded no man’s land of old dishes and small appliances, dated technology equipment, kids’ games, and miscellaneous stuff that hasn’t been used in years.
Maybe we needed a backup coffee maker. But did we need two? And since converting to pour-over coffee, did we even need one?
Summer interrupted my purging in the basement.
Being away from home for most of June, July, and August gave the mice a chance to have their way with the stuff in the basement.
It also triggered asthma attacks on my part when autumn weather sent me back to the basement to continue my sorting and donating.
So I ended up having to wear a mask and gloves as I continued to clean.
Don’t Wait Until You’re Old
Oh, how I wish I had started this process sooner.
The tradition of Death Cleaning suggests that this activity begins around age 65, but there aren’t any hard and fast rules.
It’s certainly easier to clean out your storage areas when you are retired and an empty nester, but having the physical stamina to clean and haul boxes is perhaps just as important.
And from my ‘mice-in-the-basement” experience, I’d propose that a regular survey of what you need to continue to store in your home is a task that is better done sooner rather than later.
No Second Thoughts
I read one article that proposed that you get rid of your donation boxes and bags asap so that you don’t backpedal on your decisions.
But my experience has been the opposite. I generally need a few days to think about what I’m getting rid of before I feel comfortable with my decision. Honestly, I have rarely changed my mind by waiting a few days. It gives my subconscious time to reconcile the purge. I feel settled about my decisions.
The Lighter Feeling Of “Clean”
Death cleaners acknowledge that doing major cleaning and purging can be emotional. Mementos like letters and yearbooks are items that you want to hold on to but no one else wants to store once you are gone. After all, your survivors will have their own stuff to deal with.
In these situations, you can keep the items in a box labeled, “To be discarded upon my passing.”
Another approach is to electronically store photos of memorabilia rather than the physical items themselves.
In the case of your electronic footprint, be sure to leave lists of electronic services and passwords you used so that these can be appropriately deleted.
Cutting the Cable Makes Death Cleaning Easier
Wouldn’t it be easier to Death Clean if you cut some of the accumulation from the beginning?
My mom’s perennial answer to “What do you want for Christmas?” was “Nothing. I don’t need anything.”
I once thought this was just a flip answer. Mom was being a Scrooge by not getting into the “holiday spirit” of spending more than you could comfortably afford.
But after starting to think about the accumulation of “stuff,” I understand my mom better.
Why buy stuff just for the sake of buying?
I love to tell the story of the summer and fall when we canceled our cable TV service.
When it came time for our kids to make their Christmas lists, they had no idea what they wanted from Santa. It was illuminating to see how much influence marketing had on their “wants.”
I started thinking about my own “wants.” Madison Avenue wasn’t just sucking in the kids.
Looking in my closet, I asked myself. “How many sweaters can one person wear in winter?” I was always reaching for the same ones, anyway. Did I need to keep adding to the collection?
Life Cleaning Is The Better Name
After reflecting on the accumulation of stuff, I have come to the conclusion that Life Cleaning is probably as good a moniker as Death Cleaning for the minimizing process.
Maybe more gifts should be about sharing a meal or a drink, traveling, or spending time outdoors with people whose company you enjoy.
Those kinds of gifts don’t need storage space. They become memories and no one else becomes responsible for them. You can revisit them whenever you want to.
Maybe mom did know best.