I’ve long espoused the benefits of a minimalist lifestyle. It seems easy for me because when I was a child, I moved around a lot and rarely had the opportunity to become attached to much of anything.
As an adult, I do find it more comforting to live in a small, cozy house with few items rather than too spacious of a house that needs to be filled with furniture I won't use and “stuff,” especially anything that requires regular dusting! Ick.
I just finished up a quick read of a book from a wonderfully witty and wise Swedish woman (who is "between the age of 80 and 100"), Margareta Magnusson, author of “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter.” I highly recommend it!
"Death cleaning" isn’t a reference to what to do with a body after somebody dies! It is about forward-thinking that makes everyday life run smoothly now and for your loved ones in the future. It is about removing unnecessary things from your life and making your home orderly and pleasant.
Have some of your possessions been with you so long that you don't appreciate them or can't see the value in them anymore? It may be rewarding to spend an amount of time with them, and then gently disposing of them or giving them away.
When you are gone, can you imagine that anyone in your family or circle of friends will wish to or be able to schedule the time to take care of what you didn’t bother to take care of yourself now? No matter how much people love you, you shouldn’t leave this burden to them. Make your loved ones’ memories of you sweet instead of dreadful. Once someone is gone, there can be chaos enough anyway.
We can plan in advance to lessen unhappy moments for our loved ones. When someone passes away, there are things to take care of that are more urgent and complicated than going through their leftover belongings.
How to begin your own death cleaning while you’re still alive:
Your first choice of where to begin should feel natural for you. A good option is one with many items to choose from and without too much emotional connection. (Do not under any circumstances start with photographs, letters, or mementos.)
Go through the larger items in your home and finish with the smaller ones. You'll feel like you're making progress faster.
Get rid of abundance! For example, the author suggests keeping just one set of dishes, glassware, and utensils for the number of guests that you can fit at your table. If you want to decorate your table for dining, you can use flowers or bright napkins instead.
Another trick is if you are invited to someone’s home, don’t buy the host flowers or a present -- give away one of your pretty things!
Only keep books that you haven’t read yet or books that you return to often. This is usually a difficult thing to accept for a lot of people.
Remember, too, that your memories and your families’ memories of photographs are not always the same. You really should be able to name everyone in a picture if you're attached to it. It might be easier to involve your family when going through old photos so you do not have to carry the weight of all those memories by yourself and you are less likely to get stuck in the past.
Living smaller is a relief and a mess can be a source of irritation. All things should have a place of their own. Give everything a spot and you won’t feel angry, irritated, or desperate. To hunt for a lost item is never an effective use of time.
While you are death cleaning, you must not forget to take care of today's things: your sweet home, the garden, and yourself.
Thinking of where your objects will end up can be crucial. Don’t offer things to others that do not fit into their taste or the space in which they live. It will be a burden to them. To know something will be well used and have a new home is a real joy.
It can be a delight to go through things and have memories. If you don’t remember why or where you have something, it has no worth and it should be easy for you to part with.
Someday someone will have to clean up after you. Whoever it may be will find it a heart-wrenching burden. And yet, it is very hard to do one's own death cleaning. In the end, death cleaning is as much or more for you as for the people who come after you.
MICHELE DUNCAN KING
Licensed Massage Therapist
Registered Yoga Teacher
Women's Group Facilitator