A friend and client of mine lost her mother recently and she spent this weekend cleaning out her mother’s home. She sent me this message about the experience:
“Man...there is no better way to want to start throwing away your crap than participating in a clean up/out of someone who has passed. It's sad but we literally filled a dumpster and a half from my mom's apartment. It was the hardest thing ever but wow...Really shed light on keeping stuff that means nothing.”
I thought this was such an important point that I asked her if I could share her words here. Cleaning out a loved one’s home after they pass away is a difficult and emotionally taxing job. For anyone who has been through it you know it can radically change your perspective about your own stuff. All those things we hang on to because we think we might need them someday or those things we put off making a decision about end up becoming someone else’s problem to deal with. Why not do the work yourself to get rid of the excess, instead of burdening your loved ones with this task after you are gone?
If you’re looking for some guidance on sorting through a lifetime of accumulated things, I recommend reading The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson. While this book is geared toward those in retirement I think it’s a worthwhile read regardless of your age. This is a surprisingly cheerful book about the importance of clearing your own clutter, rather than leaving it for your family to deal with. I think the most important part of Magnusson’s method is captured in the word gentle. Instead of waiting until you are forced to downsize, take your time to slowly reduce your belongings in a gradual way. This reduces stress and acknowledges the emotional difficulties inherent in the process.
If you are tasked with cleaning out a loved one’s home, remember that it can be physically and emotionally demanding. Ask for help and take breaks. Discarding their things may feel like you are parting with your memories of them, but keep in mind the things are not the person, and the memories you made and experiences you shared will stay with you even without their physical belongings. Very few things we own are truly meaningful or say something important about us. By all means, keep those objects that were well-loved or are tied to a special memory of the person, but get rid of the rest. Remember, your loved one would not want you to be burdened with their things.
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