A story that was shared with us recently got us thinking about the concept of “death cleaning.” A young woman’s grandmother died a couple years ago and here is the cautionary tale that was shared:
“Grandma passed away unexpectedly after complications from a surgery. Grandpa died several years before her, after they moved from their longtime house into a retirement community condo. While they downsized in that move, everything they owned remained in that packed condo when Grandma died.
Their son, who was the executor to their estate, visited the condo after the funeral to determine what to do next. Every closet, cabinet, nook and cranny were full of stuff: videos, photo albums, vinyl, dishes, clothing, artwork, mementos. The place was not dirty but it contained two lifetimes of belongings – or at least the things they did not part with when they moved from a three-bedroom house to a one-bedroom condo.
It was too much too soon for him to handle. He didn’t want to begin sifting through memories to decide what to keep, what to give to family and what to donate, so, he had it all packed and moved into storage. He never got around to going through it all before he suddenly passed away himself. The storage unit he kept was likely considered abandoned after he died, and what happened to the belongings within became an unsolved mystery.”
One of the great tragedies for the young woman is that she and her siblings were not proactive about what should happen to their grandmother’s possessions. Therefore, they missed out on receiving those precious items before they were gone forever.
Marie Kondo, a decluttering expert with best-selling books and a popular series on Netflix, would likely see the Swedish practice of death cleaning a.k.a “dostadning” as something that “sparks joy” as opposed to brings sadness. When someone dies, it generally falls to family members or close friends to have to go through their belongings – sometimes a big house full of them – to decide which items should be given to whom and what to donate or sell. It is often a huge undertaking.
Begin Your Plan with De-Cluttering
Alternatively, death cleaning or de-cluttering your home before you die could be viewed as a gift to the loved ones who remain. More of us are opening up to having conversations about death, and death cleaning could be the way to begin a death-positive mindset. It could also be the first step toward your own end-of-life planning.
Retirement age is as good a time as any to start dostadning, because it could take a long time – years, even – to complete the decluttering process. If you aren’t ready to retire but are moving toward a minimalist life now – get started – because there are local organizations that would gladly take items that are useful.
Where Do You Begin?
Marie Kondo often recommends beginning downsizing your closets or drawers of clothing. Aside from accessories like hats, scarves or jewelry, it’s likely your family members won’t plan on keeping your jeans and blouses after you are gone.
The process can build momentum from there. Look at things to remove from your home that rarely or never get used anymore: kitchen gadgets and appliances, electronics, books, and ALL the stuff jamming those “junk drawers.”
It’s important to take note and write down which items you want left to specific people. This will avoid any in-fighting over the beloved china or everyone’s favorite lamp. If there are special items that would bring more happiness to loved ones today, why not pass them on now? For example, if you loved to crochet but your hands don’t cooperate like they used to, consider sharing your handiwork and supplies with a grandchild or niece or nephew that might take up the hobby.
Going through mementoes and photos may take more time and thought, but your family will appreciate it if you have already designated those precious items prior to your passing. Remember the grandmother who passed unexpectedly from earlier in this post? She made a photo album for each of her grandkids and made sure they all received them while she was well and could take joy in looking at photos together. While she didn’t perfect the Swedish act of death cleaning, it seems like she was beginning the journey of planning ahead.
Remember, not only will dostadning help your family members avoid a challenging task, you can also make sure the wishes for what happens to your precious belongings come true. Your loved ones will likely have a lengthy checklist to follow once you pass, but by performing the art of death cleaning, you are easing some of that burden.