the death cleaning dilemma

There’s a new book out:  THE GENTLE ART OF SWEDISH DEATH CLEANING, by Margareta Magnusson.

Margareta sounds like a lovely lady.  Thoughtful, kind and filled with the wisdom of the elderly, she writes that we should be considerate of our children who will not have the time (too busy with jobs) or energy (too tired from grieving our deaths) to clean out our stuff after we die.

So we should do it now.  To make things easier for our children after we’re dead.

(Really?  Is that supposed to be a priority?)

While cleaning out clutter and unwanted old stuff is always a good thing, the book advocates a truly minimalist lifestyle in our later years.  Like getting rid of everything except your mattress, coffee mug and walker.

Okay, I’m exaggerating.  Just a bit.  But those Swedes can be harsh when it comes to making open spaces on the bookshelves.

I’m a bit conflicted about this.  On one hand, I am always happy to reduce clutter.  God knows I have had enough of it, but I’m pretty darn good at getting rid of stuff, too.   Banjo Man and I have made a lot of progress in the basement over the last few years.  After all, I even convinced him that we were never going to use our ice skates again (you know you are getting old when you measure activities by their hip-breaking potential).

I broached the subject with my friend Barbara last week.  She and her husband recently retired and moved back to Rhode Island, so she is still unpacking boxes.  They did a pretty massive cleaning before the move, but nothing approaching the intensity of a death-cleaning.

She has inherited lots of family things–boxes of slides, quilts, furniture, trinkets– over the years and seems to find them fascinating.  So the concept of “death cleaning” was a bit…repellent.

And as far as making things easier for the kids, Banjo Man’s reaction was to shrug and point out that the kids would be inheriting a house and shouldn’t complain about having to empty it.

I thought that was a bit harsh.  I don’t want them to hate us for having to rent a dumpster.

One of Margareta’s pieces of advice is:  Don’t hang onto things that nobody seems to want.

So you ask the kids if they want certain stuff.  Sounds reasonable.  But I have one son who doesn’t want anything–he doesn’t care for clutter–and one son who lives in fear that we are going to get rid of something important.  I’m not sure about my daughter.  Maybe it’s time to get specific.

Or not.

I really don’t want to start a cleaning project because I am going to die.

Pardon me if that doesn’t sound like a fun way to spend February.

My sister-in-law told me a story of a delicate floral-print sugar and creamer set that she had found after her mother-in-law died.  She packed it in bubble-wrap and stored it carefully in a box in her basement.  Many years later she brought it out to give to a sister-in-law, assuming that she would want her mother’s carefully saved, precious sugar and creamer.

The sister-in-law unwrapped it and after a long moment said, “Uh, did you know this was plastic?”  And she had no memory of the sugar and creamer, no sentimental ties at all.

And neither woman wanted to keep them.  How hilarious is that!!!!

Also, according to the book, you can have your memories without “clinging” to your stuff.

Yes, I can see how that is true.  But I like my stuff.  Most of it, anyway.

What do you think????   Are you a dumpster-before-death or a dumpster-after-death person?

If you want to read more about the book, check it out here:






This entry was posted in a more pie opinion, books & music, family, rhode island. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to the death cleaning dilemma

  1. Ellie says:

    if you have experienced cleaning a house after a parent’s death, you will start decluttering for your children. It was all too encompassing with grieving and hard ass work. And yes, we did end up getting a dumpster plus we set out things with a FREE sign and gave lots to the school/church garage sale. I am intentionally getting rid of stuff. 😱

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