The Swedish Death Cleaning decluttering trend is less morbid than it may sound. You may not want to think about clearing your parents home before they’ve even passed, but if you wait it can be tough. Here’s why you should use this trendy new way to organize a home as inspiration to start cleaning out an elderly parents house earlier than you think.
Cleaning out your parent’s home
It seems like ever since my mom and stepfather (I call him Dad) got married and moved into the house they still live in today, the garage has been completely filled with “stuff.” It’s a situation that many Americans are currently experiencing.
My (step)grandmother, Edith, was in failing health and had been living with her son for many years. Naturally, when he and my mom got married and bought a house, my grandmother was part of the package, along with me, my two sisters and all of our belongings.
Edith had a lot of stuff that she had accumulated over the years, which took a while to pack up. She kept everything and when asked why she was still holding on to a 20-year-old Ziploc bag or why over half the bottles of spices in her kitchen cabinets were from 1973, she would remind us, “I’m a Depression kid. We had to save everything.”
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Inheriting a house full of stuff
Once all the furniture and boxes were moved into the new house, anything that wouldn’t fit was stored in the garage “temporarily” until my parents could go through everything to decide what to keep, what to donate, and what to throw away.
As is often the story, temporarily turned into several years, and you would often hear the phrase “we’ve got to clean out that garage” uttered throughout the halls of the house.
My grandmother’s health, which had never been very robust to begin with, began to decline rapidly and eventually the family decided it was time to think about hospice care. Shortly after a new health crisis sent her to the hospital yet again, my grandmother began to show the signs one usually notices when the death of a loved one is imminent.
My older sister, who flew down to the family home in Alabama all the way from Seattle the moment she got the news, insisted that we finally clean up the garage before Gram’s time was up. Our clearing out the garage of a literal lifetime of items was a sort of Dostadning, a new American fad in decluttering and organization that’s become part of the recently popular Minimalist movement.
What is Swedish Death Cleaning?
In her new book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter, artist and author Margareta Magnusson shares with us the Swedish practice of dostadning, a word which literally translates to “death cleaning.”
(In Sweden, “do” means “death” and “stadning” means “cleaning.”)
Dostadning is an easy way for people over age 50 to clean up their homes and organize their possessions so that their loved ones won’t be left with the burden of figuring out what to do with their belongings after they die. While this may sound like a huge bummer of a way to declutter your home, it’s really quite clever and useful.
Dostadning isn’t just about cleaning up your mess before you leave this world. As Magnusson explains, “Death cleaning is not about dusting or mopping up; it is about a permanent form of organization that makes your everyday life run more smoothly.”
Magnusson believes that in general, people have too many things in their homes. “I think it’s a good thing to get rid of things you don’t need.” Magnusson says she’s always death cleaned, “because I want to have it nice around me, keep some order.”
As a decluttering method, Death Cleaning can be compared to another recently popular decluttering school of thought, the Konmari method.
Star of the new Netflix series Tidying Up With Marie Kondo and author of the recently-published decluttering bible, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, Kondo preaches keeping what you love or use and getting rid of the rest. Read our take on the Konmari method here.
However, while the Konmari method prescribes throwing away, recycling, or donating what is discarded, Death Cleaning requires us to let go of excess stuff by giving the things you no longer want to family and friends whenever you get the chance.
Let’s be clear though, dostadning isn’t about reaching a final goal of getting rid of all your stuff but streamlining your life so you’re only keeping what makes you happy.
The thing about Death Cleaning is it can’t be started and finished in a day, week, or month. Especially if your home has accumulated as much stuff as my parents’ home has, dostadning takes time and is a lifestyle change instead of a short time period of intense purging.
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Clean out the house before the loss of a loved one
Magnusson stresses that every person over the age of 50 should begin death cleaning sooner rather than later, but the practice is useful for anyone who wants to declutter, simplify, and organize their life, at any age.
Research has shown higher stress levels and reduced productivity can be caused by a cluttered home. With a house full of stuff, there is also an increased risk of accidents, falls, and other health and safety hazards.
This is especially true of households that include infants and small children, adults of advanced age, and those with physical health concerns.
According to renowned psychotherapist Amy Morin, “When there is less chaos on the outside, we’re likely to feel less chaos on the inside.”
With the added benefit of stress relief, not just saving our loved ones the arduous task of making decisions about which of our things to keep and what to toss out and who gets what after we die, it’s easy to see how dostadning would quickly catch on in our increasingly clutter-phobic American culture.
When to start Death Cleaning
Death Cleaning can and should be started at any age. Not only does it make the grieving process a little easier for those we’ll leave behind, but by getting rid of all the unnecessary stuff and the constant, materialistic quest for more stuff along with it, we are better able to appreciate and focus on the important, intangible things in life.
The idea here is that true happiness doesn’t come from stuff, but that it comes from relationships and experiences; when we get rid of all the clutter surrounding us, we can better see what truly matters to us and what brings joy to our lives while we still have time left to live them.
As you go through the Death Cleaning process in your home, you should also be thinking about big end-of-life decisions such as your will, funeral or memorial service, and the inheritances you’d like to leave. You need to vocalize your desires and intentions, being honest (though gentle) with your friends and family about your plans.
Dostadning is a process meant to be comprehensive and practical that helps you prepare for the end of your life. Though it sounds morbid at first, Death Cleaning allows you to make the big decisions about your death. It’s your death, so you should have the final word on what happens surrounding it.
Think of dostadning as an opportunity for you and your loved ones to look back on life and all its wonderful memories together, recounting favorite old stories and passing down important family history.
Now that my grandmother is gone, we still have some of her things that were important to us to keep. My parents are now in the process of downsizing from that house into a much smaller apartment now that they are getting older and there’s only the 2 of them in such a large house.
I travel there as often as I can to help them with their own dostadning process, and I must say it’s a much more joyous and life-affirming decluttering method than it sounds.
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Hiring an estate cleanout professional
If you’re thinking about hopping on the Death Cleaning trend or have already started, LoadUp can help you get rid of all the old stuff that nobody wants to keep, no matter which decluttering method you’ve decided to use.
When decluttering and clearing out your home of junk, it’s easy to end up with loads and loads and loads of old junk that needs to go. Having to figure out how to get rid of it properly and then tackling disposal yourself can be the most overwhelming task in the decluttering process.
LoadUp is a nationwide professional junk removal company that will send a team of Loaders to your home to pick up your bulky, bagged, and boxed junk items and haul them away to be disposed of in the most eco-friendly way possible.
With online booking, GPS tracking, real-time notifications, a dedicated customer support team, and prices an average of 20-30% less than what other junk removal companies charge, LoadUp makes getting free of clutter fast, easy, and stress-free.