Death Cleaning

You can’t take it with you, so decide now how to de-clutter your life

By Barbara Pierce

You’ve collected so much wonderful stuff in your life. But it will be the stuff of nightmares for you, your kids or whomever has to deal with it.

“Stop asking yourself if something sparks joy, and start considering how your clutter will affect your loved ones after you die!” advises Margareta Magnusson in her book, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter.”

Magnusson suggests putting your home in order while reflecting on the tiny joys that make up your life. This process of cleaning out unnecessary belongings can be done at any age, but should be done before others have to do it for you. You remove unnecessary things and make your home nice and orderly when you think the time is coming closer for you to leave the planet.

April Cacciatori of Rome has done this, both for herself and for her mother-in-law. She downsized for herself and her husband to prepare them to move into a new home.

At the same time, she prepared her mother-in-law to move in with them. Cacciatori is a certified life coach and licensed massage therapist and founder of Zensations Therapeutic Massage in Rome.

“It’s tumultuous!” said Cacciatori about her experience in merging two households.

Regarding downsizing for herself, Cacciatori shared what she discovered.

“As we planned to move, I started de-cluttering. I began with our big walk-in closet. I had to go through that closet three times! First time, I got rid of a lot of stuff, but still couldn’t walk into the closet. The same thing occurred the second time. The third time through, I emptied the whole closet, decided what to bring to our new home and what to clear out. To create a new beginning, I had to clean out what was there,” she said.

“When I de-clutter, I look at a piece and think, ‘Will this serve me where I am going?’ If not, I let it go. I say, ‘Thank you for serving me,’ and let it go. I honor the item by remembering its history. It is hard to let go of stuff,” she added.

Heart-wrenching process

“Going through all your old belongings, remembering when you used them last and hopefully saying ‘good bye’ to several of them is difficult,” said Magnusson in her book. “People tend to hoard rather than throw away.”

“To downsize a home takes time, so don’t wait too long,” she said. “There are many ways to go about this. Here’s my method: For each item, decide whether to give away, throw, or keep. Do this for each room.”

“So many of us hoard paper — magazines, newspaper clippings, recipes,” Cacciatori said. “I ask myself, ‘Have I used this in the past six months? Am I ever going to use it? Could I find this information some other way?’ You can Google anything today.”

“If you’re moving into assisted living, you won’t need most of your stuff. Think about whether there is someone you want to have it. Or have a garage sale, though this is a big undertaking. Consider giving items to the Salvation Army,” she said.

Tell your loved ones and friends what you’re up to. Invite them to take things you’re ready to give away. Perhaps a grandchild is about to move into his or her first apartment. Show them your things and have them take stuff with them.

“If you can’t bring your stuff where you’re going, bring photos,” she suggested. “They may be painful to look at, but look at the good memories. Or take a photo of the person who received the item; it will remind you that your piece is being loved again by someone you wanted to have it.”

Moving an aged parent out of their home can be the stuff of nightmares. Cacciatori shares: “We had a real eye opener when my mother-in-law was hospitalized. That was when we realized we needed a plan for when she transfers to heaven.”

“We started by talking with her about this. We had a first conversation where we discussed all the possibilities with her,” she noted. “With an aged parent, discuss what they see for themselves, discuss all the possibilities, whether it’s an apartment or assisted living. A senior may be unaware that they need assisted living.”

The first few times you bring this up, they may want to avoid the topic, but it’s important to continue to bring this up gently.

“They’ll feel a loss of control over their life, so give them the power to decide,” she added.

“My mother-in-law grieved about leaving her home; it was her home for 65 years. She was apprehensive about moving into a new place. Seniors who managed their home are giving up their home. It’s almost like giving up their driver’s license,” Cacciatori said. “Each step, discuss with the aged person, with love and grace. They may need prodding to let things go.”