I’ll admit it. Swedish death cleaning sounds morbid. The first thing that comes to mind is a couple of ethereal, ghoulish figures floating around the house with a Dyson and a feather duster. Or maybe a new cleaning service: The Living Dead: We Get Rid of the Skeletons in Your Closet.
Neither of those examples is even close to the reality of Swedish death cleaning. According to Margaret Magnusson, author of the book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, it is “the process of radically decluttering your home so your children don’t have to do it after you’ve passed away.” Personally, I think it’s a fabulous idea.
Time and again I’ve watched friends and family, while trying to deal with their own grief, have to deal with the mess and clutter left after a death. The chaos, hostility,and bitterness that follows these events can last a very long time. Swedish death cleaning can prevent all of this ugliness. It is reflective, gentle, and considerate of everyone’s feelings. Decluttering is a kindness to everyone left behind. It is meant to help to smooth the grief process for family and friends.
When to Start the Process
It’s probably a good idea to begin this process at around age 65. At this age, unless there are extenuating circumstances, mental capacity is still good and the confusion that can accompany aging hasn’t set in.
Some people are completely on board with this concept and happy to make things easier for their children and other relatives. Then, of course, you will have the people that have difficulty dealing with any type of change or simply don’t care what happens after their own demise. Here are a few tips to get your parents or other elderly family members to “buy in” to this process. Actually, it doesn’t hurt to make it a goal for your own future.
The “Safety” Perspective
- Mention that throw rugs, small tables, and ottomans are potential trip and fall hazards. They need to be removed.
- Piles of books, newspapers, and magazines are not only unsightly, but a fire hazard. They need to go.
- Items piled haphazardly on the top shelf of a closet may fall out when the door is opened, causing a head injury. They need to be sorted and reorganized.
Make it Their Idea
- Admire a few items that you would like to have now. Many elderly people love to give
away their belongings, and they are flattered if a family member is interested enough in an object to want to own it. This may encourage them to give away even more items.
- A piece of jewelry or another memento will be so much more meaningful if it is gifted to that special grandchild or family member while the owner is still living. A story can be shared that will create a lasting memory that is forever linked to that gift.
The Best Solution
The perfect solution for this task is a secure, affordable self-storage unit. If your parents or loved ones are having difficulty letting go of their belongings, you can involve them in making the decision to store rather than discard items. Turn this chore into a special event by asking your parents or elderly loved ones to share their favorite memories of special objects. You can record these moments, take pictures of the items, and create a memory journal. Another thing to keep in mind – there will be some bad memories, and this process enables you and your family to let go of them.
Placing these items in storage is not as final as discarding or donating them; that can be done much later. Your parents will be more relaxed knowing that they can give some thought to what they want done with their possessions. In fact, they may enjoy discovering things that they’ve forgotten about. This gives you plenty of time to consult with other family members as to what they might want.
Introducing the Swedish death cleaning concept can be difficult. It requires sensitivity and tact. But, once you’ve begun an open dialogue, you’ll find it far less traumatic than expected. Don’t be hesitant; in the end you’ll have that good feeling of knowing that you’ve done the right thing for everyone involved.