Don’t Let Decluttering be the Death of You

    Moving on. Starting fresh. All statements my dad threw around as he tossed away innumerable issues of Architectural Record. Just weeks before he had been decluttering my grandparents’ overflowing basement. This was his ultimate wake-up call. One of the most dreaded known tasks is cleaning out a deceased parent’s attic or basement. Our basement, like many American families, is teeming with possessions, or as my family more casually calls it, stuff.

    I, too, find it difficult to let go of sentimental objects: birthday cards from relatives, artwork from grade school (save the macaroni art!), countless stuffed animals that have seen better days, etc. Oftentimes, I have the mentality that I will use an object eventually or it will serve some purpose in the future, but most of the time, these neglected objects remain in the dim, dusty corners of my closet.

    Döstädning, or “death cleaning,” is what the Swedish call this kind of decluttering, removing unneeded or unnecessary items from your home to make it tidy in preparation of your death. Although the term sounds a bit dark, the act of döstädning removes the burden of cleaning from the loved ones of the deceased. I think it’s safe to say that many of us dread the day our parents leave this Earth, but death is not something to be afraid of. Instead of fearing the passing of your parents or yourself, death cleaning can take you down memory lane by saying goodbye to old knick-knacks and trinkets. Perhaps you can discard your old soccer trophies, your unusable VHS tapes, or even your dried corsage from senior prom (guilty).

    You also don’t necessarily need to discard all your unwanted items. You can have a yard sale, give items to friends and family, or donate to a Goodwill or Salvation Army. Something my own extended family did was play the White Elephant gift exchange. Instead of using gag gifts, we swapped items from my grandma and grandpa’s basement. Some of the gifts brought out laughs and humorous stories, and other gifts, like my own model ship, are now proudly on display at home. One man’s trash, another man’s treasure as they say. The process may be saddening, but it will ultimately follow with relief for you and your family.

    Another expert on the topic of decluttering is Marie Kondo, best-selling author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing and star of the Netflix original, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. Famous for her organizing advice, Marie Kondo wisely advises, “By eliminating excess visual information that doesn’t spark joy, you can make your space much more peaceful and comfortable.” She also recommends cleaning by category: clothes, papers/documents, komono (miscellaneous items), and sentimental items. Although I initially laughed at the now popular term of “sparking joy,” there is so much truth behind it. Does an item bring you excitement, happiness? If not, it’s time to let go. By following this simple rule of thumb, you will be able to let go of items much more easily. Thank the item for its role in your life, and then say goodbye.

    Decluttering must be accomplished at some point, so why not start now and save yourself and your family from future headache. A messy house can also increase the possibility of tripping and falling in your older years. This type of major cleaning can be stressful, I know. Don’t feel pressured to throw absolutely everything out. Keep a box of memories for yourself: love letters, photos, etc. Take it day by day, item by item, and it will be worth it in the end.

    My mom vows to leave me a spotless basement. Fingers crossed.

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