My sisters and I were fortunate.
My Mother was a very forward-thinking individual. Years before she (and my Father) died, Mom started going through her closets, her paperwork, her jewelry, the items in her safe, her garden area and the storage shed next to it.
She tossed items that were outdated, expired, and the things that were no longer useful to her household. She gave away cherished items, met with a lawyer, updated her will, and made funeral arrangements.
Neighbors and friends thought it was odd but comforted themselves by saying “that’s just Betty.”
Mom, on the other hand, knew exactly what she was doing.
The years were passing by, and she didn’t want her daughters to be burdened with having to clear out piles of stuff from her home after she and her husband died. She had the foresight to put her affairs in order before the events of their deaths.
These days, the courtesy and care of what my Mom was doing now has a name. It’s called dostadning, a hybrid of the Swedish words for death and cleaning.
Not everyone is on board
My Father was much more of a patterned man. He liked his routines and his schedule. Mom? She was a tornado.
I truly think it made him nervous to have familiar (but no longer useful) items be given away or tossed out. He learned long ago not to quibble, and he picked his battles. He didn’t help Mom prepare for the inevitable, but he didn’t stand in her way, either.
Differing styles of dealing with life and death
Over the years since my parents’ passing I have watched friends and other family members deal with the demise of loved ones: in-laws, close friends, siblings or their own Mother or Father. In every case, the chaos left after a death was totally overwhelming.
In the situations where the loved one downsized after retirement, it was easier. Few people would carry pay stubs from the 1940’s into a newer, smaller home. But that was not always the case.
Many people get comfortable – not being able to let go of the past – with children’s bedrooms not touched since they left the house and married. Or countless boxes in the attic of holiday items that are no longer used, or grandchildren’s drawings and painted rocks jealously kept for their loving memories.
All well and good… except that when one passes on, these mementos are left for family members to sort out.
When the adult children go through all this — stuff — full-blown emotional meltdowns or something close to it can happen during the process. Sorting through a loved one’s home after a death is the last thing anyone feels like doing.
Morbid or renewing?
I get it.
No one wants to be chased by the idea of the Grim Reaper at their door. But keeping what you love – and getting rid of what you don’t – isn’t morbid. It’s more like a relief, like a renewal.
There is something very empowering and healthy about taking care of your own space and making it more organized. Clutter is really just a bunch of decisions that you’ve put off making. Most of the junk we have is simply stuff screaming out for a place to be or a decision to be made. Keep it (not countless duplicates) in its place or get rid of it.
Approaches to clearing your clutter
There are lots of ways to get started. There’s the brutal approach, the simple approach, and everything in between.
Brutal begins like this: If your home burned down, what would you replace?
Simple looks more like this: I’ll start with this drawer or this shelf, and I’ll do one of these every week.
Never start with the photographs
Decluttering is very personal. Having a friend come over to help is not always the wisest decision. It’s best to start with something easy like outdated makeup or mismatched socks, leaving the scrapbooks and photos for much, much later.
Life is not about stuff, and unwanted clutter is a drain on your energy. It’s hard to feel motivated when everywhere you look there are piles of miscellaneous items scolding you for not paying them any mind. You might feel weighed down by all these things wanting your attention. Ironically, the “heaviest” pieces in your home are often what you have inherited from your parents or grandparents.
Yes, it might be beautiful and still have use… but, do you want it in your home? Today?
Times have changed, also. What used to be a lusted-after item from a parent – crystal, china, silver cutlery (that you must polish), dining room furniture, collections of signed figurines – turns out to mean nothing at all to the current generation.
How do you feel about this?
Would you like to get a head start on your own unnecessary clutter and not leave it to family and friends after you are gone?
Tips to get started
Start small. There is no point to saying “I’ll do the whole house on a weekend.” Begin with a section of the closet or with one grouping, like culling your old magazines, food containers with no matching parts, old shoes or your outdated medicines.
Ask yourself: What’s the worst thing that would happen if I got rid of this? Could I rent or borrow this item if I need it in the future? If you are paring down to a smaller living space, or if you want to clear your home of unnecessary junk, this is a good question to ask yourself.
Trash any manuals for appliances or digital items. You can get them online. Toss all duplicate items. Stay with one room at a time and put a container by the door of the room you’re tidying and drop out-of-place objects there. This saves time and keeps you focused.
Use the 3-box method. One box is for tossing, one is for donating and one is for keeping.
Digitize your photos. When you finally do get to the old photographs, take a digital copy of them instead of keeping the physical picture. Place these photos on a digital picture frame which will rotate hundreds of photos for your enjoyment. This will save you tons of room, and at the same time you can keep your most precious mementos.
Clearing your home of unnecessary clutter is a powerful step toward caring for your heirs. Death is an emotional and sometimes difficult transition we all go through. Why not give the most thoughtful gift you can for your loved ones and begin now to simplify your home?
You will enjoy the revitalization of the process and you can bet that your heirs and loved ones will thank you.
About the Authors
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance, medical tourism and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their award winning website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible available on their website bookstore or on Amazon.com.