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The Art of Cleaning Up

When we think of cleaning up, many of us think of cleaning up our dinner dishes or cleaning up our bedroom. Cleaning up with the anticipation of our own death, or after the loss of a loved one, isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.

I thought I would take a different approach to the topic of that goes beyond the mundane tiding we do on a daily basis and dives into the intimate and emotional cleaning up we do when death is involved.

Cleaning-Up Before Death

For those of you who may not know of Swedish Death Cleaning, it has become one of the latest trends sweeping across North America. It is not as ominous as it sounds; it is a practical and sensible way to organize your possessions as you get older. It is based on a book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson. The concept is simple: declutter your home so when you die, it lessens the obligation on those you’ve left behind.

It is suggested that those who are 65 and older start the process of shedding their possessions. But really, this is something anyone can do at any time in their life. There is a beautiful method to this approach, so if you are interested in learning more, check out Magnusson’s book.

Cleaning-Up After Death

After the loss of a loved-one, organizing and cleaning their possessions can seem like a daunting task, and it is often emotionally difficult. If you follow the tips below, you might find the process a little more bearable:

1. Don’t Do It Alone

Taking on the task of sorting through a loved ones belongings is something that should be done with proper support. This process can feel like a massive undertaking, and it is helpful to have someone by your side to help you make decisions, as you may experience strong emotions. For some people, they bring a friend or another family member while others might hire a professional organizer. End-of-life doulas are also happy to support and assist during this time. Reach out and ask for help from whomever feels like the right support for you.

2. Don’t Delay

Once you have given yourself time to grieve, you could start sorting through your loved one's personal possessions. Putting this task off may weigh on you, so when you feel emotionally ready, start the process. It will likely help you heal and may even offer a sense of closure.

3. Deciding What Goes Where

When sorting through a loved one's things, it can be a challenge to determine what to keep. Try sorting the belongings into three piles: items to keep, items to donate or sell, and items to throw away. If you are unsure about where an item belongs, put it aside and take some time to process. Rely on your support person and don’t feel rushed through the process.


Madeleine Allman is a death doula candidate with Home Hospice Association. She is an emotional support volunteer for palliative individuals, where she began her journey in the end-of-life sector. She currently works in the communications industry for a not-for-profit. She hopes to transfer her knowledge and skills in advocacy and awareness to help those in palliative care, their caregivers, and the organizations that support them.

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