‘Death Cleaning’ isn’t as scary as it sounds! (4 short book reviews)

Sometimes I notice a meaningful, but unintentional, theme among the books I read.

Here are some recent good reads:

'Death Cleaning' isn't as scary as it sounds! Click To Tweet

Have you heard of Swedish Death Cleaning?

It’s the latest organizing buzz phrase, based on the book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter, by Margareta Magnusson. The book is about decluttering your home and life now, so your loved ones won’t have to do it for you after you die. Which is precisely what I’ve been talking and writing about for the past few years, just not in so many words!

Declutter now so your loved ones won't have to after you die. Click To Tweet

I don’t tend to use euphemisms for death – passed away, departed, etc. — but I did stop short of adding ‘death’ to my business name, which was ‘Organized for Life’. Instead of ‘Organized for Life and Death’, I went with ‘Organized for Life…and beyond’. I thought that ‘death’ might be off-putting to potential clients, but it’s apparently not a problem with the Swedes! The book is short, and more lighthearted than you’d expect. Charming, even. It goes a long way towards normalizing the concept of talking about death and preparing for it well in advance.

Are you planning to leave everything to your loved ones?

They certainly did In They Left Us Everything: A Memoir, by Canadian author Plum Johnson. My Canadian website consultant extraordinaire, Janet Barclay, recommended this book to me. It was good – funny and touching — and I recommend it, especially to my professional organizing colleagues. The author recounts her experience of dealing with her parent’s entire household of possessions after they died. The task turned out to be much harder and more rewarding than she ever imagined.

Leaving them everything is not the best plan. Click To Tweet

The author’s message, in the end, was about how much better she got to know her parents throughout the process of dealing with their stuff. And I can see how that might be true in some cases. If this is what happens in your family — because they left you everything and you really had no choice — great. However, I disagree that it’s a good plan. Take my Mom’s Boxes, for example. I was lucky that my aunt (who lived with my mom at the time in another state) took care of most of my mom’s furniture, books, clothes, and such. But I was still left with 33 boxes of paper: scrapbooks, photo albums, journals, letters, etc.

Are they trash or treasure? I’m still sorting it all out. Am I getting to know her better in the process? Not really. There are a few genealogical gold nuggets and puzzle pieces in there, to be sure, but I guess I was fortunate to already knew my mom pretty well.

Are you a senior, or helping a senior downsize?

If so, then you should read Don’t Toss My Memories in the Trash: A Step-by-Step Guide to Helping Seniors Downsize, Organize, and Move, by Vickie Dellaquila. This book will guide you through every step of the process, including deciding to move, sorting and organizing belongings, creating a plan for moving, and getting settled in a new home.

Forced downsizing is kind of like forced death cleaning. You literally cannot fit a whole lifetime’s worth of stuff from a large house into a tiny apartment. Seniors can end up feel resentful, and helpers, related or not, can feel frustrated in the process. It’s not just about the stuff, it’s about the memories and emotions associated with the situation and the stuff. The advice in this book can help ensure a smooth transition.

‘Death Cleaning’ isn’t as scary as it sounds! (4 short book reviews) Click To Tweet

Do you want to live with less?

But you don’t have to be a senior to downsize. And you don’t have to be anywhere near death to start death cleaning. Why not start now? Think of it like writing a will. What do you want to happen to your stuff? Will your loved ones be able to tell which things were important to you, and which things are meaningless? Have you made your wishes known to others? What if you aren’t old or sick at all, but you get hit by a bus tomorrow? Or, maybe you just want a life that is simpler and clutter-free?

There have been many great organizing books written by my esteemed colleagues over the years. But my current recent favorite is Kathy Vines’ Clever Girl’s Guide to Living with Less: Break Free from Your Stuff, Even When Your Head and Heart Get in the Way. The author examines all the psychological reasons why letting go of stuff is so hard, and applies that knowledge to five tough categories of stuff. From the last page: “…it’s never about the stuff, and when you understand that, you’ll finally break free from it.”

Of course, if you get tired of reading, and you’d like some hands-on de-cluttering and decision-making help, or virtual guidance, don’t hesitate to call me, or a friend, or find a professional organizer near you at www.napo.net!

Have you read any of these books?

Are you downsizing, or helping a loved one to downsize?

Have you started death cleaning?

Please share with us in the comments below!

Copyright 2018 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
I welcome social media links directly to this page!
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  1. Seana Turner on June 18, 2018 at 10:37 am

    Okay, this is cray that we are on the same page with our posts this week! Sounds like we had a similar reaction to Margaret Magnusson’s book. I’d still like to read the memoir Janet recommended. It’s on my list. I’m a fan of all of these:)

  2. Janet Barclay on June 18, 2018 at 10:54 am

    Hazel, I’m so pleased that you enjoyed They Left Us Everything! I was reflecting on the enormity of Johnson’s task as we sifted through my father’s apartment recently. That was overwhelming enough, and he had already downsized more than once – but it had its rewards as well. My siblings and I plan to get together in the fall to go through several boxes of photographs and other memorabilia.

  3. Linda Samuels on June 18, 2018 at 6:14 pm

    I love how you’ve paired this group of books together – living with less, letting go, downsizing when you are and aren’t ready. As I just finished a clearing out and selling my parents’ home of close to 60 years, I think I’m going to have to read Plum Johnson’s memoir.

    • Hazel Thornton on June 22, 2018 at 1:01 pm

      There are so many of us organizers going through that! I hope your experience wasn’t too painful.

      • Linda Samuels on February 22, 2021 at 9:39 am

        Reflecting on my experience clearing out my parents’ home, it was a mixture of pain, reflection, and joy. There were so many different emotions, and I embraced them all. It was an absolutely incredible experience.

  4. Pam on June 22, 2018 at 9:47 am

    I read ‘They Left Us Everything’ and would agree with you Hazel that everything is not what I want to leave behind or deal with when my loved ones go. I found it a great read because I am local to where the home talked about in the book was so I found the descriptions fascinating. I loved how Plum Johnson got so much out of the process and I can see that for some it could be therapeutic but the process is certainly not for everyone. The time investment is immense! I would rather spend quality time with people not stuff.

    • Hazel Thornton on June 22, 2018 at 1:00 pm

      Did Janet recommend it to you? (Or vice-versa?) And are you the one who said once that you were so close you could walk by the house?

  5. Janet Barclay on June 22, 2018 at 12:21 pm

    Speaking of unintentional themes, I’ve read three novels this year that featured miners and/or mining – all different locations and eras.

    • Hazel Thornton on June 22, 2018 at 12:59 pm

      Funny. If you didn’t know better you might think my book club was purposely focused on WWII novels. I complain of it but occasionally pick one myself. There are so many stories that came out of that war!

  6. Neena on February 22, 2021 at 6:41 am

    Hi Hazel,
    Great book recommendations around a hugely important topic. Adding these to my reading list.

  7. Ronni Eisenberg on February 22, 2021 at 7:47 am

    This reminds me of a dear client who wanted to declutter and organize her home, so her family wouldn’t have to, after she was gone. Every time I would arrive at her home, she would change her mind and wanted to do something else, like go out for lunch. It was challenging.
    Then one day, she confided, in tears, that going through her belongings meant that she was going to die. It was so emotional, of course for her and for me as well. Fast forward to the end. She passed away, suddenly, from a stroke and left her family a war-zone of stuff that needed to be gone through. I went in to help the family and it was shocking how her imprint was so quickly gone and so many items were thrown away as though she never existed. I know this is what she feared.
    Nevertheless, her memory never leaves me for sure. I think of her every day.

  8. Diane N Quintana on February 22, 2021 at 7:57 am

    I have not read 3 of these books, Hazel, but they are now on my list. I know the concept behind Swedish Death cleaning and embrace it whole heartedly. It such a shame when families are left with the task of going through all of their parents possessions. Hasty decisions are made. Plus it’s such an onerous task. Thank you for this.

  9. Sabrina Quairoli on February 22, 2021 at 9:55 am

    I have not read these 3 books; thank you for sharing your reviews. I heard of death cleaning. But felt that we were doing this already in our smaller home. Recently, my husband, on his own, jumped on the bandwagon, and that was huge for him! I started revisiting the areas that were not visited in a while in the rest of the house, and wow, it was so freeing.

  10. Margarita Ibbott @DownshiftingPRO on February 22, 2021 at 10:09 am

    Holy smokes this is organizing for seniors GOLD. I have heard of one or two of these books but I can’t imagine an entire memoir. Will definitely have to pick that one up. Thanks for the reading suggestions.

  11. Julie Bestry on February 22, 2021 at 10:51 am

    I have read the book about death cleaning, which I loved, especially compared to so many big-name organizing titles in the US. And I think Vicki’s book is fabulous. I have read the book about death cleaning, which I loved, especially compared to so many big-name organizing titles in the US. And I think Vicki‘s book is fabulous, for clients and for organizers. This reminds me that I have to get Kathy‘s book, and I am intrigued to learn more about They Left Us Everything.

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