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What Is Swedish Death Cleaning?

By Mary Holmes

I often reflect on my business in terms of what is working and what is not and what are the biggest challenges and rewards. Certainly one of the most challenging parts of working with seniors as they are downsizing in preparation for a move is watching the anxiety they feel about letting go of their cherished possessions. A senior transition is extremely stressful for many reasons, e.g. there is a lot to do, there are deadlines to meet, there is the prospect of leaving a home where happy memories were made, there is the fear of the unknown, etc. Add to this that most seniors need to peer down their furniture and other personal possessions substantially, it is understandable that it is very difficult for a senior to make the necessary decisions regarding what should stay and what should go.

Fine Line

When I am working with clients, I feel my job is to walk a fine line between helping them take the appropriate items and not adding undo additional stress to the process. Move in day can be extremely stressful when a senior has not downsized enough. Quite often, a unit in a retirement community is under 1,000 square feet – which means that a senior may have to say goodbye to 50% to 75% of their belongings. As hard as it is for a senior to make decisions during the sorting and downsizing process, it is equally hard on move-in day when they realize that there is no way everything is going to fit and they are tripping over an abundance of items. On the other hand, once move-in day has passed, a senior will generally have less to do than they did during the transition process – so more decisions can be made on how to disperse the “extra” items. So at the same time I am guiding a senior to make decisions on what they really need, I am also assuring them that there is a Goodwill drop off wherever they are moving to that they can take advantage of once the dust settles.

Swedish What??

One of the latest concepts I have read a lot about is called Swedish Death Cleaning. Although the name has a negative image, it is actually a rewarding and practical idea. It suggests that downsizing should begin once you are middle age and should continue on a regular basis throughout the remainder of your life. The goal is to have all of your affairs in order and minimal personal possessions upon your passing, so it is easy for your surviving family and friends. Parting with items that we have worked hard to purchase, been gifted, or inherited can be very difficult emotionally. I am certainly not a psychologist, but from my experience working with a variety of clients, the reasons why this is true vary depending on personal history. But on the flip side of this, most people report having feelings of joy and freedom once they start this process – no matter the reason for not wanting to let go. I am attaching two article on Swedish Death Cleaning that will give you some guidance on how the process should work: Article 1 and Article 2.

Spring Cleaning Time!

As we approach spring, it seems like a good time to evaluate our relationship with material possessions. If we are honest with ourselves about the reasons we cant let go, we can most likely come up with an acceptable solution other than holding on to items that we haven’t used in years. Starting small in areas that store items we never use (basement, garage, attic) may be a good solution. You may be surprised at the snowball effect your efforts will have once you start to have positive feelings about making decisions and feeling lighter.

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