Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from John P. Weiss.
When I was thirteen years old, my father suffered a heart attack in front of me and my mother. We were in the living room watching television and he said he didn’t feel well.
Emergency responders were called, followed by several intense hours at the hospital. Thankfully, Dad recovered, but not my boyhood sense of immortality. Life, I quickly learned, can change in an instant.
Fast forward 27 years and I’m holding my father’s hand in a dementia care facility. He is unconscious. The hospice nurse tells me that hearing is often the last sense to go. So I tell my father that I love him. That everyone in our family is fine. That if he’s tired, to rest.
He slipped away peacefully an hour later.
I made all the arrangements for my mother. We held a small memorial for family and friends. We reminisced, laughed, cried, and said our goodbyes.
The next day I drove to my parent’s house. My mother wanted to downsize her home and move closer to me, my wife, and son.
Dad was a packrat. The garage was filled to the gills, and the rest of the house was equally loaded with a lifetime of possessions. If Dad had met Marie Kondo, he’d have told her that all his stuff brings him joy.
Unfortunately, most of Dad’s stuff didn’t bring me joy. It took weeks of hard work to simplify, declutter, and unload everything. I found a consignment business that took most of the large furniture pieces. I gave away many of Dad’s tools and garage items. There were countless trips to the Goodwill and the local dump.
At the time, I was unfamiliar with minimalism, but the experience left a big impression. I knew I wanted a simpler, less cluttered life.
Don’t leave this burden to them
Margareta Magnusson published a slender book in 2018 titled “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.” Magnusson’s first encounter with
It’s an enormous task to declutter and organize after the death of a parent or loved one. As Magnusson points out, young families today lead busy lives. She notes:
“Do not ever imagine that anyone will wish—or be able—to schedule time off to take care of what you didn’t bother to take care of yourself. No matter how much they love you, don’t leave this burden to them.”
Swedish death cleaning, Magnusson points out, is as much (or more) for you as for the people who come after. Doing so gives you the chance to find meaning and memory in your things. You’ll also feel a sense of lightness and peace.
If you don’t remember why a possession has meaning or why you kept it, it will be easier to part with. Sentimental items, letters, and photographs are often the hardest to deal with. Fortunately, they can be organized into albums or digitized.
The old barber shop
I went through hundreds of old photos after my father died. I tossed duplicates and pictures of people unfamiliar to my mother and I. The rest were reduced down to one small box, which we plan to digitize into a computer file. It can then be used with a digital photo frame, to enjoy all the pictures as they cycle through.
One of the photos I found in my Dad’s stuff was of the old, vintage barber shop in town where he got his hair cut. Dad used to take me there when I was a kid.
Dad’s barber was named Pat. He was a slender, short man and his small shop was always neat and tidy. Opening the door to his shop, you’d hear the dangling bell as it clanked against the glass.
Inside, there were three of those old barber chairs. You know, the ones with puffy seats, armrests, and those big, metal foot pedals.
Pat had combs suspended in jars filled with mystery blue liquid. There were various electric clippers, hot towels, a small TV (with the game on), and various sports magazines strewn about the waiting area.
After a haircut, Pat would liberally powder your face with a big, soft brush. Then, for the kids, he’d hand out Bazooka Joe bubble gum.
I thought Pat’s barber shop was cool, but I wasn’t old enough to appreciate what my Dad admired most about Pat.
The capacity to enjoy less
Dad once told me that Pat was the most down to earth, authentic, wise, well-adjusted man he knew. Pat loved people and conversation, and his work was the perfect forum for both.
My father was an administrative law judge, and his work was complicated and stressful. In fact, it’s what led to my Dad’s heart attack. Several other judges that Dad worked with suffered heart attacks as well.
Dad admired Pat because he led a simple, uncomplicated life. Even Pat’s home (where my father visited him once to help on a legal matter) was a small, neat, tidy house.
According to my Dad, Pat was far happier than most of the men Dad worked with. Pat had crafted a simple, uncomplicated life.
Despite Dad’s tendency to hoard stuff, he knew simplicity was a virtue. He once told me, “Do we own our things, or do our things own us?”
Perhaps Socrates, who my father admired, said it best:
“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.”
Roses in our winter
What Swedish death cleaning taught me about life is that relationships and experiences are what matter, not the stuff we fill our homes and lives with.
Yes, some possessions enrich our lives, but the sweetest memories come from experiences with loved ones and friends.
As we approach the twilight of our lives, memories become important companions. As the author George Will once wrote:
“Memories are roses in our winter.”
Don’t wait until you are old and tired to simplify your life. Swedish death cleaning is not consigned to the elderly.
We can declutter and embrace minimalism at any age. Doing so will unburden you, allow more time for loved ones, and create an abundance of memories to cherish for a lifetime.
John P. Weiss is a fine artist, writer, and retired police chief. He blogs at JohnPWeiss.com about living a more artful life.
I am now decluttering in my second year of retirement and it is so freeing. My house is small and I am reclaiming my space and sanity. I eBay what I can and took a car load of bigger items to the local thrift store and I have not missed a thing. Many items I ran across I didn’t have a clue where it came from and in the process found some neat things to use. I love following your posts and you have been very inspiring to me. I am alone with no family and I don’t want my friends to be burdened with anything except burying me. I have my will and instructions in place. I am scaring the crap out of some of my friends because they think I am going somewhere and yes we all are going somewhere one of these days. We are just passing through. It’s so freeing!
Several years ago I did a major purge of “stuff” to get my house ready to sell. Earlier this year, I downsized from a 5 bedroom plus den home to a 3 bedroom bungalow. I sold a lot of furniture and things before I moved but find that I still moved too many things. I continue to put ads on marketplace and sell things I really do not need and I have taken many car loads to a local thrift shop. I have never been a pack rat but my daughters have told me that I am an exceptionally clean and very organized hoarder. It feels good to get rid of things. The objective is a place for everything and everything in its place. If there is no place for it, it goes.
Mohammed Abuomar says
Life arrangements against cluttering with minimizing items is a wise decision, amazing character of the barber with detailed description of the barber shop components, and fine cartooning, thanks.
Elizabeth Taylor says
I think we should rename it Swedish Life Cleaning because it represents an idea I can express that life lived better is about less volume and more density of meaning. I don’t think is should ever apply to the sentimental things, like a personally written card, or a clay bird your grandson made, perhaps we can declutter those things by organizing or storing rather than letting go. These token’s of life’s journey through time who have mattered are tangible memories, connections to meaning. It comes to mind that perhaps I can put more thought into things I decide to get as well as things I can give away :)
Sharon Sullivan says
I am sorry to hear you lost your Mom this year. This weekend I too went to visit my parent’s graves as I have not been able to due to COVID. It took almost a year to get Mom’s gravestone put in place after she passed. I don’t know how to describe the feeling I had in finally being able to see her finished grave, pay my respects, and have a conversation with the two of them. It was almost like a sense of closure.
Your article about simplifying reminded me of the opportunity I had to do that with Mom. It was a difficult time as she knew in her heart that she couldn’t keep everything as she was relinquishing her home for a small space. She really wanted to keep as much as possible because her things were connected to special memories. In the end, the memories stayed, but the things did not, and after a while, she was at peace with it.
I too have recently decided to spend my time purging, with many trips to Good Will after discussions with my daughter. I find life to be much more enjoyable in experiences than in collecting things. I would rather travel, meet new people, paint, and dive into the spiritual. Things that fill your soul are much more rewarding than those that fill your space. There is definitely something to be said about simplicity….Sharon
Walter Paul Bebirian says
when I was a little boy perhaps 6 or 7 – the family – which was my parents and my little brother who was about a year younger than me – would travel to my grandparents house in Brooklyn and sometimes out of the clear blue horizon my dad would take me to this man’s house – which was in a basement of another building and I do not remember what we did there but I do remember that his name was Ali Baba and he was a mysterious sort of fellow – in fact I never knew the story of Ali Baba and the 40 thieves until years later but now thinking back this fellow was much older and perhaps was there in Brooklyn when my dad was a little boy and held some mysterious enchantment for my dad as well – which is why I imagine that he took me to see Ali Baba –
if you want more of this story and many many more other stories you will have to wait since I am now 71 years old and these memories are just beginning to surface –
and if not – then take them as they come –
We just finished the 2nd garage sale of the summer and it is clear that de-cluttering is going to be a multi-year process. Significant items we will continue to offer on CraigsList, being more diligent to renew the ads. One man’s treasure can also become another man’s treasure if the price is right.
Kristi Dykes says
My mother and grandmother passed away a week apart. They both had so much stuff to go through. It was overwhelming. After having gone through that (while grieving too), I swore that I wouldn’t do that to my kids. The following spring break week (which is when i do my usual spring cleaning), I got rid of almost everything. I kept functional furniture; cleaned out my closet & donated the clothes & shoes I didn’t wear; I even cleared my walls of clutter. It was liberating. 2 years later, I met my husband. I sent my last kid off to college; sold almost everything I had (I kept clothes, pictures, and only sentimental decorative items, such as the “Footprints” in the sand story) and I moved in with my husband (he was my very serious boyfriend then). I felt so free.
John P. Weiss says
Congratulations, Kristi, on successfully downsizing your possessions. For many of us, the loss of a loved one is how we first learn about the burden of clutter and unnecessary possessions. But then, if we’re smart, we learn how to simplify our lives. It feels good to get more organized!
I was tickled by the title because my family is 100% Swedish and saves stuff. My Great Grandma Matilda Gustafson was famous for not throwing anything away. However, she was able to help new immigrants set up housekeeping when they moved to her area. After she died we had quite a time clearing out her house. One thing that I wanted was the tanned piece that had been her little dog. I wanted it for a rug. My Mom said no way. I got a string of glass beads.
Mike Armstrong says
Please continue to post about decluttering from time to time. I’m still in the “reading” phase of my minimalist life style. Haha
Hopefully one of these reminders will finally call my lazy butt into “action”.
It’s interesting to read about the experiences people who are older than me have had with having to deal with family members items. EBTH.com is an excellent place that helps family members who are grieving sell their family members items and make some $ from them to pay for things like the funeral, for instance. Talk about support during difficult times so that you don’t feel like you have to take it all on, yourself. Of course, they aren’t in every state, so that’s the downfall. I tried to convince my dad (he’s 50) to downsize his 3/4 bedroom house (that only he lives in) and sell stuff, but he wouldn’t listen to me. Oh well. I tried. The expression, “Less is more,” has so much value. I wonder, though, if people feel comforted by being around stuff. Perhaps, if the stuff disappears, they fear that they’ll feel lonely. I saw someone driving a little car full to the roof of trash. It was so sad… Some people’s realities are that they are lonesome. Unfortunately, too, right now, people aren’t as able to have close relationships like they maybe would like to (with a pandemic, and whatnot). Zoom and Skype make it more possible, but it’s just not the same. I have read, on the upside, that more people are discovering how icky it is to be in a house full of things that don’t serve them, well, since they have to be inside so much and are making more conscious decisions to say goodbye to things. That is awesome! :D I think that New Yorkers understand how to use space more than your average joe because they have no choice, they have to make the best of smaller spaces. I find the Quakers to be fascinating. I attended a ceremony in Madison where we spent 45 minutes sitting in complete silence. I later on learned that they promote borrowing something before you go out and buy something used/brand-new. That helps maintain relationships. When people can rely on each other for things, there’s community. I often think that’s what people are missing, most, in their lives.
Brenda As I read your post it was like I was writing it. I am retired and for the past 2 1/2 years I have only did what I had to in my house. This page has began to help me tremendously. I have started my journey of decludering. I lost my 23 yr old daughter in Jan. 2008. She suffered a horrible death from her own Pittbull in her home. 10 months later my 21 year old son passed away. November 29, 2016 my precious 15 year old son came home from school and went to his bedroom and shot himself. We didn’t have a gun but he had brought it home from a family members house without me knowing. He passed away the next day. They were going to take him off life support but he coded twice and then I had to sign a DNR. A coach from school stayed with me all night while I talked to him all night. I don’t know if he heard me but I pray he did. He had been bullied at school and we had gone everywhere for help. He couldn’t take it anymore. He and my 14 yr old daughter were both in the 9th grade. She got to him first in his bedroom. She is a Senior now and will be graduating and going to college. We are praying for a basketball scholarship.
I now have found that this is what I need to stay busy. Less is best and it will take time but doing anything everyday is better than doing nothing. Thank you all so much.
My heart breaks for you as I write this. I will pray for you and your daughter ❤️
It is devastating to have so much heartbreak.
I am living through grief,and find it uplifting to hear others are making progress.
cynthia lorentzen says
God grant you Peace and Comfort as you and your Daughter move on <3
Birgit Angern says
My deepest sympathy goes to you! I know John from the time in CA, but am german and live in Germany. May you live on well and find peace in anything…Birgit
Your story is heartbreaking – to lose three children is unimaginable. My sister chose to end her life last year and losing one person in tragic circumstances is too many. I pray your daughter finds her place in a course she loves and that you find pockets of peace which keep you going. Much love, another Karen x
So sorry for the difficult journey you’ve been through. Praying you find peace you need in simplicity.
Brenda King says
I used to keep a spotless home, with a husband and two children constantly messing it up. I felt like I was on a treadmill, with never an end in sight! After I retired from my job as an RN, ‘ decided I would retire at deep house keeping too. So, for a few yrs. I kept the laundry, dishes and basic picking up done. Unfortunately, the piles continued to grow. Every cabinet, drawer, and closet needed to be cleaned and minimized. I’d promised I wouldn’t take care of it until my husband, also retired, helped! But the disorganization and messes are outlasting my stubbornness. ‘ Can’t take the mess any more, so will attack one room at a time, until they’re all cleaned up! I’ve felt many of the things many others have written about, and don’t want to leave a back breaking job for anyone else either! Thanks for the reminder!
We move fairly often so do this type of cleaning through the normal course of packing up and re-settling. I met a man from Montana and described to him how often we moved, three time in about 6 years, I’d said. He said in return, “Well, three moves is as good as a house fire.”
Walter Paul Bebirian says
Wonderful and thought-provoking. There’s nothing like a reminder of our own mortality to give us some perspective on what’s really important.
No wonder that in our consumerist society death and even the idea of aging is often only seen in horror movies..
Since my grandparents are still living, I walked through their house with them and asked them to show me anything that had family history value. I took pictures of the items and complied them into a document with the family stories next to each item. I then asked them to show me anything they didn’t want to end up at a thrift store (antiques, jewelry, etc). After adding those to the document, we gave it to my parents, aunts, and uncles. My mom also gave a copy to my grandparents estate lawyer who wished more people would do that. Fortunately, my grandparents have now decided to give the important stuff away while they are still living.
Catherine Barwick says
As parents, we like to keep stuff that we think our kids will want after we are gone. Ask your children now what they would want after you are no longer here. You may get surprising answers. Ever since my daughter was a child, I have asked her that question. And I have always received the same answer. “All I want is you, Mama”. She is now 21 and away from home. Knowing that she does not want any of my stuff makes it easier for me to part with the few things I do own. I have long ago forgone buying any more non-essentials and now restrict my purchases to food, clothing and travel. My sisters and I have had to clean out our (long-departed) parent’s home. The hardest part was finding all the unused gifts I had given them over the years. They didn’t need the gifts. They needed ME and my TIME. It was hard lesson to learn but it has changed my life forever. Now I give my daughter my time- the most precious gift of all.
My enormous problem is the paper blizzard in my small apartment. I have a file cabinet filled with “important paperwork.” How can I determine what I can shred and/or toss without later regret? I’d be embarrassed to leave this mess for anybody else..and where do I start?
It’s becoming an overwhelming task & I don’t know how or where to begin! Any recommendations?
Connie J Sass says
I can relate to the paperwork “blizzard”. THIS is the hardest part for me too. I have a home based business, and I get so much mail on a daily basis, just from my business, & add to that, Identity theft?
I was really tackeling it. Then Identity theft took over my life.
It’s like a Semi full of paper came & dumped the entire contents in my home.
It feels like it will never end?
All we can do is just put one foot in front of the other, & keep on, keeping on, & on, & on…
It is so time consuming, & time is so precious.
⚘WE DO WHAT WE MUST⚘
It is overwhelming, at best.
I’ll be cheering you on⚘?⚘
This too, shall pass. Remember to keep breathing, (I find that I’m not breathing)
Just do the best you can. If you have anybody who offers to help, accept it! That has been impossible for me to do, unfortunately!
“PRIDE” stops me from accepting help.
Baby steps, & be sure to give yourself a small reward. A tube of lipstick, doesn’t have to be much, as we don’t need more “stuff”
Celebrate “Tiny Triumphs”?
I’m hoping somebody will give you answers, as I have the same questions that you do⚘
All my best, I’ll be watching from here⚘?⚘Please post your progress, so I, “WE”, can celebrate with you⚘
We CAN do this?This forum is the best, as so many offer ideas, & solutions!
Remember this is a process, not an event⚘
Good luck, & please share what “clicks”
I’m sending you my very best wishes for all things good & kind⚘.
A scanner (or scanning service) is your friend. Keep the physical copies of important documents (vital documents such as birth/death certificates, marriage license, SS card, passport, etc ) and scan the rest.
Keep them on a flash drive (or on the cloud) in folders and categorize them (school records, bills, work stuff, etc) and break down the categories more into folders if needed (is break down the bills by category– ie phone, electric, etc). There are free apps available that convert your phone to a scanner.
After they’re scanned, shred them (borrow a shredder or use a shredding service if necessary).
Ann C says
You can google what important papers need to be kept and for how long. After my parents were gone seven years I disposed of all their documents except birth, death, military and marriage papers. I did the same for my husband’s. Now it’s just me and I just purchased a book titled: Peace of Mind Planner. I’m filling it out for my daughter to have when I pass.
“Paper” seems to be a common issue for many. My rule for it is when it comes into the house, I open it, and it immediately either gets filed(and by this I mean in a filing cabinet…not on the kitchen table), gets paid, or goes in the trash or is shredded immediately. If I “will look at it later” like coupons, flyers, IF I haven’t looked at it by day 2 I don’t even bother and just throw it out. I see so many people with stacks of paper on tables, shoved in drawers, etc. I see them go through the WHOLE stack daily because they can’t remember what is in it and are worried they may throw something important away. I always think to myself I wonder how much time they waste sorting and resorting those piles. JUST throw it out!! lol
Roy Reichle says
My father just passed away on June 9th, and the most difficult task was sorting through all of his belongings. Fortunately, we had done a large part of it the previous fall, but it was still a huge task.
There were so many things where, for one, it was obvious that he had not looked at in years. There were pictures that had not seen the light of day in decades. So much of what he owned just sat in what can only be accurately termed as storage.
As I went through my father’s things, I felt ruthless and unfeeling as I threw away item after item. Even if they were in storage, they meant something to him, but to me–they were nothing but something I would have to store. It did feel good to give much of his clothing and furnishings to charitable organizations, though. At least there they would provide some good. Nevertheless, I still felt a pang of remorse as each trash bag clanged into the bottom of the dumpster.
I spent 20 years in the Air Force, and I moved relatively often, so I have never been one to keep much stuff. However, since I am out of the service now and not moving from place to place, I have begun to collect things, but lately I’ve begun being ruthless again and throwing things out. Now, after my father’s passing, the need to shed the layers of stuff is much stronger.
I died on September 5, 2018 and had no vital signs for more than ten minutes. I didn’t want to return to this life but was told (by an angel) that I must. After being discharged from the hospital several days later, I began selling off and donating all of my worldly possessions. It worried my friends because I got rid of almost everything.
I called it the “I’m not dead yet” estate sale and it was amazingly easy because, after all, I’d been ready to advance to heaven and leave it ALL behind!
After several months, I’d sold off all my furniture, family heirlooms, my new car, my belongings and then it was time to sell my house.
I’m now living in the spare bedroom of a family member who was recently widowed and he’s very grateful for the companionship.
Honestly, dying was the best thing that ever happened to me for many reasons but principally it gave me permission to find to release the earth weights, and find perfect peace in a simplified lifestyle.
Thank you for sharing this.
Rosemary, thank you for sharing your death experience – it touched me, I even read it to my husband. Nothing to do with minimalism but comforting to know heaven is as beautiful as we always hear. I lost my only child in 2007.
Eric Owens says
Good lessons you learned in a difficult time. I know my dad and his siblings dealt with a lot of stress figuring out what to do with my grandma’s house and belongings when she passed. And they also dealt with a separate legal matter that arose from my late grandfather’s previous marriage. Seeing and hearing what other people have gone through, I think about minimizing more so those close to me don’t have to potentially go through the same stress.
David Yeomans says
I will turn 70 in a few weeks. While I am in good health and hope to be around for years to come, I am downsizing and living more simply.
When I retired, I moved to be closer to my family. I rented an apartment for a while and put most of my stuff in storage. Whenever I looked at the storage locker, I wondered why do I have all this stuff. Instead of doing the smart thing, I bought a house that would hold all my stuff. Soon realized that it was not right for me. Now I am back in a one BR apartment looking for a condo. But, this time there is no storage unit. I can look for a place that is right for me, not my stuff.
Janete Canteri says
I simply loved it.One of the best readings that I have read since I embraced Miniamalism – thirteen years. I have just noticed that I always was, am and will be a down to Earth person, and that makes me feel glad. Thanks for meaningful texts! :)
Mari R says
Due to my life long serious medical/physiological issues, I’ve been almost dead multiple times. I have no siblings, children, nieces, and nephews. I only have a few not-so-close friends.
I can’t imagine there’s any stronger motivation than the above to minimize my possessions.
So far I believe I’m in a right position in terms of uncluttered life, but who knows, I could learn more to be a better minimalist. Thank you for weekly reminders!
I have been death cleaning for over 18 months. I’m still feeling burried. At times IF I knew HOW to give up, I would, I do not know HOW! I am a very strong Woman, being strong is a choice, not an option. I have been very ill, for a long time. I’m in physical therapy, that is my social life, & I tell myself this solitaty life is ok. My motto;
“We Do What We Must”
I have lost most of my friends, many have died, others just left, nobody asked if I was OK. I was having strokes. Even my best friend since age 12. At first, there was shick and it hurt, a LOT. Then i was angry, I thought, I hope the door DID hit you in the a@@ on the way out. Now, I tell myself that I do not care, & that is the truth thst zi tell myself. I have spent THOUSANDS to get help. I’m still not done! My Kids are busy, & I don’t want to burden them, I try very hard. When I see my kids, rarely, I don’t hear any positive words. I’m told “Can’t” when I tell them that I have a plan.
I refuse to let my illness define me.
This is the hardest part of my life.
My Identity has been stolen, that takes SO much time. I work day and night working on all this “stuff”, A kind word, empathy, or compassion, would go a long way.
I feel stuck, & I’m TRYING SO HARD. I have gotten rid of a lot already. 2 dumpsters, several trips to places that will take anything.
I am really NOT WELL. Is this how I want to spend precious time, that actually is physically painful, emotionally draining & very solitary. Looking for understanding & support.
That is why I am on this forum.
This is besutuful. I started a Charity, the name makes references to Roses. I see the world, La vie en Rose. I’m told I’m too kind, & that is now considered a fault! Thank you for sharing this.
It helped me very much. Back to the work of protecting my Identity, & my “new normal”
La vie en Rose
Ann C says
I wish we lived closer, I would love to help. I’m much better at tossing other people’s things, than my own. But getting really good at that too. Lost my husband 17 years ago & had to sort and give his adult children his stuff, which was fine. Then my first husband died and left me a houseful to get rid of. And now my parents have passed, leaving me their home & contents! Slowly I am now down to just my belongings & some of my mother’s antique furniture. I know my daughter & her daughters want none of it so the process continues. Hang in there, and know you aren’t alone even in the loneliest moments.
Wonderfully written and the most amusing part was where he says ” if dad met Marie Kondo he would have said all his stuff brings him joy”… Haha The nonessentials need to go as and when they are identified.
Katia Cooper says
I was thinking the same thing. Ha ha thanks for mentioning it.
Linda Murdock says
I’ve been thru this several times. When we moved my parents to another town to be closer to us — they’d been in the same house 40 years and were pack-rats. Then when my Dad died, we did it again. We moved Mom into assisted living a few years after that — and that was the hardest. She had Alzheimer’s but, man, she remembered the “stuff” she had — some of it from her childhood that she no longer had. She passed and once again, we had to get rid of her belongings. Then, 9 years ago, my husband died. I got rid of some stuff but mostly I shoved it in his office and pulled the door shut. Now, I’m ready to deal with his stuff AND mine. I don’t want my step-kids going thru all my junk so I’m downsizing. I have gone thru my husband’s books. Tossed 2 96-gallon bins of old books. Donated 16 boxes of books to a church, donated the remaining (about 6 boxes) to Goodwill. Next is MY books. That’s just a start. I owe most of this to Joshua Becker because he was the first minimalist I stumbled across and he remains my favorite. I have a LONG way to go but for the first time, I’m actually looking forward to it!! Thank you, Joshua Becker. I appreciate you and your work!
Ann C says
Most libraries will take “in good condition” books to either put on their shelves or sell for money for new books.
I asked my local library if they would take some new, read once books, both popular fiction and factual and they said, they no longer have the staff needed to catalogue and sort them so they cannot take them. They went to the charity shop instead but it’s a shame.
Linda Harding says
I am a creative person who loves to build, design crafts, repurpose old vintage items and small pieces of furniture. I am also a dairy farmer, who helps at barn, does alot of cooking for family, and I maintain my own house, extensive flower beds, and always have alot on my plate with five granddaughters! I am totally overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. Everywhere I look is a mess: my garage, basement, and all storage areas. I am not exactly a hoarder, but tend to keep or pick up items to redo and resell, and craft supplies galore. Always think I’ll get to work, but never have time, or can’t find what I have been saving when I need it! Help. ?
Linda, you can do this!! Don’t get discouraged. Enjoy reading and rereading all of the great info and inspiration Joshua has for us on this website :)
I made a deal with myself not to buy or pick up any more craft/quilt stuff but to finish all the UFOs, it’s been amazing to see the stuff I’ve been able to complete or realize I’m just not interested in finishing. Ha ha! It is weight off of my shoulders. And just think of how well you’ll be able to focus on your projects after you’ve scaled back to what is most important or even only one job at a time.
Joshua’s last Weekend Reads youtube video has great suggestions on how to make time for minimizing and focusing on what’s important to us.
Don’t give up- it’s taken you a lifetime to collect all your stuff, you won’t get this done overnight, it’s a total mindset and lifestyle change. I’m rooting for ya!
Lori Woodward says
Amy, I’ve read Joshua’s book and read weekend reads as well. I’m in a similar place with more hobby stuff than one person can accomplish.
My nusband and I are preparing to downsize and I decided to keep about 10% of my UFOs and focus on my artwork only so I have free time for relationships and fun experiences.
I gave away my sewing and knitting supplies, knowing that I can always buy more in the future if I decide that’s an important part of my life, but I bet I’ll just continue to focus on my art. I’ve felt a nagging obligation to stuff I bought to work on, but once I gave it away to someone who would use it right away, I felt like a tremendous burden had been lifted. Now I have more time to read blogs like John’s without feeling guilty.
Linda, I so agree with Amy as I’ve just been doing this. I’ve got lots of unfinished sewing, embroidery, quilting items that have overwhelmed me so I decided to cut up some and reuse, some I’m never going to finish so I’m giving them away to people who will, (I’ve asked first and they are delighted). Some are just going to the charity shop where the fabric will be recycled. They don’t spark joy anymore, in fact they spark uncomfortable thoughts of failure and upset as they just clutter my life. None of them are making it into my newly made sewing nook. It feels great now I’ve made this decision. I’m also on a non-buying diet and have been for 6 months. Nothing will be bought until I’ve either used most of my fabrics or threads or got rid of ones I’m never going to use.
Mari R says
I’m a (not so avid) quilter & crocheter, and own twenty bins of materials. I don’t encourage people to overpurchase yarns and fabrics, but these materials are fairly easy to find someone who wants when you have an excess. Other than individuals, senior center or home, library craft classes usually happily accept nice materials.
Over the years I figured out what kinds of possessions cause trouble and headache to others when you are gone. They are the things no one wants or use, like school textbooks, kids projects, VHS/DVDs, non valuable collectibles, broken gadgets, outdated outfits, and worst of all, unsorted photos, letters and paperworks.
Sheila Keeler says
Linda, Before my husband and I recently moved and my stash of fabric was “impressive” ? Not to mention other craft supplies. I had a realistic conversation with myself and said, “You are so busy with many other things, when?! do you think you’ll create everything you bought stuff for?” So……I donated a lot of nice quilting fabric to a lady who teaches immigrant ladies to make quilts, a bunch of patriotic and red, white, blue fabric to a quilt guild who makes Quilts of Valor, and more fabric to a local 4-H group who wanted to start teaching sewing projects. Even after all that I *still* had a tote full of baby flannel and other quilt fabrics which got donated to a parish quilt group in our new home who make receiving blankets for newborns and blankets for our homeless population.
I also had an abundance of floral supplies, etc. Later this year I plan to offer a multi project craft weekend at my church, using up most of the supplies. The proceeds will be going to a charitable organization that helps folks in tough situations. It might take one person years to use them up but for a class full of eager students, one afternoon!
You can share your knowledge and creativity with your granddaughters and their friends or local library by offering to hold a class and use your “treasures” as projects. My library did “Pinterest ” type summer workshop with a group of kids and then showcased them at the library.
Good luck! With a mind as active and creative as yours, I’m sure you will be able to bless may people.
My siblings and I are dealing with this right now at my mom’s house. We had offered to help her clean out for years but she refused help thinking we would have just thrown everything out which was not true. Now we are tasked with a massive cleanup and it’s really sad how she let herself live with all this stuff that was stressing her out when she could have just let go. As we watched her struggle with it we each realized how much of our stuff was not really important to us and we minimized our homes. Now there are very, very few items of hers we are keeping unless it is a truly useful or a cherished piece.
Please think about leaving your loved ones a legacy of good memories and love instead of a bunch of stuff they will have to lug to the donation or recycling bins before you make your next purchase or decide to keep something “just in case.” Not to disparage my mom, she did leave us with countless good memories and so much more love than I have words for, but she also left us an unnecessary herculean task we never wanted.
Queen of Putrescence says
Everything in here rings true for me!
I have never been sentimental regarding many items so I was never hanging on to a large amount of “stuff”. But three years ago, my Mom was diagnosed with dementia and we moved her to an assisted living facility closer to us. But Mom had a 3000 square foot house and even though my Dad passed away ten years earlier, the only items she had gotten rid of that belonged to him was his clothing.
Paring down her belongings to what could fit into her new apartment was an overwhelming process. A full moving truck went to charity and another full moving truck came to her new location. Over several months, we got rid of half of those items.
Since then I have gotten rid of over half my belongings (my husband has gotten rid of a lot also). Although only in my mid-40’s, I do not want my children to have to go through what I did. I discovered in the process that as the number of belongings went down, so did my stress level. Even after three years of doing this, I still occasionally spot items that I no longer need. I love getting rid of stuff!
This happened to me too! After my mother passed I really realized my own mortality and how much the burden of my stuff will be on my husband and children when I pass. Thank you for sharing!
Chris E says
I, too, went through this same scenerio when my parents died. My father died and then 1-1/2 years later my mother died. She had gotten rid of his clothes but nothing else. They both grew up during the depression so I think that lack of things made them want to hang on to possessions when they could. It was painful clearing out their things and I swore that I would not put my children through that. Our relationships are what count, not what we own.
I think it’s a gift to our loved ones to remove that burden and guilt of decluttering. My parents have slowly been giving away things to family members so we have what’s important. I thought it was sad they were doing that but I see now that they’re lightening up their lives and happier for it.
This very topic started my journey to minimalism ten years ago. Death cleaning after the last parent died in 2015 fortified my resolve to never put my children through this process. I am still decluttering but there is significantly less every year to clean out leaving me more time to do what I want and enjoy and less time cleaning and maintaining what is not needed in my life. Also, I like having the decision regarding what happens to my possessions while I am alive as opposed to a family member trying to decide what to do with stuff that has no history or meaning to them, so possessions are then chucked into a dumpster. I find each day peaceful, life centered and more joyful than I ever imagined, all due to having less “stuff” to burden me. Keeping things simple and minimal has made a huge impact in the quality of my life and relationships.
Wow! What a great article! My siblings and I are sorting through 50+ years of things in my parents’ home. It’s very time consuming. My dad was like John Weiss’ dad…he too would have told Marie Kondo that all his belongings gave him joy. I hope that I can minimize my belongings so my children will not have to spend countless hours sorting through “stuff” after I am gone.
This is hitting home and I’ve been following Joshua Becker for many, many years. I’ve been minimizing that whole time, I’ve eliminated a lot of ‘stuff” but it seems there is always more to do.
My husband passed away 2 years ago and last summer I finally worked up the courage to venture into his workshop. To say he was a pack rat is an understatement and I’m not even through it all.
After reading this article, I have new determination to take care of this so my kids don’t have to. And when I downsize I would have to do it all anyway. So I’m starting now.
Tony W says
Death cleaning can leave you questioning the direction your life is heading. I wondered if I was paying attention to what was really important.
John P. Weiss says
Good point, Tony. As we downsize, we can confront questions and feelings about where we’ve been, and where we’re headed. For me, the lighter load made it easier to focus on family, friends and passions over endless stuff.
This is so true. I did it when my Parents had to be moved to Assisted Living. Very time consuming and draining, especially when my father, basically blind kept pulling things from the dumpster that we were removing.
John P. Weiss says
Becky- My mother developed Parkinson’s disease and had to downsize to an assisted living community. She went from a big house full of stuff down to a studio apartment with one closet and one dresser. And you know what, she’s much happier now. “I don’t know why I had all that stuff,” she told me.
Thank you for this which is an excellent overview of why we need to be proactive about down-sizing and de-cluttering as we age. I worked for 27 years in home health and end-of-life care and have seen many families devastated, both by sudden illness and terminal illness; and then the reality of dealing with so many possessions, etc. Although I hadn’t heard of “death cleaning”, perhaps it’s my Swedish heritage that inspired me to de-clutter a year and a half ago. It took 3 1/2 months to go through all our “stuff”. We held a huge garage sale and donated the rest and have so appreciated living more simply. Since that time we’ve been inspired again and our next step is selling our 1918 sq ft home on .8 acres on a gorgeous wooded lot to move into a 1140 sq ft cottage that is being built as part of a new retirement community. We’ll no longer be “home owners” but we are grateful that all inside and outside maintenance will be done for us and we look forward to living our senior years with more freedom and time to exercise, volunteer, and see what God has in store for us in the time we are here on this earth. Yes, we love our home and will definitely miss some elements of it but we both agree this is the right thing to do and the right timing as well; we are definitely at peace with this decision. By the way, our kids couldn’t be more thrilled and happy for us. Yes, they will have much less stuff to go through and get rid of someday, but they also realize this new adventure will be a good choice for us all around.
I hear you…9 solid, non-stop months of cleaning out my father’s entire life after he passed suddenly and unexpectedly. What was astonishing is what was left that was my mother’s! Very little. She downsized and is far happier. It also changed the lens of how I saw my own belongings. While I do toss out/donate/repurpose things regularly, I was even more thorough. That herculean task should fall to no one else.
My husband of 46 yrs passed away in February. Thankfully he was not much of a ‘saver’ I, on the other hand, save practically everything! Now, I have to deal with my own ‘stuff’, as I need to start drastically minimize in order to sell our home & buy a smaller one. It’s a huge job and I also have to do it while returning to work! You’re blog really hit home for me today! Never again! My new home will be a picture of becoming a minimalist. I don’t want my niece & sister to have to deal with my stuff when I am gone!
John P. Weiss says
Debra- Condolences over the loss of your husband, and best of luck uncluttering! Check out Joshua’s book “The Minimalist Home.” I wish I had it before I moved!
Been there, done that. We were not going to put our kids through it. 2 years ago we had a massive downsizing/ decluttering / Craig’s Listing / giveawaying clean-out. Took a few months and some attachment anxiety, but we are happily settled into our 1300 sqft condo, from a 2500 sqft house. Gone are all those things that haven’t seen daylight or moved in years.
John P. Weiss says
John- My wife, son and I relocated from California to Nevada in 2017. I thought I was fairly organized until it was time to move. After selling stuff, Goodwill trips and visits to the dump, I was amazed how much we unloaded. It felt good to lighten our load!
Mari R says
Dear John, I have a similar experience.
Twenty years ago I reduced my possessions to a dozen boxes which came with me to the U.S.
Over the years the majority of the contents of boxes have turned out unnecessary, even if I carefully chose the most important things at that time!
Your so right… my husband passed in Dec. and I am death cleaning. It’s a process…but a healthy one. I may have to read up on how the Swedish do it.
Laura Ann says
I woke up to minimalism gradually, started when father in law died, both had packed away stuff that mostly got tossed or donated from sixty two years of marriage that began during the peak of the great depression. Then as close friends passed later, I realized d-cluttering and organizing needs to be ongoing like cleaning your house, and made it a habit. Things not useful gotto go, outdated electronic items incl. A place for everything also to prevent buying duplicates.
Lisa Schall says
I can’t agree with you more as a retired judge I dealt with so many cases in probate Where the failure to D clutter and have an estate plan left to squabbling and discontent with the remaining family members. I strongly recommend share your treasures you have with younger members of the family who might appreciate it even if your own children don’t tell the stories behind them so that those stories are passed on and by all means please have a will or trust don’t leave things to chance it leads to so much of this harmony great article. Judge Lisa S
A B says
After reading about the judges in this piece all I can say is take care of your health.