Follow us for updates
© 2021
Read the Story →

Death Cleaning: How to Let Go of Dead Loved Ones' Belongings

Declutter stuff, not memories.
4 hours ago
Photo/s: Unsplash / Sarah Brown

My grandmother would constantly remind me that every pretty thing she owned would someday be passed on to me. When she died, I was tasked with choosing her dress for cremation. I visited her house to pick it up, and did my best to never go back. It took me two years to touch her things again and say goodbye, for real this time.

Death hangs heavy on the shoulders of those who were left behind. A room, belongings, and everything else in between seem more alive—a void left in the wake of a loved one lost. I refused to let go, thinking that her possessions were the last thing I had of her. That if I let her stuff slip through my fingers, I would lose all memory of her for good too.

In The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter, author Margareta Magnusson addressed the task of decluttering family members must take on once a loved one passes.

Continue reading below ↓

Magnusson focuses on döstädning, translated as death cleaning, or decluttering your own life right now to spare your own loved ones from sifting through your stuff. Acknowledging the shortness of our own lives can be overwhelming, but her tips can also help the living left behind to reminisce, let go, and move forward.


The Art of Letting Go: How to Start Decluttering and Never Look Back

How to clean up the belongings of a deceased loved one?

Grieve at your own pace

Unearthing items that belonged to a deceased loved one will inevitably trigger sadness and nostalgia. Everyone grieves in their own way, and your mom’s clothes may hold little meaning to you, but could be the most valuable item to your dad.

Continue reading below ↓
Recommended Videos

It’s harder for those who witnessed their last moments under home care. When they go, everything is a memory of all the good they left behind. While it’s a constant reminder of happier times, it can also hold people back from moving forward.

Continue reading below ↓

Before you start, it’s important to solidify your mindset about decluttering. It won’t be easy, but it must be done, if not now, at least someday. It could take you two months to seize the old wardrobe, but could take your sibling two years.

Schedule it

Emotionally and mentally preparing yourself to even touch the items may take a while but the physical act of sorting through old clothes and little knick knacks may take even longer.

Don’t expect to be able to deep clean your home in just one day. If you’re doing a whole house, it may take weeks or even months. Helping lolo let go of lola? It may take even longer.

You don’t have to do it for five days straight either. You still have to do your own living to do, with work, leisure, and other responsibilities.

No matter what happens, you need to start and keep going. Set aside time every week, ideally the weekend, to do it bit by bit. Over time, you will be able to build emotional muscle to let go of more sentimental items.

Continue reading below ↓

Don’t go alone.

If you’re able, bring a friend or a family member to help you declutter. Talking about the past and revisiting experiences can be cathartic, which can lead to a greater appreciation for what once was. Bonding over memories can transform appreciation to acceptance.

“It is a delight to go through things and remember their worth,” Magnusson said.

While you’re at it, decide if some family members would want to keep items in their own home either for use or as a small keepsake. 

Rehome the items

“Going through all your old belongings, remembering when you used them last, and hopefully saying goodbye to several of them is very difficult for many of us. People tend to hoard things rather than throw them away,” Magnusson wrote.

Instead of keeping things unused at home or throwing them out, they are better off rehomed to people who will actually use them.

Continue reading below ↓

“You can show them your things and chat about them, telling them stories about the objects that they did not know. Meanwhile, have some bags and boxes at hand that you can fill while you are chatting, so they can take stuff with them right away,” she said.

Clothes in the wrong size or style could be gathering dust in the back of the closet, but it will be home in the hands of someone who needs it. Separate the usable items and put it in a donation box. You can go ahead and donate to a charity, foster homes, or victims of calamities.

Save sentimental items for last

“Don’t start with photographs—or letters and personal papers, for that matter. It can be both a lot of fun and a bit sad to go through photographs and letters, but one thing is certain: if you start with them, you will definitely get stuck down memory lane, and may never get around to cleaning anything else,” Magnusson wrote.

Continue reading below ↓

Stuff are not memories

One of my most precious possessions was a tiny figurine my late grandmother gave in celebration of my graduation from preparatory school. In mad dashes to get ready over the years, I’d knock it over from my cabinet. It’s still in one piece, but it’s faded, cracked, and missing at least two limbs.

I held on to it for 16 years before finally letting it go last May.

She was never a woman of words and though late, I understood then that it was never really about the figurine. It was about letting me know she was proud, and I’ll revisit that feeling whenever I miss her.

To this day, I still recall her pride for me back in 2004, all without me missing that figurine. Shared experiences will rise to the surface in time, even without physical items or reminders.

Reportr is now on Quento. Download the app or visit the Quento website for more articles and videos from Reportr and your favorite websites.

Latest Headlines
Read Next
Recent News
The news. So what? Subscribe to the newsletter that explains what the news means for you.
The email address you entered is invalid.
Thank you for signing up to On Three, reportr's weekly newsletter delivered to your mailbox three times a week. Only the latest, most useful and most insightful reads.
By signing up to newsletter, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.