Recently, the concept of “Swedish Death Cleaning” has come to the fore of home ownership. The term stems from a book, released last year, titled The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter - written by artist, Margareta Magnusson.
In the book, Magnusson, inspired by the death of her parents and husband, details how to approach and what to do with, possessions in death. It is the Swedish idea of döstädning (dö translating to death, and städning to cleaning in Swedish) and while it may sound foreboding, it is also practical.
Death is an important thing to ponder and discuss, particularly as people struggle to clear the homes of dear relatives who have passed away, in what is a traumatic and challenging time. Facing the inevitable, in a practical way, can help to alleviate stress for the individual and their loved ones.
Essentially, death cleaning involves looking at your stuff and asking, “What will happen to it after I die?” Take time to consider each object in the home. Is it a burden? Do I need this? To start, Margareta recommends tackling a wardrobe. Remove what you actively dislike or never wear, separate items into sections and perhaps keep anything “meaningful” together in an easy-to-find place of its own.
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It is important to let your family and friends know what you are doing and why you are doing it. Communication will open healthy discussion and may encourage your loved ones to volunteer and help with your clear-out. This will establish further, valuable memories together and provide an understanding of your belongings. Just think, no more family arguments over who gets what and when!
Don’t start with small, sentimental items such as letters and photographs. This often encourages a trip down memory lane and can stir too much emotion to be productive, taking time and energy from the process. If you start big, such as with a piece of unused furniture, you are more likely to get the job off to a positive start.
It may help to make a list of categories so that nothing gets missed. Think furniture, clothes, books, linen, toys etc. This will allow you to focus on one category or area at a time, so the task doesn’t become overwhelming and can easily be managed. Create two piles for each category: to keep, and to throw or give away. At the end of your list, you can rest easy in the knowledge everything has been attended to.
Remember, everything in your home should have its place. If it doesn’t, perhaps it’s not needed! If you think in this way as you move from room to room, you may find you can clear a lot more than you thought. Unorganised mess is an unnecessary source of irritation and can quite easily confuse you – assigning items to a place will alleviate this.
Through your clearance, keep a box and label it ‘throw away when I am gone.’ This box is for you, to enjoy and reflect on in life. Inside, store everything you value – this can include love letters, programmes and tokens from travelling. In death, your family may not feel they need to keep hold of it, but can find happiness knowing you have made the time to saviour your favourite memories.
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For those dealing with a family bereavement, who do not know where to begin with the clearance of personal possessions, the Bereavement Advice Centre offers the following advice:
If there is a Will, you should check it thoroughly before starting to clear personal possessions. It may instruct that items are to be passed on as gifts, or that all house contents are to be disposed of in a certain way e.g. sold to benefit a charity.
If the person who died owned antique furniture, paintings or valuable jewellery, it may be necessary for these items to be formally valued so that the forms for probate can be completed correctly. The valuations need to be for the date of death value, not replacement value as might be used for an insurance valuation. If any of these items are to be sold, you will likely need to source specialist auctioneers.
If a grant of probate or letters of administration are needed for the estate, even if there are no possessions that have a high individual value, an overall value will have to be given when completing the forms. If you are doing the estate administration yourself, this should be your best estimate of how much you might raise if you were to try to sell all the belongings, which might be through a sale room, or even if you are taking the belongings to a car boot sale.
You do not have to wait until probate is granted to deal with someone’s chattels (in the language of lawyers, personal possessions are known as chattels), especially if you need to clear a rented property or prepare a property for sale.
Do keep receipts for anything you sell, and make a note of items that you have given to others or disposed of e.g. clothing given to a charity shop.
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