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Finding peace by cleaning house

January 6, 2019

While Dad was recuperating in Ohio and Mom staying nearby, with my brother and his wife, I went back to my parents’ house and set about getting it ready for their return.

My parents are in their 80s now, and while they’ve always taken great pride in their home, the last few years have made some of the maintenance too difficult to keep up with. They’ve proudly refused most of our efforts to help, so with them safely far away, I took advantage of the opportunity to try and lighten the load.

As I cleaned, I thought about a book I purchased earlier this year called “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” by Margareta Magnusson.

The idea of death cleaning had intrigued me, as did the “gentle art” part of the title. There was something insinuated by those words that appealed to me. It called to mind a vision of cleaning to the sound of harp music, assisted by bluebirds and bunnies. There was a peace to it that generally doesn’t exist in my housecleaning efforts.

Although I failed to finish reading the entire book, the premise is one I admire and hope to put fully into practice. Basically, the book was about the cleaning and decluttering you should do when you believe your time on Earth could be nearing an end.

The book emphasizes the importance of going through your belongings and shedding those things that aren’t absolutely essential. In this, Don and I are fortunate. Our small house doesn’t allow us to keep much extra. Storage is practically nonexistent, so we must constantly pare down. My parents’ house is far larger, with attics, an oversize garage and storage buildings. Their kitchen has more cabinets than anyone could possibly need. When there’s room to easily store, it’s natural to hold on to more than is needed.

From this book (and my own experience) came some tips on how and where to begin:

• Start with storage areas, garages and attics. Allow friends and family to come and get things before you donate them to charity.

• It all doesn’t need to be done in one fell swoop (as I attempted, and failed, to do for my parents).

• Throw away anything that might be hurtful or embarrassing to someone in your family.

• Leave photos, letters and

journals to the end. It’s too easy to fall down the rabbit hole of trying to sort photos and put them in albums or scrap-books. When you do take them on, make the first pass be to sort out bad photos, the second pass for jotting names and pertinent information on the back of the pictures.

• Attach notes to the backs of certain belongings if you want something specific done with that item.

• Ask people if they want something of yours, and if possible, give it to them while you’re still alive.

• Create a Throw Away box, filled with items that mean something to you (old love notes, pressed flowers, children’s drawings) but likely not to anyone else. Leave instructions that it can be destroyed upon your passing.

My parents are fairly private people, and I know they may feel uncomfortable when they return home and find things have been moved. Although I’m their child, there are financial avenues they and I have never visited together, and I was respectful when it came to such places. Still, it was awkward for me to be doing what I did, and I feel they might be upset or feel violated. Yet their house feels so much lighter now. There’s still work to be done, but what’s left seems more manageable now.

Going forward, I’ll look at what I keep with new eyes. I want to clean my own home before physical limitations cause it to be done by someone else.

Karin Fuller can be reached via email at karinfuller@gmail.com.

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