How to Free Yourself From a Lifetime of Clutter


I know this sounds like a morbid topic, Death Cleaning but it's an important one. Its the process of freeing yourself and your family from a lifetime of clutter. This past year our beloved neighbor lady who treated my DH and I like her children, passed away. She had invited us to holiday meals with her family for the past twenty five years and we helped with small tasks around the house like taking out her garbage weekly. She lived a fabulous life and passed away peacefully in an afternoon nap. No pain or financial debt occurred which was a blessing.

However, the pain would come in the death cleaning of her lifetime home. When her husband died eight years ago, some things were given away to family, some things donated or sold second hand, and some things just thrown away. But the majority of their possessions remained in the home until she died.

The process of death cleaning in this particular home took less than 100 days due to the daily diligence of her daughter in law (DIL). The DIL already had experienced the death of her husband eleven years earlier, and performed a death cleaning there to move into a different home. I wasn't very involved in the death cleaning of the neighbors home, but we did help a little. We acquired the outside plants, one of which is the beautiful orchid pictured above, which is blooming now in November.

Seeing the process of the dismantling of a life history is sad. After her death, the family went through the house and tagged items they wanted with postit notes.  The DIL went through every cabinet and drawer and closet and organized like items together. Obvious junk was discarded in the trash. Furniture and clothing was donated or sold in an estate sale. Expensive items, antiques and collectables were sold on Facebook, Craigslist and Ebay by the DIL. I don't know if Charities were involved, but they will take household items and pick them up. Some photo memories were kept and stored with one of the family. I scanned over a hundred photos and shared w flash drive and online cloud account with the family members.  The automobile was over 20 years old and was sold for a small amount. The house had some code violations so it was sold undervalued to an investor.

I just read the book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning and it makes me want to do a death cleaning next year. A death cleaning is something you can do many times in your life to help lessen the burden of your death on your family or executor. The guiding question to ask when Death Cleaning, it "Will anyone be happier if I save this"? Even if you think you will live many more years, it is never too soon to be prepared for death. If you are over 60, and don't live near family or grandkids, it is time for a death cleaning.

Here is a list of things you can do to help others deal with your demise after your death:
  1. Create a document with a listing or flowchart of all your finances. Where do you have checking accounts, savings accounts, IRA's, savings bonds, investments, etc. Include a list of all your credit cards and which ones are used to autopay bills (cell phone, television, electric, utilities, car payment, Netflix, etc). List your employer ID, your 401K provider. This is a working document that you need to keep updated for the rest of your life. I suggest using Microsoft Excel and make it a spreadsheet.
  2. Create a document with all your online accounts, your email signon and the password. At least do this for all accounts that have anything to do with money or subscriptions.  Include a list of all your email addresses, social media accounts, banking and vendors that have your credit cards. This also is a working document you need to keep updated. This one is helpful to keep on the cloud.
  3. Create a Will or Trust, and Medical Directive, and designate a Power of Attorney. List your life insurance policies here too. Keep these where they can be found upon disabling injury, illness or death. Scan this to the cloud, but keep originals in a desk drawer, not locked up.
  4. Designate a beneficiary for all your investments and note it on your finance document. These will not have to go through probate after your death. You can do this online for most accounts.
  5. If you have joint finances with a partner, be sure they know where to start with closing accounts and gathering documents. Show them your finance and online account documents and ask if they understand it. If they are not able to operate a computer, agree on a friend or relative who can help with this.
  6. Start with items stored in the closets, basement, garage, sheds, etc. Tell friends and family you're cleaning and getting rid of clutter in case they want anything you have. Even if you aren't ready to get rid of something now, you can tag it for them to get after you die.
  7. Make a list of your personal items that have value or you know someone who would appreciate having them. If the item is in a drawer or box, create a tag and write "For XX upon my death" and affix it to the item. You could also take a picture of the item and assemble a document for item distribution upon your death. This could be an appendix to your Will.
  8. If you have items that you haven't used in a couple of years, or since you last moved, or don't fit now - consider gifting, donating or selling them now. Why leave them for later when you're pretty sure you won't use them the rest of your life now. If you won't get rid of it now, and the item has value - at least take a nice photo of it to use in an ad to sell the item in the future.
  9. If you have photograph prints, these can take a long time to determine what to do. I would suggest scanning the best memories to your cloud storage if you have a scanner. If not send them to the family members who would appreciate them. If they are of your vacation memories and you can't scan to cloud, your best option is to do nothing or trash now. They will get trashed upon your death.
  10. If you never have guests eat at your home, and its just you and your partner - you can clean out your kitchen and pantry. Get rid of expired foods or items you no longer consume. You only need less than a dozen each of bowls, dishes, and coffee cups. Get rid of the fancy China set. Get rid of the gravy bowl. Get rid of the frying pans you no longer use that the nonstick is worn off anyway. Get rid of the roaster, crockpot, blender you never use.
  11. If you have a pet, make plans for its care upon your death. Make a box where you keep all the pets vet information, medications, toys, personal care items and leashes and collars. In this box, have a document that outlines what to do with the pet upon your death.
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