Death Cleaning

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Spring is coming and we all tend to come out of hibernation and move around more. This includes spring cleaning, minimizing, and downsizing.

I have a room upstairs that I use to collect items throughout the year for donation. I wait until spring when I can get around easier to take everything to be donated. Thankfully, the place where I typically take donations has an outside contact-free drop off point. 

This weekend I went through all the items upstairs for donation. I sorted everything into piles based on where it needs to be donated. For example, there is one box of items specifically for the animal shelter (old towels, sheets, etc). There are also items that can be recycled now that it is easier to put recycling out since the snow is gone.

I have a few items that, quite honestly, need to go to the dump. I do not have a clear idea how to get rid of them. One of those items is a broken vacuum cleaner. When I moved into the house, there was a vacuum cleaner already here. I had brought my vacuum cleaner from the apartment. It worked out perfectly so that I could have one vacuum cleaner upstairs and one vacuum cleaner downstairs without having to try to lug a vacuum up and down the stairs. 

This past fall, the vacuum cleaner that “came with the house” broke. Now I have to figure out how to get rid of it.

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about downsizing and minimizing even more so than in previous years. I have been on the minimalist journey for about a decade, and the journey never seems to end.

In working on my photo project of making an album for myself, I thought about all of my belongings more ruthlessly. What do I really need? What would happen to things if I die?

The way the pandemic is going, I will honestly be surprised if I survive it. My only goal is to outlive my cats so that I can keep them all together. Right now, that seems like a very big and very impossible goal.

 I have applied some minimalist philosophies, such as getting rid of things that are part of your “fantasy self,” and packing things up for 3 months before getting rid of them. However, there are still some items that seem to stay.

The twin bed in the upstairs bedroom is one example. Years ago, I debated whether or not to get rid of the bed in the spare bedroom. I decided to keep the twin bed. It even moved with me from the apartment to the house.

I have had this fantasy self that thinks it is there for an overnight guest. I like to think I am fully set up for company if anyone ever needs a place to stay. I have only had this actually happen one time when one of my friends was in nursing school and my apartment was closer to the hospital where she was doing her residency. She stayed with me for the duration of the residency. That was actually the impetus for purchasing the twin bed.

The twin bed does not actually get used. Sure, I use it myself occasionally when I feel I need a change of scenery or want to feel like I am on vacation while I am at home. However, there are a total of three beds in this house for one person. I can get rid of the twin bed and still have two other beds in this house.

There is my bed (full size) and the couch pulls out into a bed. In fact, I took vacation last month for my birthday, and the cats and I camped out in the living room on the bed that pulls out from the couch. We never even used the twin bed upstairs. 

With the pandemic, I honestly don’t see anyone visiting me for an overnight stay. Even if I did have an overnight visitor, there is still the bed that pulls out from the couch. That bed is pretty comfy. I slept on it for two years before getting the bed I have now.

I am becoming more ruthless in what I am getting rid of due to the pandemic. When I die, someone is going to have to go through all of this stuff. I’m sure most of what I own will be donated or trashed. If that is the case, I may as well donate or trash things now. I only need to keep what I absolutely need and am using.

Of course, the less I have, the easier it is to clean the house as well. That is a definite plus.

In addition to the twin bed, another item I have held onto for an absurdly long time is the metal bed frame to my full size bed. Well over 5 years ago now, I took my bed off the frame and put it on the floor. Kitty had arthritis in his back legs and was having a hard time getting in the bed with me. Once I put the bed on the floor, it was much easier for him. Kitty passed away 4 years ago. My bed is still on the floor because it is easier for me to get in and out of, as well as the cats who are with me now.

I honestly don’t think I will ever put my bed back on a frame again because it makes the bed too high. I think it is time to get rid of the frame.

Both the bed frame and the twin bed are items I have held onto for a long time. Part of it is because I figure I have the room for them.

However, with the pandemic, I am realizing that someone is going to have to go through all this stuff when I die. Even if I do manage to survive the pandemic and outlive the cats, there will come a time when I need to leave this house to either go back into an apartment or a nursing home. 

You can’t take things with you when you die.

This year, I am going to start employing the Swedish Death Cleaning method to my belongings. I am starting with the twin bed and the full size bed frame. I have many other things to go through as well. It will be a process of trying to figure out what I am absolutely using and what items can leave. I want to make my life as simple as possible. 

Swedish Death Cleaning is the notion of cleaning things out before you die so that your loved ones are not left to do it after you are gone. I did not think I would be death cleaning in my 40s. I thought I would be death cleaning in my 60s. But here we are, in the middle of a pandemic. Life is short. The time to death clean is now.

The most difficult part is trying to figure out how to get rid of everything. Not all places are taking donations of items right now. That means it’s possible that more items will end up in landfills, which is not what anyone wants either. 

My project for the next 6 months or so is not only to death clean through all my belongings but to actually get rid of the items. This past year I have just shoved things into a room upstairs. Now it is time for belongings to leave so that I can have an empty room I don’t have to clean.

I have gone through just about every minimalist philosophy so far. I have asked items if they spark joy, I have played decluttering games, I have packed boxes and then gotten rid of them after 3 months. Now is the time for death cleaning.

For some, death cleaning may seem extreme. Given we are in the middle of a pandemic and many people are dying, I think the time is now. 

Have you tried death cleaning? How did it go? What are some items that you got rid of that were surprising to you?

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