Death Cleaning: Before or After? A Story About Cleaning Up After Loss



Obviously you can't clean after you die, so that's not what I'm referring to. However, there are decisions that need to be made now that will affect those who are still here when you do leave this earth.

I know no one likes to talk about death, but it's important because as much as we dread it or try to postpone it, it's a certainty in life that we have no control over. You do, however, have some control over the mess or lack of mess, you leave behind.


Some of you may be thinking I've gone too far? "Is she so obsessed with cleaning that she's talking about it after she dies?" Well, no. I'm addressing a very real issue because I have seen two things that happen after a loved one died that made me want to talk about this.


When my first grandparent, who had a lot of possessions (items, not ghosts - I know the timing of Halloween isn't helping my point) passed away, I saw something striking. I am not at liberty to tell anyone how to react when their parent passes, but this scene stayed with me.


My grandmother spent her years collecting and saving items to the point where she had a room dedicated to them. She bought gifts in bulk and was generous to those around her. When she passed, all of those items became burdens. So much so, that a family member tossed most of them into large garbage bags without even looking at what it was or opening a box. It hurt me to see this and I didn't understand it then. This was over 20 years ago.


While I watched my grandmother's treasures turn into trash, I felt helpless. I watched her life get packed into bags and hauled away. I rescued one of her favorite stuffed animals before it found its way to the dumps. I brought it home with me and showed my sister, who was also relieved it was saved. But then something strange happened. Neither one of us really wanted to keep it. It didn't feel like it was ours to keep. Certainly, my grandmother wouldn't have parted with it nor would we have ever asked for it. Instead, we decided to bury it with her; one item we thought she would love into the next life.


It was at that time I started to sense a connection between objects and emotions, and how, unchecked it can quickly get out of control. I learned to enjoy my possessions more when I had them and not attach too much meaning to them when they longer served a purpose. After all, when I'm gone, I have no control over any of my items, nor do I want to leave that burden of deciding what to do with it, to my child.


When my grandmother on the other side of the family, who was also prone to keep a lot of clutter passed, I saw the complete opposite reaction. Family members cleared out the house and kept things that meant something to them. Each object was talked about or brought back a memory. Items were held in more regard and not tossed unless they needed to be. It didn't seem so much like a waste in this sense. Still, it was a lot of work to clear out decades of purchases and memories.


As I look back on both of those moments, I know that I would never want to leave those I love with the task of sifting through my stuff; not to find treasures nor to clean up a mess. I want the time after I pass to be filled with memories and leave those behind a time to grieve without having to have the extra duty of clearing out my estate. I would rather leave a legacy and not waste someone's weekend deciding whether or not to keep an item that I may or may not have really enjoyed to begin with.


So, the question becomes, what do you want to leave behind when you depart this earth? A collection of trinkets that may cause stress for your children, or the gift of leaving this world as clutter free as you came in? And if you still have the first outfit you ever wore or your first haircut in a bag, that may be your sign on what you need to do for your own children. Clear it all out now and enjoy your time with those you love while you still have it.


What do you think about the idea of death-cleaning?


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