death cleaning Photo from “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning”.

It’s Just All Too Much!


Recently, I have had many calls to help with “Death Cleaning.”  Now, to be honest, no one actually says come over and help me “death clean”.  It goes more like this.

” I have a lot of stuff, and I don’t want to leave it for my kids to deal with.  Help!”

” My husband refuses to move to a smaller home now.  But, I want to get rid of some things, so I’m ready when it’s time.”

” All this clutter is driving me nuts, I can’t take it anymore.  Help!”

As Ann Lightfoot says in her upcoming book, “Love Your Home Again”, people are like, “Oh my God, nobody wants my stuff.  I don’t even want my stuff.”

Death cleaning was a term that was made popular by the 2018 book, “The Gentle Art of Death Cleaning.” by Margareta Magnusson.

Margareta says,” If we know something about our lives, it’s that we’re going to die, that’s for sure.”  She argues, we should have the courtesy to not burden our loved ones with a lifetime of clutter.  “I don’t think that’s nice to leave to your own children.”  Magnusson also suggested you toss any letters or journals that might offend your children, should they eventually discover them.

With this in mind, I want to share a personal experience.  I have talked many times about clearing my parents’ home.  This was a 3-phase process.  The first phase was after my mother died.  Next was before a caregiver moved in to help my dad.  Finally, I cleared the rest of the home after my dad died.  Somewhere in the process, I discovered a large stack of letters that my parents had written to each other while dating.  I chose not to read them.  Burning them was a thought.  But, that did not seem right. After all, they had been saved for their 50 plus years of marriage.  So, I decided to tie them up in a pretty ribbon.  As I said good-bye to my father for the last time, I put them in his hands.

Prepare for the end.  Prune as you go. 

Matt Paxton, a downsizing expert and the host of the PBS show “Legacy List” recently released a book, “Keep the Memories, Lose the Stuff” that addresses many of the issues people face as they age.  He points to the recent pandemic as the motivation for many to downsize.  “Older Americans have been isolated. They are tired of staring at their stuff.  They are ready to clean their houses and get rid of everything.”

Downsizing Strategies

So, where do you even start?  Believe me, that is the part that keeps most people from starting at all.

Here are some tips that I have used with success.

  1. Go after the low hanging fruit first.  I don’t recommend starting with a box of photos or memorabilia.  What area is bothering you the most?  Do things fall out when you open your kitchen cupboards? Start there.
  2. Enlist help.  Ask a family member, friend or professional to work with you.  This will make you schedule time to devote to the task. It is much easier to stay on task with someone else involved.
  3. Take care of yourself. This can be exhausting.  Prepare with adequate rest, good nutrition and plenty of fluids.  A little caffeine can’t hurt either!
  4. When you are ready to tackle photos and memorabilia, do small amounts at a time. Enjoy the trip down memory lane.  I offer many suggestions on what to do with these items in my last blog, “How to Deal with Sentimental Clutter.”


What to do with it all


what to do with it all

Photo by Charisse Kenion

Fortunately, we have numerous options.  Most will use a combination of these:

-Hand the items down to loved ones.

As much as we would like to pass our treasures along to our children and grandchildren, for the most part they don’t want much of it.  They will want a few things that carry special meaning.  But it will be hard to predict what those items will be.

Because family members can live far and wide, sending photos of items is a great way to get their input.   Don’t take it personally when they decline items.  For the most part, they probably have a house full already.  Many of the clients that I help with decluttering and organizing are swimming, or should I say drowning in items that they have taken from their parents, parents in-law, or grandparents.


We want to keep things out of the landfill and in the hands of those that can use them.  In some cases, selling may be a good option.  When checking prices of items listed online however, check the amount they actually sold for.  Often items are sold for a low price and it may not be worth the time and effort it takes to list, sell and deliver the item. It is important to know that going in.

Options for selling include:

Selling online

Post in local classified ads

Estate sales

Yard or garage sales





There is also excellent information on how to decide what to give away, what to sell, and how to sell it in Matt Paxton’s book, “Keep the Memories, Lose the Stuff.”



It feels good to give our things to someone who will use them.

Dropping off boxes and bags at a donation center is the easiest. It is amazing to find places that are looking for specific items.

For example, there is an organization  “NICU Helping Hands”, that makes gowns for still born babies out of wedding gowns with its Angel Gown Program. g for specific items.

Used clothing, leather goods and bedding can be donated in the bins you see by stores and gas stations.  Unusable items are recycled into insulation and stuffing for furniture.

Check out my recycle/donate guide for more options:

Here is a link to an article full of useful information on what to do with items that your children do not want.

If you plan to sell potentially valuable items, you will want to get it appraised.  Here is some information on the process.

How to Obtain Quality Art and Antique Appraisals

Another excellent book on this topic is “Don’t Toss My Memories in the Trash” by Vicki Dellaquila.


Finally, when thinking about leaving your legacy, the best thing that you can do is to tell your family about your life.  They will love hearing about life when you were a child.  Tell them the big things.  But, don’t leave out the little things.  What did you love about school?  What was the name of your first pet? What were your dreams and goals?  This information is truly priceless and will be told again and again.