Death Cleaning

A rather intriguing title comprising of 2 topics that most of us dislike: Dying and Cleaning. Yet, the only thing that none of us can change is the fact that we will die one day. So what then is the meaning of this term ‘death cleaning’?

The term is derived from a Swedish word called “dostadning” which refers to the act of slowly and steadily decluttering as the years go by, ideally beginning in your fifties (or at any point in life) and going until the day you kick the bucket. The ultimate purpose of death cleaning is to minimize the amount of stuff, especially meaningless clutter that you leave behind for others to deal with.

The world is slowly warming up to this concept of decluttering their homes, offices, garages, and lives in general. My family is a prime example of this.

We decided to renovate our two-bedroom flat after almost 20 years. Hence, we had to rent a neighbour’s flat and shift all our stuff into it. It is unimaginable how much of stuff one family can collect over two decades. It was mindboggling. We firmly resolved to give away a lot of the stuff, a lot of which was in good condition and the end result was that we gave away close to 20 boxes worth of stuff to various jumble sales. We felt so free when we moved back into our renovated home as if a huge burden had been lifted off our shoulders.

As I reflected days later, I learnt that the tendency to hoard things is to some extent ingrained in all of us. We find it difficult to part with things, most often believing that we will need them somewhere in the future. Yet, as we let go of these things, life seems so much simpler.

I was so fascinated by this principle that I began applying it to our lives as Christians. I realized that we hold on to so many things in our lives that they put a huge burden on us and impede our relationship with God.

So what are the things we hold on to?

  1. We hold onto various habits and sins, not desiring to give them up because they give us a little pleasure.
  2. We hold on to grudges against many people resulting in us being angry, resentful and unhappy.
  3. We hold on to people and past broken relationships sometimes years after things ended, constantly asking ourselves what if?
  4. We hold onto our old fixed mindsets, often displaying stubbornness and a refusal to change.
  5. We hold on to our past achievements often allowing them to become a source of pride and an impediment to our further growth.

The things we hold on to place a huge burden on us and those around us. We tend to get bogged down and prevent the Spirit of God from working in our lives. It is worth asking ourselves how we will spiritually benefit by all that we hold on to.

Jesus told his disciples the parable of the rich man. The rich man said, ‘I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

~ Luke 12:18-21

This passage perfectly illustrates the principle of “death cleaning” and the need to cleanse ourselves of our bad habits and let go of the anger, unforgiveness, old mindset, past hurt relationships and so much more that we have held on to for years, simply because there may be no tomorrow to do it.

Growing up as a teenager, I had built up resentment and unforgiveness against a lot of people in college which lasted for long periods ranging from several months to years. It was only when I was able to let go of my hurt and pain through the grace of God did I experience a huge burden being lifted off me.

One of the hardest lessons in life is letting go. Whether it is guilt, anger, love, loss of a loved one, etc., prophet Isaiah writes,

“Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
~ Isaiah 43:18-19

Jesus urges us not to cling to the past but rather look to the future in hope. Let us reflect on the various things and people that we hold on to and pray for the grace to let go. As St. Francis of Assisi said,

“People lose everything they leave behind in this world; but they carry with them the rewards of charity and alms which they gave, for which they will have a reward from the Lord.”

About Dr. Ehrlson de Sousa

Dr. Ehrlson de Sousa is an ENT surgeon consulting in private hospitals in Goa . He hails from Porvorim and is an active member of the community for over 15 years Apart from writing for medical journals both national and international, his love and reverence for the teachings of the church inspired him to start writing about the catholic faith. He aspires to be a Saint and enjoys playing chess and table tennis in his free time.

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