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Death Cleaning Breathes New Life & Joy Into 2019

Leave it to the Swedish to really knock the naming of things out of the park, döstädning or “death cleaning” is an exercise of permanent organization and purging of excess belongs and stuff during a person’s middle and late ages. I was first introduced the term when my mother decided that she didn’t want to leave my brother and I with the burden of sorting her belongings after she passes. I appreciate that type of planning and thinking. We are a very death positive family and practical about these types of things so there was nothing macabre about this process. Over the course of a Vermont winter which is like a one and half regular winters she sorted, sold, gave away, and repurposed her entire life in regard to physical belongings. Visiting always meant taking a box or two of 30 year old hand turkeys and falling apart popsicle stick art looking through them, reminiscing about when I made them, and then parting them with no feelings of sadness of guilt. Come the spring my mother proudly announced that she could see everything she owned and no long needed to pay for a storage locker or justify a larger car to transport items between her home and storage. She had reached the perfect balance, and the freedom she gained from her death cleaning experience was visible not just in her home but in herself as well since now all she had were items she truly loved along with a well organized and coded sewing room to create in. It was then then that I realized I wanted that. I wanted the freedom of not worrying about clutter, decorating with stuff for the sake of stuff, and finally letting go of things that I had physically and emotionally carried around with me for years.

Three years into my own decluttering exercise and I consider myself a modest minimalist. I don’t subscribe to any one philosophy when it comes to being minimal in my life. I have developed a few rules and guidelines for myself when it comes to making a minimalist space or maintaining my preferred lifestyle that I have plucked and adapted from others. I still have my collection of random oddities and my drawers are not full of neatly folded clothes, but I don’t pretend to be perfect nor do I want tidying to consume me to the point where I resent having to do it. I never want to view minimalism as a chore or burden, it is the opposite of that and should give me more time to do the things I want. I am almost to the point of balance in my spaces, the right amount of objects and tangible mementos and space. Cleaning is now fun. Yes, fun because I no longer stress about where to put everything. Everything has a place and if it doesn’t have a place I gift it forward.

Are you excited yet? Have you already binge watched Tidying Up and have Marie Kondo’s podcast on auto play? Are you not sure if this cleaning fad is for you but you will try anything because if you have to pick up one more dirty sock or wonder outloud how the heck you ended up with four of the same can opener and still can never find one when you need it? I have some easy peasy tips to help you dip your toe into the minimalist waters. These are a collection of things I wish I knew when I started as well as some of my tried and true “rules to live by” that help keep my space and brain organized and happy.

Start small and take your time

This may seem obvious, but pick one area at a time to focus on and and fully work through it before moving on to another. This can take a while especially as you start really digging deep, but trust me no one wants a half organized closet. If you aren’t sure if this method is for you try just throwing out and getting rid of expired makeup if you wear it, cleaning your purse or tote or picking one drawer at a time to sort. This way if you don’t like it or its too much at the moment you haven’t made any huge life altering moves like donating out all of your shoes (true story) and if you do love it then you have had your first taste of organizational joy.

It is not a contest

Some minimalist circles are competitive about their ability to live without and if you like to sleep on the floor more power to you, but I’m going to keep my bed frame. There is not a rule about what a person can and cannot own and still call themselves a minimalist. This also means don’t compare yourself to others we all have our own personal tastes and circumstances. When we compare ourselves to others the only people we hurt are ourselves and that is anything but joyful.

Its okay to own things

I have not given up my favorite things or parted with my collection of bee’s wax candles, nor have I snuck my husband’s coffee cup collection out of the house. Having collections or things is okay and doesn’t make anyone a bad minimalist. Getting rid of the fluff and knick knacks that don’t have any significance actually allows the things you do love to shine and become the focal point in a room, wall, house, or vanity. I have my candles all nestled in a corner of my hall tree and my husband has a display of his favorite mugs that shows where we have been. It sparks conversations, it reminds us of time spent together, and it makes room personal and homey. Get rid of the stuff not the love. As you begin to sort and look at everything the items that speak to you or “spark joy” keep and to the rest? Rehome them to someone that will love them.

Check in with yourself

What is your goal? What do you hope to accomplish with downsizing your belongings? For me I wanted to be able to clean with without resorting to baskets, bins, and stowing things in closets. A friend who is also a minimalist wanted to only do laundry once a week and not succumb to fast fashion instead opting for a capsule wardrobe that fit in one closet. We both accomplished our missions even though they were different and both have reaped the benefits of a less is more approach. Why you choose do try this is your own and its important to remember that you are doing this for you and no one else.


This is one I am trying to be better about. I finally get my closet clean and my living room is serene and peaceful and then hits a holiday, birthday, sale, or other reason as to why suddenly I have an influx of objects that I was perfectly content before without. I like boundries so I limit myself to a certain amount of products, things, or objects in my life. Want a new tote bag? I can only have three so one has to go, if I can’t part with at least one then it means I don’t so much want a new tote as much as I was mindlessly shopping. Jeans I limit to two pairs--I replace them when they wear out or are rendered unwearable. Food and beauty as well, I use what I have before spending money one bringing in new ones. This has not only helped me keep my space tidy, but my bank account thanks me too.

Make your own rules

These are the things that work for me, they might not work for you and that’s fine! Find your own balance, make your own list of Do’s and Don’ts. The beauty of minimalism is that it is largely a choose your own adventure. It is a spectrum and all shades of minimalism should be embraced and celebrated if they work for the people doing them. Have fun with this, interject your own spirit and flow. There is no right or wrong only what works for you.

Let me know if you are a minimalist or aspiring minimalist! What makes minimalism attractive for you and what is the best advice you could give someone just starting out?

Written By Caitlin Ettenborough

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Great Article! I tell my girls when something comes in ( new toy) we have to find other toys to give to other girls that don't have enough toys. So its a win/win

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