Death Cleaning helps you Clear the Emotional Clutter

Sort through your emotional baggage before it is too heavy to carry.

Posted Feb 01, 2018

We’ve been reading a lot about feng shui for quite some time, but recently, döstädning ("death cleaning" in Swedish) and kintsugi have caught people's attention.

Feng shui means wind-water and the purpose of the system is to bring harmony between the person and the place they inhabit. I admit that I’ve followed some of the suggestions about furniture placement and what sort of ornaments to put where, but I recently heard about a few other ways to take control or make sense out of your surroundings.


Similar to feng shui in some ways, there is a Swedish tradition called döstädning that translates as “death cleaning.” This practice is all about organizing your life and your worldly possessions to make things easier when you depart from the firmament. If I were two decades younger, I would probably recoil from the name. But around the time we reach midlife, we begin to shift our perspective on the passage of time. We’re not as fearful of planning for the end and we’ve likely had to help sort out an aging or departed parent’s property and financial affairs. It can be a challenging task laden with heavy emotions that makes it even more difficult.

What a gift it might be to the next generation to sweep out the debris from our lives today and let go of the possessions that might bring even greater joy when passed on to someone who can benefit more from it than we can ourselves. Organization simplifies your life—whether you’re 25 or 75—and stripping down your collection of possessions to the simple necessities can be about as freeing as anything a person could do . . . if they are of the mindset that less is more and simple is better. If you have something you once cherished, but not so much anymore, think about the joy you’d experience and inspire by passing it along to someone who might treasure it more. Their appreciation may very well overshadow your memory of its presence in your past.

Chained to our Possessions

In our culture, success is measured by accumulation—of cash, treasure, possessions, you name it. Charles Dickens’ ghost character of Marley was weighted down by heavy chains representing the wrongs he had done in his life. It seems that many people now weight themselves down with chains that they forge in this life through the desire to simply accumulate “things.” What does it say about a society when there’s a sizable audience hungry for shows such as “Extreme Hoarders”? While “hunting and gathering” are what kept humankind alive, it seems that this drive is in overdrive because contemporary times offer up so very much that is available for “collecting.” When your possessions “own” most of the space in your place, there is definitely a significant problem that warrants psychological and emotional clinical care.

However, even if you’re not an extreme hoarder, chances are that you own more stuff than your parents or grandparents ever had. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing – if that “stuff” is “stuff” that is utilized or needed or does not overwhelm you—it can make you wonder how so much was accomplished with so little in the past.


There’s perhaps a middle ground between letting go of broken objects to streamline your life and holding on to everything that you’ve ever acquired. Perhaps the Japanese practice of Kintsugi might be the path to follow when something dear to you has fallen into disrepair, but to let go of it would bring sadness, but to see it lying broken is just as painful. Kintsugi is a process in which something broken is mended with gold and value is thus added, rather than the breakage undoing the worth of an item. The word means “golden joinery” and it exemplifies the Japanese custom of honoring the imperfect. Why hide your own mistakes or past challenges, why not embrace them and make them a part of who you are today?

Finding Harmony with the Past you Carry

There’s a lot to be said for finding harmony between person and place . . . it’s what we all deeply seek without even knowing it. We “know” when we feel safe or secure or comfortable in a place, and we also know that our journeys are what make us who we are—it's not always best to try and "cast off" imperfect parts or “pretend” that past mistakes were not made. Reconnecting with a sense of wholeness is not easy when a person has experienced a traumatic event or feels as if they have been ripped apart by life, but the gold is found in the healing. By making sense of how these breakages can be acknowledged, tended to, and made golden by the intentional attention to their integration into the whole of who you are now is how we clean up the debris left by the trauma and move imperfectly perfect forward into the next step in the journey of living.

Denying your flaws, your past mistakes, and the damage you’ve experienced won’t make them disappear—healing the soul is not as simple as throwing away a broken glass. You’ve not got a set of half a dozen other selves to replace the single soul with which you’re born.

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