Why life over 60 works better without clutter

How would you feel if a relative or friend died and left a house full of clutter behind them that it became your responsibility to sort through and deal with?

Man with hulahoop

Unfortunately, it’s all too common that relatives and friends are left to deal with someone’s clutter. I often meet people who have toiled for months, or even years, disposing of someone else’s stuff.

I was, therefore, very cheered to hear recently that this is much less likely to happen in Sweden, where sorting out your stuff before you die is something that over 65s are expected to take responsibility for and do themselves.

They even have a name for it. It’s called dostadning, which literally means “death cleaning”. It’s about letting go of anything you no longer need and putting your affairs in order so you are ready to make a clean, guilt-free exit, without leaving a burden to anyone else.

When to begin

Personally, I think leaving it until you’re 65 to take control of your home and your life is way too late. None of us know when we’re going to die, or how, and if you happen to become terminally ill, sorting through your possessions will probably be the last thing you feel like doing.

So I say, do it whatever age you are, and enjoy the benefits of living clutter-free for your entire life, not just the end stage.

It’s never too late to begin, and I’m happy to report that if you’ve reached the age where there is more of your life behind you than there is before you, the process can be easier. This is because you are clutter clearing with a definite purpose in mind.

Clutter clearing can give you a completely new lease of life

A woman I once worked with, who was in her eighties and in good health, had resolved to put her 3-storey house in order because she couldn’t bear the thought of her children walking into it after her death and seeing all her mess.

Every room was overflowing with clutter, and she had felt paralyzed for years to deal with any of it. However, she was determined to do it for them, and that kept her going, week after week, until the job was done.

The lovely thing was that she lived another ten years, and regaining control of her home gave her a completely new lease of life. After clearing all her clutter, she felt free to do many things she’d always wanted to do.

Far from being over, she told me that she felt her life had just begun. She painted, she travelled, and best of all, she often had her adult children come to stay because now she had guest rooms that were clear of clutter and available for them to use.

Clutter clearing is the natural thing to do as you get older

We come into this world with nothing and we can’t take anything with us when we die. At the beginning of life, there is no attachment to physical items at all. Psychologists have discovered this doesn’t start until a baby is 8-12 months old and it gradually gathers momentum from then on.

The reverse process is supposed to happen in the decades before death, as our engagement with the physical world recedes. Putting our affairs in order brings peace of mind and goes hand in hand with disposing of things we no longer need.

Throughout life, everything works better if you only keep around you the things you love and use. This is because the stagnant energies that accumulate around clutter always cause stuckness of some kind. When you clear out the old, it makes room for the new.

Living clutter-free is especially important in our senior years. Keeping a few treasured items is fine, but most people feel stifled by having so many things they no longer use and frustrated by their reduced ability to declutter when they are no longer as fit as they once were. It is much, much easier to sort through your things and let them go while you’re still fit and well.

Don’t delay – start today

Here are four ways you can begin…

  • Give away, donate or sell anything you haven’t used in ages and are pretty sure you will never use again. Surround yourself with the things that represent who you are and what you want to do at this time of your life.
  • Make a will. Or if you already have one, make sure it’s up to date.
  • If you have any special items you wish give to others, list them in your will or, if you no longer use them yourself, gift them to the person right now.
  • State clearly in your will what you want to have happen with all your digital assets. Appoint a digital executor and set up access to your online accounts and passwords through a secure route such as LastPass Emergency Access.

Lighten your load. Death is as natural as birth, and the more prepared for it you are, the more you can enjoy life to the full now.

Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd 2017, updated 2022

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First published at SixtyandMe.com on November 3, 2017

About Karen Kingston

Karen Kingston is a leading expert in clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui and healthy homes. Her two international bestselling books have combined sales of over three million copies in 26 languages and have established themselves as "must read" classics in their fields. Her best-known title, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, is now in its fourth edition. She is best known for her perspective-changing insights and practical solutions that enable more conscious navigation of 21st-century living.
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8 Responses to Why life over 60 works better without clutter

  1. Keeping clutter-free makes ME feel free. It’s a light, joyful—and even youthful—feeling.
    The possessions I choose to keep feel more special. More personal. More alive.

  2. There is no certain death-cleaning culture in Sweden that I would know of. Some Nordic writers seem to be able to package their personal quirks and motifs as “collective cults”. Margareta Magnussons book on the subject, published by Bonniers publishing house, is not without its merits probably, but it also seems to join the long ranks of books that tout something Nordic like “hygge”, “sauna”, “lagom”, “imbibing in longjohns”, “sisu”, “IKEA”, “ice swimming”, “Nordic noir”, “demolition derby in winter” or some such minor life-style thing that isn’t by any means practised by the entire population.

    (Nordic is the word that refers to all countries and islands in this specific region, whereas “Scandinavian” refers to Sweden and Norway only, as they’re on the Scandinavian Peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean.)

    Three of my four grandparents left their apartments and belongings unsorted when they left this world. It’s amazing how much those who are left behind may quarrel over this or that petty piece of property of the deceased… 🤔🙂

    1. Hi NR – I’m disappointed to hear that you think the concept of “Death Cleaning” is a marketing hype to help sell Margareta Magnusson’s book, but I’m not entirely surprised. As you say, there’s a lot of this type of thing going on these days, to make something appear trendier than it is. However, the premise is still a good one, and I’ve heard from many people that my article has helped them to get a fresh perspective about their situation.

  3. I read Clear your Clutter with Feng Shui twenty years ago. Cleared a few things, and over the years resumed accumulating stuff. Far too much stuff. gladly, I found you book a week ago, on a shelf of books I hadn’t looked at in years, and read it. The content of your book is as timely and fresh as it was when first written, and I feel newly motivated to declutter my life, this time permanently. Thank you for this wonderful life altering resource. Best wishes with your new book, kind regards, Patricia

  4. This year, I’ve been going through my belongings with just that in mind: I’m moving towards my 60s and no longer need a lot of my past books, collections, clothing or hobbies. It’s sometimes a wrench to let go of ‘stuff’, but it is getting easier. I’ve yet to make a will, though, and your article has prompted me to think about that.

    However, my husband, just three years my junior, is heading in the opposite direction – he’s backfilling every area that I clear. He’s even tried (unsuccessfully) to move his ever-growing piles of belongings into our sons’ large shared bedroom. At the same time, he’s getting forgetful, frequently loses items and accuses me of moving/stealing things from him.

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