How to clean out a house after death

A professional tidier Marie Kondo's best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing has inspired people all over the world to go through their belongings and cut back on clutter in their lives, letting go of items that don't "spark joy" and making room for new items and memories to come into their lives. Organizing sentimental items can be tricky, and even more so to clean out a deceased loved one's house. Here are 5 steps to effectively clean out a house after a loss.


1. Envision what the home should look like and where the future will take you

Cleaning out the home is the time when you decide what you really want. Think about yourself and the road that lies ahead. Do not feel guilty as your loved one would want you to continue living your own life without the burden of all their unused possessions. Also, keep in mind that memories of the loved one stay in your heart and in your mind and that it is perfectly fine to keep a few things that represented who the person was and how you remember him or her. Involve your friends or family will help lessen the burden, share memories and strengthen your connection as you go through the process. Be fully committed to complete the process.

2. Take care of your own items first

Before clearing out your deceased loved one's belongings, it is helpful to go through your own items first. Not only you get more tasks done first that leaves you with a less stressed and clear mind, but you will also get a hang of the process which makes it easier to go through a loved one's items. It helps to follow the tidying order: clothing, books, papers, komono (miscellaneous) - and only then - sentimental items.

3. Focus on what to keep, not what to throw away.

Most of us tend to focus on what to throw away when we have a clear out. Instead, Marie Kondo's suggestion is to do the opposite. Focus on what to keep instead. The reason is simple. Do not overwhelm yourself in thinking what to throw away when there are just so many items of sentimental value. 

4. Ask yourself of each item: does it spark joy?

The test to know whether the item sparks joy is to feel the response that elicits in your heart when you touch the item. Each item has a place in your life but most of them do not spark joy and you know they don't mean enough to hold on. Before you chuck the item, give a sincere thank to the item. It will significantly help reduce any guilt. Keeping the item beyond the time it sparks joy for you will diminish the appreciation and care you have for the other items in your life.

5. Tidy photographs as a family

Tidying photographs is the final step of clearing out sentimental items. Collect all the photos you have in the house, remove them from their albums, sort them according to the period which they were taken. Sorting out photos may the happiest task of the entire process. As you relive wonderful memories, laughing and talking about your family memories together can also be fun and therapeutic. 



KonMari method may not work for some:

  • Sentimental items expand beyond just photos and little objects. How the home is decorated, every composition, detail, and curation could be a constant reminder of what no longer existed. Some people do not feel that sentimental should always "spark joy", it can be a comfort or just simply a connection.
  • The guilt of letting go, such as an attachment to the past or fear for the future.

"The big fear we all have is that if we throw away these objects we’ll somehow be losing the precious memories and legacy that goes with them." It is not so, because truly precious memories will never vanish even if you discard things associated with them. Decluttering is a therapeutic process to purge and find new purpose in life after a loss. In order to do so, there must be a commitment to walk through the whole process. There is no hurry to start the process. 

About the Author

Timeliss Tiffany

Sharing experiences, stories and lessons about life-planning and beyond

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