Clearing Out for Good

Wednesday January 19, 2022

I’ve mentioned before my parents-in-law have now moved into residential care. This means their house – their home for the past fifty years – must be sold.

Both academics, they have not been too concerned with their physical environment – so long as they were surrounded by their books. As things have broken or worn out or stopped being used, they have not been thrown out, but have just been moved to an unused room. Clearing the house is a monster task.

This is not the first time I have undertaken this kind of thing. My own mother moved, five years ago, to a small apartment on the family farm. She had to get rid of three quarters of her possessions. To begin with she declared, “I don’t need any help, thank you: I’ll do it myself.” As her moving date became closer, however, she realised she did need that help.

It was both a chore and a privilege to help her part with her things. Some decisions were easy, but many items had emotional associations, and she needed to process these feelings before she could let them go. I spent many hours with her, first asking, “Should we let this go?” then listening to her stories and memories around whatever it was, before she could say, “Yes, it can go.”

I cannot do that with my parents-in-law; they are not physically there, and they are not capable of that kind of prolonged decision-making. In some ways it is easy, as they already have everything they need in the care home; in other ways it is hard; we don’t want to just throw out those items they might like us to cherish – even though we have no place for them in our own homes.

I read a while ago, a charming little book called “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning,” by Margareta Magnusson. In it she recommends we start this clearing process for ourselves, much earlier than we think we need to, as an act of love to our children or those who must clear for us after we go. It is a light and humorous book, not at all morbid, and I would highly recommend it.

This is much more than clutter-clearing; it is making peace with our own mortality, removing a worry from ourselves and a physical and emotional burden from our loved ones.

Most of us know how therapeutic a good clear-out can be; how much lighter we feel afterwards. We know we can take nothing with us when we leave this world, so maybe now is the time to look at what we are leaving for others to sort out after we are gone.

I hope for all of us, that leaving will be a long time in the future, but it’s never too early to plan – and it’s never too early to clear.

On another note: does anyone here have use for a hostess trolley, or an electric trouser press?

A Moodscope member.

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