Cleaned to Death

November 29, 2023

It’s new! It’s popular! It’s from Sweden!

Nope, not IKEA, not this time.

It’s the latest craze, “Swedish Death Cleaning.” Does sound somewhat morbid, but have you ever watched an Ingmar Bergman movie? So much brooding! The Swedes are NOT the jolliest of souls (I know, there’s ABBA, but they are the exception to the rule. Stick with me). It stands to reason that this method would be both a practical pursuit, and a nifty way of keeping the Grim Reaper top of mind.

Basically, you go through your worldly goods and sort/donate/pitch ruthlessly. When you’re done, you are left with an extremely pared-down existence, so that some distant day, when you shuffle off this mortal coil, your offspring will have almost nothing to deal with, as far as your belongings go.

How I wish it had been a thing back when my mom was alive! Joanie would rather have died than cleaned, ever, but she was programmed to do whatever Oprah suggested. Maybe she would have been inspired to purge those decades of Good Housekeeping and Ladies Home Journal, those 47 decorative pillows, that rusty sconce!

Instead, my sister Carolyn (while Mom was moving from Atlanta after Dad died), had to surreptitiously cart TONS of useless stuff to the dumpster. Mom moved up to Philly in 1994, and was here for the last 12 years of her life, which was ample time to amass just about the same volume of flotsam and jetsam as had been tossed down in Georgia. When Joanie passed away in 2006, we had to get rid of another dumpster-full of her possessions. It was hellacious, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

Looking around, we are ripe for a good clear-out, and what better time than the dead (haha) of winter to accomplish this chore? I truly don’t want my kids having to dispatch the contents of our house someday after we’re gone—it’d be much too much for the poor darlings, who will already be struggling with their bottomless grief!!

So out it will all go! We can manage just fine with bare-bones living: bookshelves with no books, closets and dresser drawers without clothes, no photos, no artwork, no pesky mementos. After our joint funeral (what, you think I’m going to croak without dragging Steve with me?), it’ll take the children about 10 minutes, tops, to get our abode all ready to sell. They can then return to THEIR chock-full dwellings, which in turn they will have to empty out well before THEIR expected demise. It’s a macabre type of “paying it forward”!

I do need to approach this methodically, though. After all, what’s taken us decades to accumulate, ain’t gonna disappear overnight.  As I mentally prepare to discard every single material thing I’ve ever held dear, just to spare my spoiled progeny from lifting a finger, what I really need are lots of sturdy containers to temporarily store everything, before Death Cleaning Day.

I think IKEA has just what I’m looking for.


    I am an author (of five books, numerous plays, poetry and freelance articles,) a retired director (of Spiritual Formation at a Lutheran church,) and a producer (of five kids).

    I write about my hectic, funny, perfectly imperfect life.

    Please visit my website: or email me at



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