Decluttering for Authors … the Swedes Call It “Death Cleaning”

I came across a new phrase to me last week—a grouping of two words: death cleaning.

It’s a common phrase in Sweden; in fact, books are written on it. The premise is that if your family and close friends don’t want “it” while you are alive (whatever “it” is), why would they want it if you are dead? It’s a good question.

Think about it. We’ve all got “stuff” … stuff in the house, maybe storage units, stuff stored at friends … and stuff related to our writing. Where’s it all to go … and don’t just think of aging … what happens if you get “hit by a bus” … really, what happens to it all?

It got me thinking dually: Oh yes, I’ve got stuff—and I bet you do, too. Do I really want to go there? and Yes, this is a good idea. 

I’m someone who just did a major house change, moving from a home John and I built 20 years ago to another home that was in need of major renovations and almost the same size as the one we moved from. We loved our home, but the maintenance had become a burden. And I didn’t want the huge yard any longer. Did we downsize? Yes, in the backyard—a primary objective for what we both considered “our home.”  But, what about all the stuff?  Some left … but we still have too much of it with us. 

Granted, I had some challenges. A month before the big move, I stubbed my toe, fell and shattered my right arm. I was braced for months and my right upper side was immobile. Packing became dependent on friends. One set of dishes was given away to a daughter who wanted it. So were some glasses. Kitchen items I hadn’t used in two years said hello to the Goodwill. Then there was old ideas and manuscripts I had worked on and been collecting for years—an entire file cabinet! Going through it, I offered some material to clients who were working on similar things. If they wanted it, they could have it. The other research info—adios. It was taken to recycling.

The one thing I really wanted to purge was my massive Christmas collection that was stored in over 75 huge boxes—hauled out each year. Since I wasn’t able to get them down, I couldn’t do the cherry picking I wanted. My planned purge didn’t happen. 

I plan on working for many more years. Within my move plans was to give away cases and more cases of books that I no longer needed. Books used for Presentations for the past 30+ years. Books that had nothing to do with what my current business was all about.  My books were weeded and I kept the ones I wanted for the library and office.  Over 300 books were given away from my personal library. I had kept the research and documentation of previously published books.  All gone—I mean; did I really need all the paper I kept in the files? Nope. It was time for them to leave and find new homes. And I cheerfully boxed them up and sent them on their way. Goodbye. 

For me, I’m a foodie. And I love to entertain. Twenty to fifty for dinner? No big deal. I’ve got cookbooks galore, nifty kitchen gadgets, eight sets of dishes (I love them all!), and I can’t even tell you how many glasses are tucked in cupboards and boxes in the wine closet. I do know that I can easily put my hands on 100+ wine glasses in seconds. Some kitchen stuff went through the death cleaning model, but not much. 

On John’s side, there was little to no real cleansing. He a rat packer–can’t let it go. How many saws, hammers, clamps, screw drivers, screws, etc., does a family need? We have a hardware store in my garage. Secretly, I would have my cleaning guy carry old boxes if papers and teaching plans of his when he taught 40 years ago. Gone they became. And of course, he had boxes and boxes of old paper—bills and bank statements dating beyond the expiration date. Asking a friend to drive me, To the shredder I went, unbeknownst to him. 

John’s books—it’s between an “oh my” and “OMG”. From nutrition and diet when he was studying it to religion when that caught his fancy. All should leave the building at the winter of his life. Past business records tucked away that haven’t been looked at in decades. There is so much more to go. 

What he does have is a serious collection of sci-fi dating back to the late 30s—that should get to another collector along with hundreds of vinyl LPs.  We have to have a serious talk on how to handle his “stuff.” 

Maybe this year I attack the 75 boxes; pull what I love and then put it the call to family and friends: come and get it. After the getting, it’s to the Goodwill and ARC. Moneys for them; a death cleaning for my girls. When I told my eldest daughter what I was writing about and what I planned on doing with the 75 boxes, she gave me a High Five and a “Thank You.”


I kind of like this “death cleaning” … my kids do as well. In fact, it’s time to ask all my friends and family—please come over and pick what you want. I’ve got sticky notes galore and let’s label it for you. And then I’m redoing my will.


How about you … what will you do to start the clearing process?




signature-J only transparent

Ashography Event Photography

Judith Briles is a book publishing expert and coach. She empowers authors and is the Founder of, a membership organization created for the serious author who wants to be seriously successful. She’s been writing about and conducting workshops on publishing since the ’80s. Judith is the author of 35 books including Author YOU: Creating and Building Your Author and Book Platforms (Foreword IndieFab Book of the Year), Snappy Sassy Salty: Wise Words for Authors and Writers and a speaker at publishing conferences. Book #35 was published in 2016: How to Avoid 101 Book Publishing Blunders, Bloopers & Boo-Boos. Get your copy now.

Each summer, she holds Judith Briles Book Publishing Unplugged, a three-day intensive limited to a small group of authors who want to be seriously successful. In 2017, the dates are June 22-24th.  Her audio and workbook series, Creating Your Book and Author Platform is now available. Join Judith live on Thursdays at 6 p.m. EST for “AuthorU-Your Guide to Book Publishing” on the Toginet Network at

Follow @AuthorU and @MyBookShepherd on Twitter and do a “Like” at AuthorU, and join the Facebook group Book Publishing with The Book Shepherd. If you want to create a book that has no regrets, contact Judith at

header-logo1.pngAuthor U is a non-profit membership organization dedicated to the author who wants to be seriously successful. Monthly education programs delivered face-to-face and online, The Author Resource ezine, BookCamps, and the annual Author U Extravaganza are tools designed for authors pre-, during and post-publishing of their books. Join today.

 If you are looking for FREE author and book coaching … call in to Judith’s Author Monday Mornings at NOON Eastern each Monday if you are an GOLD member. 

AuthorU® and The Book Shepherd® are registered trademarks