‘Death Cleaning’ Is Officially a Thing

April 4, 2019

Dictionary.com released a list of new words and phrases added this year, and “death cleaning” was among its newest additions. Death cleaning is defined as “the process of cleaning and decluttering one’s home so as to spare others, especially family members, from the chore of it after one’s death.”

It sounds morbid, but family members who have inherited a home full of belongings following a person’s death know “death cleaning” can be a massive undertaking that can be both heartbreaking and stressful.

“We added this definition to Dictionary.com this year because it’s an interesting term that filled a gap in the English language,” Jane Solomon, linguist-in-residence at Dictionary.com, told MarketWatch. “The U.S. is often seen as a materialistic place, and I think people who are grappling with their amassed possessions crave concepts like death cleaning or the KonMari method as they seek a more minimalistic lifestyle.”

Death cleaning, both the term and practice, was popularized in the U.S. with the release of the English translation of the book “Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” by Swedish artist Margareta Magnusson, Solomon notes. “Death cleaning” is the literal translation of the Swedish term “döstädning,” which means “to tidy, clean, clean up, clean out.”

Paige Arnof-Fenn says it took her two-and-a-half years after her mom died in 2010 to finish “death cleaning” the home—her mother was a “bit of a pack rat/hoarder,” she says. “It was exhausting,” Arnof-Fenn told MarketWatch, but added that it “also made me start to pare down my own clutter.” Her best advice: Tell everyone to “ask their parents while they are still alive a lot of questions and have them give things to their grandkids directly. It will mean a lot more to them, and you will get the stories of why the things are important.”

Dictionary.com added more than 300 new words and definitions to its website this week. Other additions included “JSYK” (an abbreviation for “just so you know”); JOMO (acronym for “joy of missing out,” which is a feeling of contentment with one’s own pursuits and activities without worrying over the possibility of missing out on what others may be doing); and “tone policing” (“a conversational tactic that dismisses the ideas being communicated when they are perceived to be delivered in an angry, frustrated, sad, fearful, or otherwise emotionally charged manner”).