The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


Swedish Death Cleaning.  Have you seen this phrase popping up in your social media feed lately as The Big New Thing in lifestlyle management?  It comes from the book Döstädning - Ingen Sorlig Historia, by Margareta Magnusson.  The English version, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter is not yet available in the US market, but as a Swedish speaking professional organizer who's already read it I am happy to share some highlights.

First of all... WHAT is Swedish Death Cleaning?

The word "Cleaning" refers to a downsizing process, not traditional cleaning like mopping and dusting.  Magnusson's cleaning is more of a clearing out process, slowly and steadily getting rid of possessions.  People have been downsizing like this for ages for various reasons, but Magnusson describes a special niche.

"Death"?!?  Put this in front of "Cleaning" and you have a new take on the routine, namely the goal of clearing out your home enough so that when you die, your loved ones won't be overwhelmed with work to do and decisions to make.  "Death Cleaning" is removing the items you no longer need or want from your home while you can, to spare someone else the task of dealing with them when you're gone.

As for "Swedish", while the concept is really more universal than Nordic, Magnusson's book is in Swedish, thus this adjective in the translation. 

Put them together and there you have it, Swedish Death Cleaning.

Magnusson shares stories of how she settled the estates of family members and decided that she wanted to do this for herself as well, while she was still alive and could enjoy the process.  She gives simple tips like starting with large, bulky items and saving personal things like old letters and photos for later.  Let friends and family know what you're doing, she suggests.  They may want to help, which would mean extra hands and nice company, or they may want some things you want to get rid of, which relieves you of the task of finding them new homes.  What to do with things you don't want to toss that have personal value to you but no interest to the rest of the world?  Keep them to enjoy, and store them in a box labeled "Throw away when I'm gone."  Finally, Magnusson recommends practicing death cleaning over a long period of time and notes that it's never too late to start, until it is.

But more than just the purposeful act of getting rid of your possessions before you die, Swedish Death Cleaning is also about the mindset of taking responsibility for what you chose to keep (or not) during your life.  It's about making wise decisions.  Magnusson discusses reframing your relationship to what you own and embracing a "less is more" mentality over time.  "If you can't keep track of your stuff then you've got too much."

I  could not agree more.

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