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What is Swedish Death Cleaning?

decluttering strategy

If you have not yet heard about Swedish death cleaning, get ready because it is going to be everywhere in 2018. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter is a new book by Margareta Magnusson slated for release in the U.S. in January. While the name of her decluttering process may be off-putting to some, early press on the book has been very intriguing. The publisher describes it as "A charming, practical, and unsentimental approach to putting a home in order while reflecting on the tiny joys that make up a long life." Who can't get behind that?

The word for this process in Sweden is döstädning, and it refers to gradually letting go of things, typically starting in middle age, to avoid burdening your family with them after you die. There are also benefits to the person who is doing the death cleaning, of course: a peaceful, tidy home that is safer to live in and easier to clean. The emotional rewards of this process may be even more impactful. Magnusson says it isn’t only about facing one’s mortality (although that is definitely part of it), but about reflecting on the memories of one’s life. She tells us, "The good [memories] you keep, and the bad you expunge." Think about how good it would feel to rid your home of all the stuff that reminds you of regrets and bad memories of your past. While the name “death cleaning” may be new to many of us, the concept is not. Priorities change over a lifetime, and a common pattern is to spend the first half of it accumulating and the second half shedding what is no longer needed. Many of my clients are motivated to clean out the things they have collected because they realize most of their stuff will be of no use to their children. I discuss this idea explicitly in my organizing workshops as well. When we die, the contents of our homes will be left for someone else to deal with, and it is a kind final act to make that task as easy as possible for our loved ones. You can see Magnusson discuss her process and get a sense of her humor and practicality in this video. Her approach to decluttering and mortality is refreshingly honest. After viewing her daughter’s packed storage unit, she admonishes her by saying, "You could die tomorrow... who's going to take care of all this crap?"

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