A Beginners Guide to Death Cleaning

Swedish death cleaning-A unique approach to decluttering a lifetime of accumulation.

Döstädning or Swedish death cleaning is a type of decluttering. The term is a hybrid of two words, “dö” meaning death and “städning”, meaning cleaning. Simply, it involves a process of clearing out unnecessary belongings.  It can be undertaken at any age or life stage. It’s recommended to be done sooner rather than later, before others have to do it for you. 

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

In 2018, Swedish author Margareta Magnusson wrote a book entitled “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.”  She explains how to free yourself and your family from a lifetime of clutter.  Magnusson believes that people should start thinking about death cleaning as soon as they’re old enough to start thinking about their own mortality.  Essentially, stop collecting and keeping things that you don’t want and only surround yourself with possessions that you love.

Death cleaning is much more than sweeping & mopping.

“Death cleaning is not about dusting or mopping up; it is about a permanent form of organization that makes your everyday life run more smoothly.” Margareta Magnusson

Sorted Affairs for your Heirs

She goes on to explain that, “One day when you’re not around anymore, your family would have to take care of all that stuff, and I don’t think that’s fair.”  It’s a very practical approach to decluttering, organizing and simplifying your life; keep what you love and get rid of what you don’t

Magnusson recommends giving things you on longer want to family and friends “whenever they come over for dinner, or whenever you catch up with them.” If you have historical or unique items of interest, such as family genealogy for example, you can take the time to find an appropriate individual or organization that will value them.

Give it away, give it away, give it away now! Red Hot Chili Peppers

Call Me Sentimental

It’s suggested that sentimental objects like letters and pictures may be kept in a “just for me” box; personal mementos that mean something to you alone.  When you die, your children or beneficiaries can simply throw that box away, without even looking through its contents as they have no value to anyone else. 

A box of personal things that can be thrown away, guilt free, once you die.

Benefits of Death Cleaning

There are benefits to death cleaning.  As a Professional Organizer, I find that it’s exceptionally empowering and healthy to take care of your own space. And, make it more organized while you are still around to enjoy it.  Additionally, it encourages you to communicate your wishes to family and friends now. That way there’s absolutely no confusion as to who gets what.  

“Life will become more pleasant and comfortable if we get rid or some of the abundance. Mess is an unnecessary source of irritation.” Margareta Magnunsson

As we get older, having a home full of stuff raises the risk for falls and creates other health and safety hazards.  Proactively, downsizing possessions is a way to reduce stress and anxiety.  In a way, downsizing from a large house to a smaller apartment or an assisted living facility is a type of death cleaning.

Sensible & Practical Conversations

If bringing up the concept of death and death cleaning with aging loved ones makes you uncomfortable, that’s totally understandable.  Instead of presenting this concept as ‘Let’s throw your stuff away now so we don’t have to deal with it later,’ consider rephrasing the idea.  ‘Let’s organize the house so it’s a more enjoyable/safer/cleaner place for you to live,’ might be better received.  It can be fun, it’s a lovely thing for families to do together.  It allows you to get your home in order while reflecting on the joys and memories that make up a good life.

Loved ones wish to inherit nice things from you. Not ALL things from you.

Döstädning, much like decluttering and organizing, is an ongoing process.  With practice you will become more comfortable with the idea of letting go.  I will leave you with a quote that can be found in Margareta’s book. It’s from the late, great Leonard Cohen

“Putting your house in order, if you can do it, is one of the most comforting activities, and the benefits of it are incalculable.”

Embrace Less

Getting rid of items can serve as a reminder that things don’t last forever, including us. Eventually, someone will need to deal with all your stuff, whether that’s you while you’re still able to-or your loved ones after you’re gone. This can be very labour intensive. It’s physical work. It’s mental work and, not surprisingly, it’s emotional work.

Ask yourself, “Will anyone I know be happier if I save this?”

Your Time is Precious

Finally, death cleaning isn’t about getting rid of all your stuff but rather streamlining your life and belongings so you’re only holding on to what makes you happy. If you are interested in learning more about decluttering your space, reach out to Kelly for a complimentary discovery call. I’m confident we can sort it out together.

Yours in All Things Sorted,

Deeper Dive into Death Cleaning

Grab your own copy of New York Times Bestseller-The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson.

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