If you haven’t heard, the new decluttering trend these days sure is a cheerful one:
Swedish death cleaning.
Pleasant, isn’t it?
Being the decluttering
freak expert that I am, I had to look into it. I started with a web search and also read the book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter.
The book was actually charming at times. Leave it to the Swedes to find ways to incorporate balance and harmony into an otherwise dreary topic. The author, Margaretta Magnusson, lives in Stockholm and is in her 80’s or 90’s and has undergone the “death cleaning” process three times. I’m not gonna lie — a good portion of the book is her reminiscing about events in her life that she was reminded of during the process of death cleaning.
What is Swedish Death Cleaning?
Just like it sounds, Swedish death cleaning involves decluttering and purging your home in anticipation of your departure from this earth. The idea is that doing so will make it easier for your loved ones after you’re gone, while also making your time in your home a more pleasant experience while you’re still alive.
Do you feel warm and fuzzy yet?
The book was understandably targeted toward an older audience, but still presented nuggets of gold to those of us who (hopefully) still have a few decades left. In some ways, it reminded me of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Although, perhaps not quite as uplifting. [Insert sarcastic face here.]
The Swedish Death Cleaning Process
Like Kondo, Magnusson recommends saving sentimental items for last, since those are more likely to get you stuck. But unlike Kondo (whose approach to decluttering is strictly by category), Magnusson’s approach involves both category and room of the house.
Here’s the process for death cleaning Magnusson seems to recommend:
- Items/Areas you’ve likely forgotten about (e.g., basement, attic, junk drawers)
- Room by room (e.g., bathrooms, kitchen, garage, tool shed)
- Sentimental (e.g., photographs, love letters)
7 Tips for Swedish Death Cleaning
There are a few things you should keep in mind while going through the death cleaning process. I’ve compiled a list of 7 tips (below), based on my research and Magnusson’s book.
1 – Remove excess. For example, Magnusson recommends keeping only the number of dish sets that your table can seat. I recommend keeping those dishes versatile (e.g., tumbler glasses instead of juice glasses + wine glasses + water glasses, etc.)
2 – Go digital. If you use the Internet for recipes, you can ditch the cookbooks.
3 – Discard with intention (and without guilt). Be intentional about finding a new home for everything you no longer wish to keep (e.g., Give to family/friends, Sell, or Donate). But don’t hold on to something forever, waiting for the perfect home to show up. At some point, you need to just get rid of it. And don’t feel guilty. As author Magnusson says, “I will never feel guilty for not keeping presents forever. To be grateful and happy for a present when you first receive it is something different, because that gratitude is not connected to the thing itself but to the giver who gave it to you.” (By the way, when giving gifts, consider giving books, or shopping second-hand.)
4 – Buy less. Learn how to enjoy things without owning them. And reduce waste by learning how to fix your things (e.g., learn how to sew). Reminds me of something said in the Minimalism documentary: Although we are highly consumeristic, we don’t actually value possessions very much. If we did, we would care for them more, rather than seeing them as disposable. If you’re buying a gift for someone else, consider the four categories of minimalist gift-giving. (Note: I also recommend looking on sites like OfferUp or Nextdoor for second-hand shopping.)
5 – Be gentle and considerate of others. For example, consider those who might be — ahem — cleaning up after you. Don’t save anything that will unnecessarily shock or embarrass them after you’re gone. Likewise, for the people you might be cleaning up after, be gentle about broaching the subject of “death cleaning” with them. 😉
6 – Take care of yourself. While “death cleaning”, don’t forget to take care of your present life. Your home still needs cleaning, your garden still needs tending, and you still need showers! I fully advocate for a little bit of hygge while death cleaning.
7 – Allow yourself to feel and reflect. Give yourself the time and space to feel the feelings that will come from your death-cleaning experience. Although it sounds like a depressing activity, you might enjoy the opportunity to reflect on your life and all the events that helped shape you. You will also likely feel freer after completing the process, knowing that your home is in order and your loved ones are left with less of a burden.
Well, that wasn’t so bad, was it?
I can appreciate the need for “death cleaning”. As morbid as it appears, it’s actually quite liberating to feel like you’ve got your home in order.