A few years before my father-in-law passed away he got to the point that he recognized his days were limited and he started a thorough top-to-bottom housecleaning. I mean he was rigorous and almost scary about the way he divested himself of old treasures and even older trash. I have to say, I admired him for it. I wished, at the time, that my dad were was forward thinking as Frank was being — though to tell you the truth I thought he started a little earlier than might have been necessary. But then Frank knew his own state of health better than Peg or I did, and he knew his own mind.
I can’t say that Frank was following any kind of Swedish Death Cleaning concept. His concept was quite simple: straighten up his affairs so that his family didn’t have to do any more than necessary when he passed. He looked at his finances, at his legal documents, at his possessions, and at the people in his life and he took steps to sort out the lot.
I want to share this article about sorting out your clutter for what it might be worth. We in the U.S. have a strange relationship with death, most of us avoid acknowledging it in a great many ways, but it’s something that we would do well to treat more rationally. For ourselves — to insure that what happens after our passing is what we intend; also for others to relieve them of burdens they don’t really need to deal with.
It’s the decluttering method to end all decluttering.
By KATIE HOLDEFEHR October 23, 2017
Move over Marie Kondo, there’s a new decluttering guru in town. Margareta Magnusson, a Swedish woman self-described as “somewhere between 80 and 100,” has recently written a book that may hold the key to the ultimate decluttering secret—one so thorough that it lasts, well, forever. In her book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, now available to pre-order and set to release in January, Magnusson explores the concept of Swedish death cleaning, or döstädning, the process of organizing, decluttering, and giving away your belongings “when you think the time is coming closer for you to leave the planet.”
At first blush, it sounds morbid, but Magnusson handles this touchy topic with humor, and presents death cleaning as a thoughtful process that ensures family members won’t face the burden of digging through mountains of clothing, books, furniture, and tchotchkes later on. If you’ve ever lost a loved one, only to realize you’ll have to sort through an entire lifetime of belongings while grieving your loss, you’re already well aware of how difficult this process can be. “Many adult children worry about the amount of possessions their parents have amassed through the years,” Magnusson writes. “They know that if their parents don’t take care of their own stuff, they, the children, will have to do it for them.” The book can be used as a conversation starter for children to broach this sensitive topic with their aging parents, and it also serves as a guide for those starting the process themselves.
So, if you’re going to start death cleaning your own home or plan to help your older family members, how do you begin? “Be aware of the fact that to downsize your home will take some time,” Magnusson says. “Old people seem to think that time goes so quickly, but in fact it is we who have become slower. So—do not wait too long…” she advises with a touch of humor. She recommends starting early, around the age of 65, as the process isn’t a race to get rid of your things before you die, but should help you enjoy your life unhindered by belongings you no longer need. “Death cleaning is not about dusting or mopping up; it is about a permanent form of organization that makes your life run more smoothly,” she explains.
Like most decluttering methods, death cleaning is about more than sorting objects—it’s about emotions, too. Going through a lifetime of books, photos, and letters is bound to bring back memories, and while Magnusson suggests going through photos and other emotionally-loaded possessions last so you won’t get sidetracked, sorting through these feelings is an important part of the process.
Despite the emotional aspect of death cleaning, Magnusson insists it isn’t sad. “Death cleaning is also something you can do for yourself, for your own pleasure,” she writes. Before she says goodbye to each object she no longer needs, Magnusson takes a moment to reflect on the memories associated with that table, jacket, or cookbook, whether good or bad. “One’s own pleasure, and the chance to find meaning and memory, is the most important thing,” she writes. And so it turns out, once again, that the difficult process of tidying up has more to do with sparking joy than you might think.
I want to add something else to this.
Our lives have gotten increasingly digitized and I really want to encourage you to declutter your digital life as well. I know that while we are involved with paying bills and planning our finances that passwords and such are in a constant state of flux and it’s hard to think ahead far enough to put such things as passwords in a file your loved ones can find and will know what to do with. But it’s only fair that you do. As much as you care for your loved ones you don’t want them ending up in default on loans or missing bank payments just because you didn’t share a password or a user ID. Take the time when you have it and document what needs doing, what will take care of itself (we all have some auto-pay bills I’m sure).
Be kind to those you love.