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The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter

By Margareta Magnusson
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The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning (2018) provides a helpful guide through the process of taking stock of your life’s belongings and getting rid of the things that you don’t need and that may trouble your loved ones. This is especially important as you get older and face mortality. Instead of leaving the burden of sorting and discarding to your children, you can take control with death cleaning, with the added benefit of appreciating a life’s worth of memories at your own pace.

Key idea 1 of 6

Döstädning or “death cleaning” is the Swedish practice of clearing away extraneous belongings before you die.

Have you ever stopped to consider what’s going to happen to all of your stuff when you die? Whatever you leave behind will inevitably end up being the responsibility of your loved ones. And having to go through all your belongings isn’t just a tall order in terms of time and effort; it’s also sure to take quite a psychological toll.

Of course, acknowledging your own mortality can be uncomfortable, but when you think about it, the considerate thing to do would be to take care of your belongings ahead of time. The Swedish have a name for this – döstädning, or “death cleaning.”

There are a number of reasons you might find yourself cleaning house and reducing your amount of belongings. You may have lost a loved one, found yourself facing a break-up or divorce, downsizing to a smaller home or making the transition to a nursing home.

Having lived a long life, moving 17 times, the author knows a thing or two about the art of death cleaning. With each move, she’s gained more insight into what deserves to be carried around.

Now, you don’t need to be sick or even elderly to take steps to make things easier for your loved ones. In fact, the smart thing to do is start cleaning up now rather than later.

The art of döstädning is more than just dusting and tidying up; it’s essentially taking a fine-toothed comb to all of your belongings to chuck away any unnecessary things. What’s more, it’s a permanent state of living your life in such an organized way that things constantly run smoothly.

You might find the process difficult, but there are ways to emotionally prepare yourself and make it as quick and painless as possible.

For example, when the author’s parents passed away, she inherited a lovely bracelet from her mom. Now, if she were to keep this item in her possession, it would create the possibility of conflict between her five children as to who would inherit the bracelet.

When she practiced death cleaning, she avoided this problem altogether by selling the bracelet. After all, each of her kids had already inherited something from their grandparents, so why complicate things with jealousy and hard feelings?

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