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The One Thing You Need To Do For Your Kids Before You Die

They’ll thank you for it.
by Michael Benninger | Sep 18 2018

We go through our lives accumulating things, yet few of us consider what will happen to our belongings once we’re no longer around to enjoy them. If we did, we’d realize that our possessions end up in the hands of our kids and friends, who have to then wade through a sea of stuff, trying to figure out what’s really meaningful, and what should be tossed.

But if we don’t want to spend our own time figuring out which of our possessions are worth keeping, why do we make our loved ones deal with divvying or ditching everything after we’re dead? By recognizing now that sorting through all of your belongings would be a burden for your loved ones, you can decide to downsize, which would save your children a lot of hassle and heartache and make your departure much easier for them to deal with.

In The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter, Swedish author Margareta Magnusson introduces readers to döstädning, her culture’s practice of expunging extraneous belongings prior to passing away. In the book, she provides a helpful guide through the process of “death cleaning” by offering tips about taking stock of possessions and tossing anything unneeded or that may cause complications for loved ones.

For most people, sorting through their possessions with a fine-toothed comb won’t only require a lot of time and effort, but it might also take a psychological toll. Yet the ordeal will only get worse the longer you wait. Fortunately, through practice and preparation, you can make the process easier. So whether you’ve been a lifelong hoarder who needs a tough-love approach to decluttering, or if you just want to make your death as painless as possible for your children, here are some of the key takeaways from The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.

Start at the top or bottom, tackling small spaces first

Depending on your living space, you may have clutter accumulating in your basement, attic, or both. Start by deciding what to do with the largest, least meaningful items you own, carefully considering if anyone in your life would like to have them. The more time you spend doing this, the easier it will become, and the faster you’ll clear out one space before moving onto the next.

Put off sorting through personal stuff

Don’t begin your döstädning by digging into stacks of love letters, cherished heirlooms, or anything else likely to send you on a distracting detour down memory lane. Delay dealing with these items until you’ve cleared out larger, less meaningful possessions including furniture, books, and other belongings that take up a greater amount space.

Digitize your physical photos

If a large part of your life occurred before the dawn of the digital age, you likely have a stack of physical albums full of printed photos from your past. While these snapshots may hold an immense amount of meaning for you, it’s unlikely your children are similarly attached to them. To save them the inconvenience of going through these albums, have your photos digitized and transferred to a set of versatile memory sticks.

Sell any items that might cause conflict

For belongings that have more monetary value than sentimental meaning, you’re generally better off selling them and splitting the cash amongst your heirs rather than bequeathing the objects to individual children. This approach reduces the likelihood that your decisions will result in jealousy or discord, and it relieves your offspring of the obligation to keep items when they’d rather have money.

Destroy your dirty secrets

If you have a secret side of your life that you’d prefer to remain hidden — even after you’re long gone — you’ll want to get rid of any embarrassing evidence that could change the way your loved ones think about you. By burning or shredding any items that may cause awkward moments for your offspring, you’ll be doing them a big favor by not leaving them with uncomfortable questions you won’t be around to answer.

Acknowledging your own mortality can be uncomfortable, but by conducting a thorough death cleaning prior to passing away, you’ll have far more control over what your children experience once you’re gone.

If you’d like to learn more about how to approach your own döstädning, explore the full set of blinks to The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, now featured in our library.

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