My Summer of “Swedish Death Cleaning”


swedish death cleaningIt is no secret to those who know me that I am a sucker for a good cleaning/organization project.

My favorite thing to do is to declutter and organize. Remember when the “Capsule Wardrobe” was all the rage? I was all over it. I binge watch shows like “Clean Sweep,” “Clean House,” and “Hoarders.” It will also come as no surprise that the “Bible” of all things organization: Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” sits on my nightstand. So of course, when I heard about Margareta Magnusson’s book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter I was excited to dive right in.

The biggest difference between Marie Kondo’s approach to decluttering and Magnusson’s approach is best summed up like this: Kondo promotes “only keep things that you love and that spark joy.” Magnusson is basically saying “No one wants your crap when you die, so get over yourself.”

Well, OK, she isn’t that harsh. In fact, Magnusson, an artist, wrote the book after the deaths of her parents and husband. She approaches the subject in a kind, practical, manner.

Magnusson writes about the Swedish idea of döstädning, which translates to death cleaning. Dö means death in Swedish and städning means cleaning. Her theory is that if you can’t motivate yourself to clean for your personal well being, just think of how much of a burden you’ll impose on loved ones when you head to the pearly gates.

I understand this. In the past 5 years both my mother and father have passed away. My sister and I had to decide what to keep and what to throw out. It was emotionally draining, to say the least.

Although 65 is the suggested age to start the process, I think the sooner you start eliminating your stuff the better. People are less likely to do it the older they get. It can be a difficult task both physically and emotionally. Besides, I’ve always been an overachiever when it comes to decluttering. I figured 47 was a good age to start.

Tips for Swedish Death Cleaning

The first rule of “Swedish Death Cleaning “is to involve others. Let your family and friends know what you are doing so they can keep you accountable. This will also open the dialogue with them about your wishes after you pass. So, in late May I declared to my household that this would be my “summer of Swedish Death Cleaning!” My husband responded by stating “don’t throw any of my stuff away” and my daughters just ignored me. Whatever.

Another important principle of döstädning is that you are supposed to give valued stuff away to the people you love as gifts. I sort of fudged on this one. I didn’t want to give my stuff away to any of my friends, because honestly, I don’t really have anything that nice to give. I have a black Kate Spade purse that my dad bought me, and that is about it. Besides, I still plan on using it. I’m only 47 remember.

Instead of giving my stuff away as gifts, I would drop off a bag to Goodwill every day on my way to work. The same young man was always working, and I often wondered what he thought of me. I wanted so badly to explain to him that I really wasn’t crazy, that I was just committed to a summer of “Swedish Death Cleaning!” But somehow the truth would make me seem like even more of a nut so I just smiled and said, “I don’t need a receipt today, thank you.” (FYI…I take the maximum $500 deduction on my taxes. Saving all those receipts goes against the principles of döstädning).

Magnussen has some other helpful tips, like not going through photos first (too emotional a task to start with). She also emphasizes that you should never, ever, leave any things for your family that might be embarrassing, like love letters from an illicit affair. This was not a problem for me. The only embarrassing and illicit thing in my life is the amount of trashy reality TV in my DVR que…and I’m quite efficient at deleting this daily.

For me, de-cluttering and feeling the urge to clean things out is part of my personality. When I’m organized I feel in control in an otherwise out of control world. I am also not a slave to nostalgia, so it is easy for me to get rid of things.

All in all, my death cleaning summer was a success. My house is virtually clutter-free and my important papers are all in one place and easy to find.

I didn’t dwell on the “death” undertones too much because I’m not in that season of my life yet. But I’m certain if I maintain my clutter free house until I’m 90, my grandkids will appreciate not having to deal with any of my crap. But I won’t let them get off completely scot-free, however. I plan on leaving an embarrassing (fake) love letter from an illicit (fake) affair, just to mess with them. I think I’ll leave it in the black Kate Spade purse.


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