In my last post I explained what Swedish Death Cleaning is. In this post I want to share Magnusson’s practical tips in how to start your own death cleaning. If you just flinched at the term “death cleaning” I encourage you to read the first post – it’s not morbid at all!
Definition of Swedish Death Cleaning
Swedish death cleaning is essential decluttering your home. The unique twist is that it is geared towards people over 65 years old who are preparing for their eventual death. Margareta Magnusson, the author of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter, shares how this is a common practice in Sweden and that it is not sad, but something to embrace.
The One Question to Ask While Swedish Death Cleaning
Magnusson encourages the reader to consider items in their home and reflect on events and feelings behind the item while death cleaning. She then encourages people to acknowledge the part it has had in your life and story. After that, you can ask yourself, “Will anyone I know be happier if I save this?”
If someone comes to mind, Magnusson would encourage you to give it to them now! Her approach is to share the memories and items with loved ones while you’re still alive.Decluttering your home? Try Swedish Death Cleaning! Find out how HERE: #swedishdeathcleaning #declutteryourhome #decluttering Click To Tweet
Ideas for Death Cleaning
She writes that if one is death cleaning, you can get in a regular practice of:
- inviting people to come over and tell you what items they would like to have once you are gone
- younger relatives coming to “shop” for necessities for their first home or apartment
- putting things up for sale
- gifting personal recipes and the stories behind them instead of cookbooks
- downsizing sentimental items like photos and journals.
- inviting people to take things every time they come to visit
- starting a throwaway box
What is a Throwaway Box?
The throwaway box is something Magnusson advises you keep for all of your private items that have meaning to you, but wouldn’t have any meaning to anyone else. Put a large sign that instructs your loved ones to destroy it once you are gone.
Magnusson encourages one to destroy things that will hurt loved ones if they discovered them when you are gone.
While we seem to live in a culture where everyone thinks they have the right to every secret, I do not agree. If you think the secret will cause your loved ones harm or unhappiness, then make sure to destroy them. Make a bonfire or shove them into the hungry shredder. (p. 65)
First Steps of Death Cleaning
Although Magnusson doesn’t directly say to do this, in my experience, the first step needs to be to make a conscious decision to start. That might sound painfully obvious, but unless we declare to ourselves and the people around us that we are going to start decluttering or death cleaning, it’s only a vague idea.
The second step needs to be to decide when, where, or how long we will death clean. If you are overwhelmed with stuff in your home, you need to make a decision on what area, what space, or for what length of time you will death clean. Death cleaning isn’t meant to be done in a weekend. It’s meant to be a slower, reflective process – so there’s no need to rush. There is however, a need to commit to doing it slowly and steadily.
Practical Ideas while Death Cleaning
Other great advice by Magnusson is:
- Don’t start with sentimental items like photos and letters
- Start with large items like furniture
- Start with your wardrobe
- Next consider your linen closet
- After that consider your kitchen
- Regift nice items that you no longer want to keep
- Don’t offer things to others that don’t fit their taste or space because it will only be a burden to them.
- Compile a list of important passwords and important numbers
- Digitize your sentimental items like journals and photos
- Give everything a place
Questions to Ask Yourself
One of the main goals of death cleaning is to communicate with loved ones now, while you’re still alive. We often avoid the topic of death, but as Magnusson points out in the foreword – “the only thing we know for sure is that we will die one day.”
- Have you asked your loved ones what they would like to inherit?
- Do they know the stories and history behind the belongings that you are holding onto?
- Do you know why you’re holding onto these belongings?
- Do your items surrounding you give you joy in the present?
- If they don’t give you joy or aren’t used, ask yourself Magnusson’s guiding question – “Will anyone I know be happier if I save this?”
Share stories, share the physical items, and in the latter part of your life – share experiences versus gathering more physical items.Here are 5 questions you can ask yourself as you practice Swedish Death Cleaning! #swedishdeathcleaning #declutteryourhome #decluttering Click To Tweet
My First Attempt at Death Cleaning
After reading The Gentle Art of Death Cleaning, I was having a conversation with my husband and telling him about the book. Many of you know that our basement is full of stuff. I found myself thinking of the basement while reading the book.
What if both of us died and our sons or their caretakers had to deal with all of the items down there? What would be important to them from those items?
Most of the items are my husbands things. I asked him what would be important for him to pass on to our sons. His answer surprised me. He said he would want to pass on his Japanese woodworking tools.
Without reading this book I would have never thought to ask this question and have this conversation. It opened a dialogue and will give my kids insight into what is important to my husband.
Did the term “Death Cleaning” add a new perspective on your thoughts about decluttering? Let me know in the comments below!
Melinda J Mitchell says
Angela, thanks for reviewing her book. What a great way to think of death de-cluttering!!
So many more people would begin the process, if they thought of it this way, I’m sure!
Yes! I love the idea behind it. Thanks for reading and commenting!
Audrey | Brunch at Audrey's says
I’m so intrigued by what inspired you to learn more about Swedish death cleaning and to do it yourself! Is it an interest in different ways of clearing clutter? Or are is it indeed in anticipation of death? If this question is too personal, that’s alright too! Anywho, I find this a very thoughtful and responsible thing to do. With my family of hoarders, it’d probably be best if I did all the organising of my possessions for them ;P My friends’ mom told me about how one of her relatives marked all her belongings with post-its or stickers or something, categorising items by who to give them to or what to throw away. -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey’s
Hi Audrey! No I don’t mind. I was inspired to learn more because of my interest in different ways to clear clutter mainly. I do know though that this is a really big issue for a lot of people. I think the post-its are a great idea – as long as they’ve actually had conversations with those people to see if they would really want them! My parents actually downsized significantly over 10 years ago and just donated or threw all of our childhood things away if we didn’t come and claim it. They also got rid of a lot of their own belongings and won’t have much to leave, which I appreciate.