Have you heard of Swedish Death Cleaning? When I first heard the term, I instantly winced. Death cleaning? Sounds a little morbid to me. But the full title helped me to be open to the concept – The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter.
Where does Swedish Death Cleaning Come From?
I loved the author Margareta Magnusson’s foreword. The first sentence is, “The only thing we know for sure is that we will die one day…Let me help make your loved ones’ memories of you nice – instead of awful.” She explains that the term “death cleaning” comes from the Swedish word döstädning – dö is “death” and städning is “cleaning. Personally, I appreciate the straightforward term and process.
In Swedish it is a term that means that you remove unnecessary things and make your home nice and orderly when you think the time is coming closer for you to leave the planet. (p. 1)
Swedish Death Cleaning is not Sad
The first chapter is called “Death Cleaning is not Sad.” It’s as if Magnusson has read my mind and argues that death cleaning is not morbid – but really rather rewarding and enjoyable. She argues that the process of death cleaning offers one a chance to reflect on each of the objects history and meaning – then to decide to keep it or let it go.
She herself has had to death clean numerous times for others. She states that she’ll “be damned if someone has to death clean after me” (p.4). Magnusson tells us she is between 80 and 100 years old and with her age and experience of loss comes wisdom that she wants to share. Death is often followed by chaos and arguments. Magnusson encourages us to have the conversations about possessions and wishes now while open dialogue can still happen.
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is informative, but also reflective. It’s as if the writing of the book is part of Magnusson’s death cleaning process. She reminisces about items in her home and tells the history of certain items. The illustrations in the book are drawn by her and seem to be part of, not only the writing of the book, but also her own personal death cleaning process.Decluttering? Have you heard about Swedish Death Cleaning? Here are 3 things you need to know… Click To Tweet
How to Encourage Parents to Start Swedish Death Cleaning
Magnusson encourages readers to start death cleaning at the age of 65. She has a short list of direct questions for children of elderly parents to ask gently and in a caring way.
If one wants to go the “indirect” way of encouraging parents to start death cleaning, she suggests coming at it from safety concerns. Rugs, piles of books and things on the floor can potentially cause falls and you can offer to help from that angle.
She suggests gently returning to the discussion about what they would like to do with their possessions on regular intervals. If they’re not ready to talk about it, then come back to it in a few months.
Another suggestion is to request a few items in their house now that you would like to have. Giving away a few things now may be rewarding, and encourage them to start giving other things away.
I would add that in order to make this a positive shared experience you might consider:
- asking your parent to share about the object in writing
- taking a photo of the object or
- recording your parent sharing the history and memories behind the object
- and sharing those photos and recordings with your parent.
Magnusson warns that if you’re not willing to encourage your parents to think about how they want to handle their possessions now, then don’t be surprised when you get stuck with the job later.
A loved one wishes to inherit nice things from you. Not all things from you. (p. 33)
The Goal of Swedish Death Cleaning
My next post will be about the practical “how to” of death cleaning, but I wanted to give you a picture of the overall feeling behind Swedish Death Cleaning.
- It’s not meant to be sad, it’s meant to be a time of remembering and sharing of memories and physical objects.
- It’s meant to be an act of love and service for your loved ones, so that in their grief they won’t need to death clean.
- It’s meant to be an empowering time to let go of items and memories that you choose not to hold on to any more.
- It’s meant to be a celebration of abundance and gratitude.