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Swedish death cleaning – should it be on your to-do list?

Swedish Death Cleaning. It sounds rather macabre and while it’s certainly not a walk in the park it may just be the most sensible thing out there at the moment. 

So what exactly is it? Swedish Death Cleaning is the process of managing your possessions as you approach your later years so that your loved ones aren’t burdened with dealing with your things when you die. 

The concept is gaining traction worldwide as we become increasingly aware of our consumption, and as minimalist lifestyle choices grow in popularity. 

The concept is based on the book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson. The Swede wrote the book after dealing with the possessions of both her parents and her husband after their deaths. It’s an exploration of the Swedish idea of döstädning, which translates as death cleaning. 

“The premise is ultimately a simple one: slowly start decluttering and organising your own things so that your death is less of a burden for those left behind,” says Bernie Muller, Property Consultant at Leapfrog Edgemead. 

Why does it matter? 

Appreciating the value of Swedish Death Cleaning might require some introspection and an open mind but once you understand that it’s not about wishing your time away but rather about accepting the inevitable, you can set the final spring clean in motion. 

The problem mainly results from the fact that we’re generally not good at dealing with our possessions. “Rather than getting rid of something when we replace it with a newer version, we tend to store it away somewhere in the house or garage in case we need it again someday,” Muller explains. Similarly, we just don’t go through our things regularly enough to eliminate what we don’t like, want or use, by donating or recycling it. 

The culmination of this mindset is years and years of accumulated stuff. “By the time these things see the light of day again they tend to be either broken, outdated in terms of technology, or so hideously out of fashion that none of your friends or relatives want to touch it with a barge pole,” Muller quips. 

How does one do it? 

As with any big project, it helps to approach Swedish Death Cleaning systematically and with purpose. 

“While Magnusson has some recommendations on how to approach the process, nothing is stopping you from doing it in a way that makes sense and feels comfortable for you,” Muller advises. 

In some cases starting with things that are packed away in the garage, locked in storage or just generally out of reach will make the most sense, since these are clearly things that you don’t use often. 

In other cases you might want to start with your paperwork and make 100% sure all your financial and personal affairs are in order. “Documentation can be a real burden, especially since we tend to keep things we’ll never need again and don’t always do the best job of filing the rest in a logical way,” Muller explains. 

Having your documents in order, together with an updated will, is one of the most important ways you can ease the burden of your death on your loved ones. 

When it comes to things – furniture, clothing, appliances, ornaments, heirlooms and the like – decide to sort it by either room or category, and set aside everything that you don’t want, like or need anymore. Consider inviting your family and friends around to select what they may want and encourage them to take it with them. “Ensure that nobody feels obligated or guilt-tripped to take something, but that they want it because it is beautiful or useful to them,” Muller recommends. Take whatever is left and make a plan to donate, sell or recycle it. The most important is simply to get rid of it. 

“What you may find in inviting people over to view your things is that all sorts of special stories emerge around your possessions, where they are from, how you acquired them and what they meant in your life,” Muller says. 

Next, get rid of things that you don’t want anybody to see. Things like diaries, journals and love letters probably only matter to you, and unless you think somebody might enjoy having access to them, consider discarding it. 

Remember that you’re still alive! 

Stop before you get rid of everything and remember that you don’t know how long you’ll still live. 

“Seriously though, Swedish Death Cleaning isn’t about discarding everything and sitting your days out in a bare home without the things that make you happy,” Muller highlights. It’s about organising your things, getting rid of what you don’t want or use, so that when the time comes those closest to you don’t have the additional burden of dealing with things, with clutter, when they’ve got far more emotional things to deal with. 

Happy cleaning! 

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