Swedish Death Cleaning: Taking Minimalism to the Next Level
Being that half my genetic stock traces back to the Vikings and my best childhood memories arise from my time visiting family there, the term “Swedish Death Cleaning” stopped me in my tracks. What was this sorcery and what did it all mean? I had to find out.
Swedish author Margareta Magnusson’s book “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter” is making quite a ripple across the US. She describes herself as being “aged between 80 and 100” and is passionate about explaining the mindset of “döstädning”: “dö” meaning death and “städning” meaning cleaning.
The purpose of Swedish death cleaning is to foster a mindset focused on minimalism as one goes through the aging process; partly for the benefit of oneself but just as equally, for that of loved ones that will be left behind. We’re pretty thrilled that someone is tackling this often uncomfortable topic because the message is needed (and timely!). In the US, each household contains 300,000 items on average. Our appetite for material possessions has become glutenous and the burden of all this stuff often falls into the hands of our loved ones.
SO HOW DOES IT WORK?
Margareta explains in “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” that the döstädning process should begin when someone is beginning to consider their own mortality. Sounds like a pretty vague timeframe, but I figure it’s never too early to downsize or become a mindful owner of possessions. The invitation is to look at our belongings through the eyes of our successors; will they gain benefit from our pieces or is it just meaningless and useless?
She explains, “Death cleaning is not about dusting or mopping up; it is about a permanent form of organization that makes your everyday life run more smoothly.” I love that! Through our experiences of downsizing a few times now, we completely agree that once you go down that path, it pleasantly transforms into a mindset through which to view the world. Who we are as consumers, “thing” owners, and stewards of the planet has changed pretty dramatically as a consequence. There’s not a thing we would change on our path towards a simpler and less materialistic life.
One good guide post to aim for in downsizing and Swedish death cleaning is joy. We have now heard from literally thousands of people who have downsized and the collective experience is consistent: there is an emotional lightening which creates space for a lot more happiness and sense of freedom. Margareta encourages people to have fun in the process and to take those trips down memory lane, “It is a delight to go through things and remember their worth”.
Magnusson advocates that people hang onto true keepsakes (letters, photos, etc.). Swedish death cleaning shouldn’t be about total annihilation of material possessions, but rather, a stripping away of all things that invite clutter and distraction. Creating a legacy during our time on Earth is a vital part of experiencing purpose (which has been shown to dramatically increase longevity); keepsakes are a powerful medium for keeping those legacies alive, long after we’ve passed.
[blockquote author=”” link=”” target=”_blank”]Death cleaning isn’t the story of death and its slow, ungainly inevitability. But rather the story of life, your life, the good memories and the bad. ‘The good ones you keep,’ Magnusson says. ‘The bad you expunge.[/blockquote]
Margareta recommends that you efforts be rewarded by fun activities, whatever that looks like for you. Perhaps you’re a movie buff, or you love going out to eat, or lovely walks. The rewards shouldn’t involve a ton of effort, time, or money but rather, simple things you love to do (but don’t necessarily take the time for in your day-to-day). And if shopping has been your emotional reward for good deeds, it may be time to come up with a new carrot at the end of the stick! 😉
BREAKING THE ICE: LET’S TALK ABOUT DEATH
Amongst most circles, the topic of death remains “sensitive” and sometimes even taboo. I would describe myself as pretty at ease with the prospect of death now which seems incredible considering how many years I was plagued with acute panic attacks and an intense fear of my own mortality. Yet even I don’t quite know how to raise the topic with generations older than myself.
One of the aspects that really struck me about “Swedish Death Cleaning” is how many people have thanked the author for creating a dialogue bridge into a very complex topic. “We must all talk about death. If it’s too hard to address, then death cleaning can be a way to start the conversation,” Magnusson writes. I always think it’s best to be honest and openly communicate, especially when it feels uncomfortable so my heart is warmed knowing that a lot of families are coming closer as a result.
[blockquote author=”” link=”” target=”_blank”]Some people can’t wrap their heads around death. And these people leave a mess after them. Did they think they were immortal?[/blockquote]
I’m guessing most of us have heard horror stories about people left with massive estates to take care of. After all, most of us aren’t prepared to take on the burden of an extra 300,000 items into our lives…sometimes we can barely take care of our own stuff! In considering this book, I do now feel that I have a moral obligation to leave my estate in as good order as possible. My death will cause enough of an effect on those who love me and I don’t want to add anything else to their plate, let alone any useless crap.
MOTIVATION FOR THOSE THAT HAVE STRUGGLED TO MINIMIZE?
We have heard from hundreds of people over the years who want to start their downsizing process but haven’t found the motivation yet. Perhaps the Swedish death cleaning approach will inspire any that have been dragging their feet; sometimes the best motivator for change is knowing how our actions will affect others. Seeing our belongings through the filter of those we love could be very powerful and the perspective that creates much wanted change.
In closing, the principles of Swedish death cleaning feel meaningful and important, not only for ourselves but for those that live with us. As the level of consumerism increased globally, these conversations will become increasingly important. It’s wonderful that “Swedish Death Cleaning” has gained popularity and we’re appreciating our own personal insight in considering this practice.
How about you? Do you have any tips/suggestions for how to deal with your belongings through your aging process? Have you heard of anyone having unique and effective experiences while wading through this complex topic? We would love to hear!
Here’s a short and quirky video/interpretation of Swedish Death Cleaning by a couple of Swedes (don’t watch if you don’t appreciate some light swearing):