It's the decluttering method to end all decluttering. See how this cleaning concept with a morbid name can save your family members a lot of stress in the future.
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Move over Marie Kondo, there’s a new decluttering guru in town. Margareta Magnusson, a Swedish woman self-described as “somewhere between 80 and 100,” has recently written a book that may hold the key to the ultimate decluttering secret—one so thorough that it lasts, well, forever. In her book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, now available to pre-order and set to release in January, Magnusson explores the concept of Swedish death cleaning, or döstädning, the process of organizing, decluttering, and giving away your belongings “when you think the time is coming closer for you to leave the planet.”

At first blush, it sounds morbid, but Magnusson handles this touchy topic with humor, and presents death cleaning as a thoughtful process that ensures family members won’t face the burden of digging through mountains of clothing, books, furniture, and tchotchkes later on. If you’ve ever lost a loved one, only to realize you’ll have to sort through an entire lifetime of belongings while grieving your loss, you’re already well aware of how difficult this process can be. “Many adult children worry about the amount of possessions their parents have amassed through the years,” Magnusson writes. “They know that if their parents don’t take care of their own stuff, they, the children, will have to do it for them.” The book can be used as a conversation starter for children to broach this sensitive topic with their aging parents, and it also serves as a guide for those starting the process themselves.

So, if you’re going to start death cleaning your own home or plan to help your older family members, how do you begin? “Be aware of the fact that to downsize your home will take some time,” Magnusson says. “Old people seem to think that time goes so quickly, but in fact it is we who have become slower. So—do not wait too long…” she advises with a touch of humor. She recommends starting early, around the age of 65, as the process isn’t a race to get rid of your things before you die, but should help you enjoy your life unhindered by belongings you no longer need. “Death cleaning is not about dusting or mopping up; it is about a permanent form of organization that makes your life run more smoothly,” she explains.

Like most decluttering methods, death cleaning is about more than sorting objects—it's about emotions, too. Going through a lifetime of books, photos, and letters is bound to bring back memories, and while Magnusson suggests going through photos and other emotionally-loaded possessions last so you won’t get sidetracked, sorting through these feelings is an important part of the process.

Despite the emotional aspect of death cleaning, Magnusson insists it isn’t sad. “Death cleaning is also something you can do for yourself, for your own pleasure,” she writes. Before she says goodbye to each object she no longer needs, Magnusson takes a moment to reflect on the memories associated with that table, jacket, or cookbook, whether good or bad. “One’s own pleasure, and the chance to find meaning and memory, is the most important thing,” she writes. And so it turns out, once again, that the difficult process of tidying up has more to do with sparking joy than you might think.

    Comments (4)

    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    July 17, 2020
    While I think this is a great idea and a way to spare family/friends from having to sort through a mountain of our stuff after we're gone, why did the writer of this article reference Marie Kondo in a way that is degrading? "Move aside" as if there isn't room in the world to learn about different cultural approaches to organizing/decluttering? It might be personal opinion as to which method works better than another, but why belittle Marie Kondo? She has been maligned by many on social media, in op-ed columns, etc., often by people who clearly have never bothered to read her books or watch an episode of her show on Netflix. Why is that? Why not mention this new book and its author without knocking another person who proposes similar ways to rid our lives of unncessary stuff? I'm guessing most of your readers are women. Why not take an opportunity to lift up this new female voice sans minimizing another woman? Do better, BH&G.
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    September 8, 2019
    I like the idea of Swedish Death Cleaning. My children has said that after my husband and I are gone they are going to get what they want then set a match to the house and barns. We have so much junk!
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    September 5, 2019
    I just recently started this process, w/o realizing that there was a name attached to it! I must say that after raising 3 children and being a single mother for many of those years...after 50 years of accumulating "stuff" after marriage and having a home of our own, and acquiring furniture/family mementos/photos as part of inheritance, one has quite the collection, esp after raising 3 daughters and passing hand-me-downs to them as my mother did. It has been an all encompassing emotional journey, and that is why we avoid doing it. However, in sifting through all the school pictures, report cards, loving notes/cards/artwork crafted by my children to me, I felt validated that I worked diligently to be the best parent and example that I could possibly have been. So my advice is to fully tackle this chore, embrace the sad and joyous memories, and gift those special items to each of your children w/a personal, loving letter expressing your love for them through difficult, trying times, as well.
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    September 5, 2019
    I just recently started this process, w/o realizing that there was a name attached to it! I must say that after raising 3 children and being a single mother for many of those years...after 50 years of accumulating "stuff" after marriage and having a home of our own, and acquiring furniture/family mementos/photos as part of inheritance, one has quite the collection, esp after raising 3 daughters and passing hand-me-downs to them as my mother did. It has been an all encompassing emotional journey, and that is why we avoid doing it. However, in sifting through all the school pictures, report cards, loving notes/cards/artwork crafted by my children to me, I felt validated that I worked diligently to be the best parent and example that I could possibly have been. So my advice is to fully tackle this chore, embrace the sad and joyous memories, and gift those special items to each of your children w/a personal, loving letter expressing your love for them through difficult, trying times, as well.