Use Swedish Death Cleaning to Declutter Your Life

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Minimalism has been all the rage lately. Books, blogs, and workshops abound to help you rid yourself of clutter and do more with less. But if we've learned anything, it's that making a change requires having a concrete, meaningful goal. That's why the Swedish concept of döstädning, or "death cleaning," has so much potential: It's an approach to minimalism with the goal of making things easier on your loved ones. The catch? It's just a little morbid.

Ashes to Ashes, Clutter to Dust

If you died tomorrow, how hard would it be for your loved ones to sort through your belongings? That's the central question behind Swedish death cleaning, which artist Margareta Magnusson lays out in her New York Times bestselling book, "The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning." Magnusson, who professes to be between the ages of 80 and 100, might be the world's best person to introduce you to this cleansing approach. After five children, 17 moves, and decades of life lived, she's done her fair share of accumulating and purging herself of unnecessary belongings — not to mention going through the belongings of loved ones who have passed on.

The first step to Swedish death cleaning is understanding why it's important. As people collect things, they tend to avoid the difficult process of sorting and discarding the stuff they don't need. Instead, they stash it out of sight in an attic, a basement, or a tucked-away closet. That's the problem, says Magnusson. "If you don't want to go through your boxes and figure out what's worthwhile and what isn't, why would you want to make your loved ones do it after you're gone?" she says in the Blinkist version of her book.

This isn't just for people who are getting on in years, either. Swedish death cleaning isn't a one-time ceremony; it's a way of living a smoother, simpler, more clutter-free life. That's as useful for college students as it is for grandparents.

Death Clean Your Life

If you want to simplify your existence with Swedish death cleaning, here are a few tips from the author to help you get started.

  • Start from top to bottom. That means if you have stuff in the attic, the main house, and the basement, go in that order. Having a method makes the process less overwhelming.
  • Once you've collected the belongings you're going to get rid of, invite people over to see what they might want. This is a great way to bond with family members, especially since your oldest belongings might be full of stories that young relatives haven't heard.
  • Get rid of embarrassing things. Whether that's old diaries or evidence of your vices, think about whether you'd want to find it in your loved one's home — and if you wouldn't, destroy it to ensure others won't have to find it in yours.
  • Save photographs and letters for last. The emotional content in these items can make them the hardest to sort through. When it comes to photographs, throw out any duplicates or images of people you can't name. Then, give away what you can. You can even do what the author did and give multiple family members their own photo album.

"During the age of the Vikings," Magnusson writes in the Blinkist version of her book, "a loved one would be buried with their belongings so that they wouldn't miss them in the afterlife. But this practice had the additional benefit of helping the surviving loved ones move on since they weren't surrounded by the old belongings and spirits of the dead." Today, we don't have that luxury, so it's up to us to keep our spirits from tormenting our loved ones.

You can read Margareta Magnusson's book "The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning" without accumulating more stuff thanks to Blinkist. It's a platform that digests the best nonfiction books into quick, 15-minute digital reads to help you absorb the most important information in a fraction of the time it would take to read the whole thing. They have audio versions, too.

If you'd like to start learning with Blinkist, click through to the special Curiosity landing page and get one week of Blinkist for free!

Written by Ashley Hamer December 20, 2018
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