It’s a new year, so let’s talk about death and de-cluttering. Not kidding… The organizational method of “Swedish Death Cleaning” is something that I heard of lately so I wanted to investigate it further since everyone begins the new year thinking of the changes to be made for a better 2022.
For instance, many resolve to lose things. Lose weight. Lose “toxic” friends. Lose clutter.
Swedish Death Cleaning is all about losing… Losing clutter, with a bit of a twist that the KonMari Method just doesn’t cover… How your left-behind belongings emotionally affect your family. Hmmmm.
So, what exactly is Swedish Death Cleaning and where does this idea come from? Are you a little intrigued? It’s a Swedish method to organize and de-clutter your home that not only encourages you to take your own needs into consideration, but to consider those you leave behind and what you will leave for them as well as how they will feel going through your things after your demise.
“Swedish Death Cleaning” comes from the Swedish words dö which means “death,” and städning meaning “cleaning”, in Sweden this method is called “Döstädning” and has been around forever but became interesting outside of Sweden due to The New York Times bestseller by Swedish artist, Margareta Magnusson called, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.” She wrote the book after the traumatic loss of both her mom and husband. Magnusson reminds us that, “Swedish Death Cleaning was primarily intended for people nearing the end of their life, but it is helpful to begin the process early.”
Magnusson’s book helps you to de-clutter your home to make the grieving process easier for friends and family as well to consider which items will be of value to them after you are gone. I know, what a depressing way to organize and de-clutter…
Yet, with the recent death of my own mother, going through her things at home, I can see how this method really is a loving final gesture for those you’ve left behind – especially your children.
Swedish Death Cleaning is to consider not just your own needs while you are alive, but with survivors in mind, too.
This made me think about all of the journals I’ve filled, other very personal things that I store, and I wonder if I want my son to see them or read these things one day. The answer is NO. But then I think about how I can still enjoy writing my journals when I know eventually someone will find them and read them? And I think about how hurt some people would be if they read my words because so much of what any of us journals about is filled with raw emotion but oftentimes, emotion that isn’t very long-lasting. For instance, when I was a teen I would write “I hate my parents!”, in my diary when I was mad but a day later I loved them again but if someone found that diary years later, they’d reason that I really disliked my parents given the number of times that I complained about them in my diaries. When the real truth is that I loved my parents more than anyone in this world at that time when they were both alive.
So I guess the question is, what about your ultra private things? Do we really need to be so concerned about the feeling of our loved ones if we are dead anyway?
If you want to try this de-cluttering process, the first place to begin is in the places you cannot see. And nothing sentimental. So you start with your basement, attic, storage rooms, and clean out things that are not needed and are not of value.
Next, you do the same to your furniture, books and collectibles.
During this process, you inform close family members what you are up to. And that you are not expecting to die anytime soon but you are doing this for them so that they are spared a hard and emotional process of going through all of your things once you do leave this planet.
The next step is to go through your drawers and closets. If you haven’t worn it in over a year, donate or sell it. Or ask family or friends if they’d like to have it. Organize your clothes. If you have something very valuable, like a luxury bag or designer dress, label it as something special so that loved ones will know later on.
Now, the final part of this process is to go through sentimental items which would include letters, photographs, cards, heirlooms, etc. If they are deeply meaningful, you can keep them but put them in a special box and in the box, leave instructions about what should be done with these things after you are gone. Maybe some things you want to leave to certain family members, for instance.
As I type this, I can’t help but think of how depressing this organization and declutter method truly is. How the name alone, “Swedish Death Cleaning” makes me cringe and squirm in my seat. It’s truly a horrible way to approach home organization and clutter. Yet, I also thought about how relieved I was when I went through my mother’s belongings and found nothing that altered my pure and positive views of her. No hidden secrets. I found things that made me love her more, like she had kept my bracelet, the one that I wore in the hospital when I was born, in her jewelry box. I found the accordion my grandfather played from ages 15-90, in her closet. She had photos and cards, videos, all things that I could go through and enjoy without feeling uncomfortable. Perhaps this is a kind way to depart this planet – and it’s never too early to do this because we can pass at any time, death isn’t only for the elderly.
I don’t want to call this process Swedish Death Cleaning though, I prefer to term is as, Mindful + Considerate Organization. I’m organizing more of my things in 2022 with a view to myself and my son, Aidan. I don’t plan on departing anytime soon, but when my day comes, at least my little boy isn’t overwhelmed by my “stuff” – having to go through stacks of journals with private thoughts inside… Perhaps it’s best to burn them and move on anyway. I wrote my most private thoughts into them, those feelings and moments are gone anyway, there is no need to keep them in journals. The past is miles away now.
Will you practice more mindful and considerate organization for 2022? I will start next week, I have to finish my tidy up project from 2021 once and for all. Only this time, I’ll include my diaries and journals.
For more information about Döstädning, I found a
(Photos: Unsplash via Squarespace)