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The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter

by Margareta Magnusson

Self-described as somewhere between 80 and 100 years old, Magareta Magnusson, artist and author, assumes the meaningful role of an elder and gently guides us with wisdom, delightful humor and sensitivity through the Swedish process of ultimate decluttering called "dostadning"or death cleaning.

Though dostadning is traditionally done when you think the time is closer for you to leave the planet, we all can benefit from a careful consideration of the stuff we own. Magnusson offers a sustainable form of organization that makes your everyday life run more smoothly.

When you look at your possessions with thoughts of how you want to be remembered and what you want to surround you during your precious time on this earth, the process of removing clutter is more about how you want to live. Death cleaning is not sad. It's about living with joy.


Read To Discover

How to Begin

How To Discuss Dostadning With a Loved One

Preparation For Downsizing

How to Handle Things, Even Secret Things!

Plans for Pets

What to do with Photographs

Special Final Advice

How to Begin

You might decide you need to do a death cleaning when your closets are bulging or you can no longer shut your dresser drawers. Maybe you're tired of looking for your keys and other everyday items. Or maybe you're like my friend who, like the author, is between the ages of 80 and 100 and death cleaning has become and imminent a life focus.

Yesterday I went to visit that friend because she was just diagnosed with a serious heart condition. She shared that she has an overwhelming desire reduce her belongings and she is finding such joy in giving matching her books and other things to people who will enjoy them. I left with a gift of three cherished books along with a respect and understanding for the joy that can be found in the process of dostadning.

Whether you are just at the point of being tired of disorganization or you are mindfully living through its true process you will find death cleaning doesn't have to be sad and can even make your life happier!

The author talks about a game of hide the key she played with her five children. She says,

"It is no fun to play 'Hide the Key' when you have hidden it from yourself"!

Maybe you've had to handle a parent's belongings after they've died and you want to give the gift of organizing your things to make it easier for your children. It can be difficult to know where to begin. Here's some advice from Margareta.

1. Start with the attic, basement or other out of the way storage areas. The least used items are usually stored there.

2. Don't begin with photographs, letters or personal papers. It begins a sometimes slippery path down memory lane. We'll cover photos later.

3. Categorize items - furniture, clothes, books, linens, etc.

4. Choose a category that will be easiest for you to begin with.

5. If it's your home dostadning, organize existing clutter. Use baskets for catch-all items at entries and "don't deny the importance of a well-placed hook for keys"!

6. Invite family members and friends to visit and offer the items you have selected to let go.

How To Discuss Dostadning With a Loved One

Suggested questions to ask:

-"Is there anything we can do together in a slow way so that there won't be too many things to handle later on?"

-"Could life be easier and less tiring if we got rid of some of this stuff that you have collected over the years?"

As you can see, Magnussen uses a practical and straightforward approach. She does say this won't work for someone who is overly attached to their possessions, especially special item collectors and most especially people who have a hoarding illness. She admits dostadning may have to wait until the person is no longer able to make the decisions.

Preparation For Downsizing

  • Give every room a name and make four columns for each: Give Away, Throw, Stay, Move.

  • Map out your new space and decide what will go in each room.

  • "Living smaller is can be a relief and is good for the planet."

How to Handle Things, Even Secret Things

Clothes - Keep that special coat you like to wear for the holidays, but eliminate clothes that don't match with others. The idea is to take a look at your closet and see a coordinating color palatte.

Books - Ask visiting family and friends to choose books they would enjoy and offer them as gifts.

Kitchen - Margareta suggests keeping one set of dishes that match the number of guests you can fit at your table.

Cookbooks and Family Recipes - Since you can use the internet for recipes, keep only a of couple hard back cookbooks. Hold onto special hand written recipes that are meaningful. You will enjoy the recipes she kept and included in her book!

Things -

"Even though this may sometimes seem quite hard to do, training yourself to enjoy looking at things, instead of buying them, is very nice and also a good practice."

Secret Things -

"If it was your secret, then keep it that way."

Magnussen writes in a very matter of fact style:

"Maybe Grandfather had ladies' underwear in his drawer and maybe Grandma had a dildo in hers. But what does that matter now? . . . Let each of us have our small preferences, as long as nobody gets hurt."

As for your secret things - she says "keep your favorite and throw the rest away".

"There's no sense savings things that will shock or upset your family after you're gone."

Letters, documents, or diaries with information that might embarrass someone should be destroyed.

Pets - If you are older and want an animal companion the author suggests making a plan for your pet's future without you and if a plan is set - adopt an older dog.

Photographs - Margareta likes the idea of making albums and scanning special photos for certain loved ones then making a gift of a memory stick with all of the photos on it.

Her guidelines for sorting pictures:

1. Get rid of doubles.

2. Remove ones where "you or other people look completely crazy".

3. Keep only the ones where you can name the people in the picture.

Special Final Advice

1. Keep your favorite stuffed animal!

2. Create a "throw away box", no bigger than a shoe box, for special memories like old love letters programs, special notes, things you would like to go back and read again. Mark it with instructions to be thrown away when you're gone.

3. Copy old letters that may have value to others and give them to loved ones who would cherish them.

4. Create a little black book with your passwords so you and others can find important information on your computer.

Best Advice

Margareta says ask yourself:

"Will anyone I know be happier if I save this?"

She says if the answer is no, take a moment to reflect and know it has been a part of your story and your life.

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