For those of us living in the modern, developed world, the struggle with “stuff” is real. While we all like to think of ourselves as having a healthy detachment from material things, most of us — especially families with kids — still find ourselves swimming in material things.
No matter how much I try to keep it under control, the “stuff” monster keeps overtaking our house. And we’ve moved more than a dozen times in 20 years, which has forced us to purge fairly frequently. I can’t imagine what it’s like for people who have stayed in one spot for a decade or more.
The first-world problem of clutter is the reason Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organzing became so popular, and why many of us are trying to cut back on the amount of possessions we have. The pull to live more simply and feel less weighed down by our belongings is strong.
That desire is also why a new book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter by author and artist Margareta Magnusson, has been been dominating my newsfeed.
“Swedish death cleaning” (or Döstädning, for those who enjoy sounding out the names at IKEA) may sound a bit morbid, but the concept is quite simple and practical. It’s also totally relevant to those of us with parents or grandparents who were used to handing down furniture, dishes, collections, and random paraphernalia that most of us don’t actually want or need.
Unlike many decluttering theories that want us to purge a room or home in one brutal fell swoop, death cleaning is a slow process of weeding out that starts in middle age. The idea is to spend your final decades parting with your possessions bit by bit so that your family isn’t burdened with the task of figuring out what to do with it all after you die. And in the process, you shed the annoying clutter and unnecessary belongings.
Getting rid of stuff can be a challenge for some folks, especially those who grew up in the Depression era and understand the luxury of having things because they know what it’s like to go without. Some of our elders don’t understand why we are reluctant to inherit their belongings — why would we not want this great stuff that they worked so hard to get? (Sorry, Aunt Edna. Thanks, but no thanks.)
The reality is that most of us in the developed world have more than we need. We’re already trying to go through our own stuff, to pare down our possessions and lighten the load. The last thing most of us want is to suddenly find ourselves inheriting more stuff to purge.
Swedish death cleaning inspires those of us who are moving into the latter half of our lives — or anyone who just wants motivation to have less clutter and “stuff — to really examine what we have so we can start donating, tossing, or otherwise getting rid of what we don’t use, love, or need. Unburdening our loved ones from our belongings isn’t the only benefit of the philosophy either. In fact, the primary purpose of it is to organize your daily life to make it run more smoothly. And who couldn’t use some new ideas for living a more organized life?
Magnusson, who doesn’t share her exact age but says she’s “between 80 and 100,” has spent the past 40 years going through this process. She says it has brought her a great deal of joy, as she’s gone through old memories. Her book describing the process is short and sweet — just 128 pages. According to the New York Post’s review, “It’s like Marie Kondo, but with an added sense of the transience and futility of this mortal existence.” The book is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.
Personally, I think I need to start death cleaning ASAP. I hope to live at least another 50 years, and I’d rather spend those years living simply, free from the constant shuffling and reorganizing of “stuff.” And when I die, I want my loved ones to be able to focus on celebrating my life, not on figuring out what to do with all the crap I left behind.