Move Over, Marie Kondo. Swedish Death Cleaning is the New Decluttering Craze

The alarm really sounded when, in February, Richard Eisenberg published an article on Next Avenue titled “Sorry, Nobody Wants Your Parents’ Stuff.” For years, our mother, an antiques dealer, had stockpiled not only inventory for selling at weekend antiques shows, she’d also hoarded our childhood toys, scribbles and drawings, trophies and other now-useless memorabilia. Worse: She insisted that several large, overstuffed chairs she’d had reupholstered were worth money. We now knew otherwise. We became worried.

We’d already moved our mother, who has cancer, from her large Victorian-era home in Wisconsin to a small apartment in our neighborhood. To her credit, and our eternal gratitude, she did most of the downsizing herself—holding frequent yard sales, making numerous trips to Goodwill and depleting her inventory at shows. (She’s very determined and resilient.)

But as we moved her into her new apartment, our worries returned. Hauling van loads of bricks (“You’ll want those”), wood scraps (“I might need them for furniture-repair projects”), and metal buckets (“Those are valuable! You can’t find them anymore!”) across state lines diminished our spirits considerably. Not only did we doubt she’d be launching into any furniture projects soon; now we had to deal with this crap. Most of which ended up in my basement.

But now, we have hope again. Something called Swedish Death Cleaning has become a trend. And being Mom’s Swedish, we’re hoping this might be the nudge she needs. The Swedish word döstädning, ( means death, städning means cleaning) refers to the act of slowly and steadily decluttering as the years go by. Ideally, one should initiate this process in their fifties and keep going until… well, you get the picture. (Let’s come back to this in a moment.)

The purpose of Swedish Death Cleaning is to minimize the amount of stuff—especially junk that won’t mean anything to anyone else—that you leave behind for others (i.e., your children, your executors) to deal with. A Swedish woman named Margareta Magnusson, has written a book titled The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to free yourself and your family from a lifetime of clutter, which has launched this guilt-driven craze. Clearly, she has a sense of humor: She says she has moved 17 times, which is why “I should know what I am talking about when it comes to deciding what to keep and what to throw away.” Step aside Marie Kondo: There’s a new gal in town.

Now, about the death part. Have no fear, Magnusson says. “Death cleaning isn’t the story of death and its slow, ungainly inevitability. But rather the story of life, your life, the good memories and the bad. The good ones you keep. The bad you expunge.” In other words, Swedish Death Cleaning is so named, in part, to jar you into action. And so… about those boxes of childhood memorabilia now stored in my basement. Time to get busy.

By Camille LeFevre


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