Swedish Death Cleaning

Any kind of death cleaning sounds gruesome, but it’s straightforward and smart. It’s cleaning out your stuff so no one else has to do it when you die.

Any kind of cleaning or sorting out is pretty easy for people like me who live in less than 600 square feet, and who have been forced on one or more occasions to let crap – oh, I mean stuff — go. It’s a monumental task when you have been collecting tchotchkes for the last seventy or eighty years.

By the time we’re old, we’ve accumulated lots of stuff. Some people clean out their stuff regularly and get rid of that which no longer serves them. Most older people don’t take the time and energy to sift through mountains of saved papers and magazines, salt and pepper shakers, dolls or stuffed animals, photographs, and a lifetime of accumulated memorabilia, to avoid having others do it when they die. Most of these accumulated ‘treasures’ (as perceived by the owner) haven’t been touched in decades. Yet they take up a ton of physical and emotional space.

You’ve heard of hoarders, those kooky folks, young and old, who save everything that eventually takes over every inch of their homes, and you’re familiar with the Japanese organizing sensation, Marie Kondo, who is famous for creating healthy Zen-like space in your life with good organizational tricks and by discarding unused items. Now we can add death cleaning (based on Margareta Magnusson’s book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning) as a process that allows you to declutter to make space, both physical and emotional, and which will help you enjoy the remaining years of your life not drowning in possessions.

In addition to the book, there’s a show produced by Amy Poehler currently on Bravo called ‘The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning,” which stars three quirky Swedes: a psychologist (Katarina Blom), a designer (Johan Svenson), and an organizer (Ella Engström). I’ve only seen the first episode, but it was particularly fascinating since the 75-year-old woman they were assisting collected all kinds of penis things. You can check it out on Bravo.

When you die, someone will be going through your stuff. It’s a fact.

Thinking about sorting out and disposing of items (either donating, sharing with others, or tossing in the trash), is just a smart thing to do. And it’s smart to do it before you’re too tired or infirm to get the job done. Having help, either from professional cleaners or from objective individuals, is beneficial. Using relatives to help you sort can complicate things when others are interested in some or all of your stuff.

Death cleaning is quite a practical philosophy with smart techniques to make it enjoyable and extremely beneficial to everyone. But it can be hard for many. I get that the yearbook from 1943 with a photo of you in tenth grade winning a ribbon for the fastest butterfly in a swimming race is a remembrance of a very special time in your life. When was the last time you dug out the yearbook to look at this photo?

It’s likely you’d rather not think about someone else going through your stuff but it’s inevitable. So why not do it now, yourself, while you can ask for help and get it done the way that makes you feel good? Other people of your choosing may be thrilled to receive some of those remembrances now, before you pass on. I suggest setting aside time to luxuriate over some of the memories and feelings that arise during the process … and then moving on.

Does Swedish death cleaning appeal to you? Will you consider cleaning up before moving on?