It’s the decluttering method to end all decluttering.

By Katie Holdefehr
October 23, 2017
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Move over Marie Kondo, there’s a new decluttering guru in town. Margareta Magnusson, a Swedish woman self-described as “somewhere between 80 and 100,” has recently written a book that may hold the key to the ultimate decluttering secret—one so thorough that it lasts, well, forever. In her book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, now available to pre-order and set to release in January, Magnusson explores the concept of Swedish death cleaning, or döstädning, the process of organizing, decluttering, and giving away your belongings “when you think the time is coming closer for you to leave the planet.”

At first blush, it sounds morbid, but Magnusson handles this touchy topic with humor, and presents death cleaning as a thoughtful process that ensures family members won’t face the burden of digging through mountains of clothing, books, furniture, and tchotchkes later on. If you’ve ever lost a loved one, only to realize you’ll have to sort through an entire lifetime of belongings while grieving your loss, you’re already well aware of how difficult this process can be. “Many adult children worry about the amount of possessions their parents have amassed through the years,” Magnusson writes. “They know that if their parents don’t take care of their own stuff, they, the children, will have to do it for them.” The book can be used as a conversation starter for children to broach this sensitive topic with their aging parents, and it also serves as a guide for those starting the process themselves.

So, if you’re going to start death cleaning your own home or plan to help your older family members, how do you begin? “Be aware of the fact that to downsize your home will take some time,” Magnusson says. “Old people seem to think that time goes so quickly, but in fact it is we who have become slower. So—do not wait too long…” she advises with a touch of humor. She recommends starting early, around the age of 65, as the process isn’t a race to get rid of your things before you die, but should help you enjoy your life unhindered by belongings you no longer need. “Death cleaning is not about dusting or mopping up; it is about a permanent form of organization that makes your life run more smoothly,” she explains.

Like most decluttering methods, death cleaning is about more than sorting objects—it's about emotions, too. Going through a lifetime of books, photos, and letters is bound to bring back memories, and while Magnusson suggests going through photos and other emotionally-loaded possessions last so you won’t get sidetracked, sorting through these feelings is an important part of the process.

Despite the emotional aspect of death cleaning, Magnusson insists it isn’t sad. “Death cleaning is also something you can do for yourself, for your own pleasure,” she writes. Before she says goodbye to each object she no longer needs, Magnusson takes a moment to reflect on the memories associated with that table, jacket, or cookbook, whether good or bad. “One’s own pleasure, and the chance to find meaning and memory, is the most important thing,” she writes. And so it turns out, once again, that the difficult process of tidying up has more to do with sparking joy than you might think.

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