Have you ever heard of the Scandinavian practice called döstädning or Swedish death cleaning? As Margareta Magnusson,  the author of The Swedish Art of Aging Exuberantly: Life Wisdom from Someone Who Will (Probably) Die Before You, so eloquently put it, it is to “not leave a mountain of crap behind for our loved ones to clean up after we die.”

In other words, Swedish death cleaning relieves the added stress and burden a family experiences after someone dies by eliminating the adding layer of cleaning out someone’s home filled with belongings. 

The added bonus is that your home becomes more and more organized in the process of getting rid of stuff so you get to benefit from it while you’re still here.

A cluttered home means a cluttered mind so having a clean, calm, organized space means you’ll spend less time looking for your car keys and more time enjoying the fun stuff. 

Many of your belongings may have sentimental value to your loved ones so to begin, it’s best to talk about it with your family to see what to keep and what’s safe to discard. By doing so, you’ll be able to reshare fond memories of the vase you found on your trip to Mexico or the light fixture that hung over your breakfast nook and reminds your son of his favorite pancakes you made just for him. These conversations can also help prevent bickering over items after you’ve gone as they will be promised (and agreed upon) in advance.

One interesting thing that Margareta mentioned In an AARP interview is to get rid of “private” items — such as diaries. She explained, “If you think a secret will cause your loved ones harm or unhappiness, then make sure to destroy such items. Make a bonfire or shove them into a hungry shredder.​”

Save going through photos for the last leg of this clean up project. This is because if this project is left undone, going through the photos can actually be a positive experience for your family to go through together. You could, perhaps, organize the photos into large envelopes or boxes marked for each family member so they can retrieve the ones with them in it.

It’s suggested to create a box labeled “throw away” so family members know that items in the box are only meaningful or sentimental to you. They can get rid of it all guilt free.

It’s never too early to start this process. People can begin the Swedish death cleaning as soon as they reach their 40s or 50s. If it feels too overwhelming do it in small bits and adopt some of the philosophies from Marie Kondo’s Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up. Each item you pick up, ask if it sparks joy. If the answer is yes, you can keep it. If the answer is no (as in you feel guilty throwing it away or sad having it in your home), you can thank it for its service and pass it along to someone else whose joy will be sparked by it.

Happy Decluttering!

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