By now, most people are familiar with hygge, the Scandinavian design philosophy that embraces comfort and comfort.
But the organization’s experts say we would be remiss to overlook the teachings of Margareta Magnusson, whose tome for the home…”The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleansing”- is not as gloomy as it seems.
“Magnusson isn’t afraid to share the truths we fear — where your stuff will go once you’re gone,” says professional organizer Melissa Corriveau of Life With Less Mess. “But her tone throughout is sweet and humorous, and it’s a quick read.”
So what is Swedish Death Cleaning? Let’s ask the professionals.
What is the Swedish Death Cleansing?
“Swedish Death Cleansing is a way of life, and just like Marie Kondo’s approach, this practice is highly cultural,” shares Caroline Gunter, organization and productivity coach, CEO of The Swedish Organizer.
Gunter’s family roots are Scandinavian and his first language was Swedish, so this book — and its subject matter — is close to his heart, she says. “Many Swedes view the first half of life as an opportunity to accumulate wealth, knowledge and assets; and the second half of their lives as a way to properly disperse that value – to the right places and to the right people.
In Swedish culture, it’s considered rude to impose inconveniences — like decluttering — on others, she advises. “When you’re gone, your memory should be the only thing left,” Gunter says of Magnusson’s teachings.
Simply put, “The approach behind ‘The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleansing’ is more decluttering and letting go than organizing,” says Corriveau. “You can’t take it with you.”
Why the approach is especially good for older people
“Although Swedish Death Cleansing can be done at any time of life, it has special meaning for older people who have raised families and lived most of their lives. It is a great way to relive special moments and events. Even the contents of the most mundane box can evoke simple and special memories,” says Corriveau. “It’s soothing and even therapeutic to revisit all the objects in your home, to enjoy the memories that ‘they conjure up, then send them to be loved and enjoyed by someone else’, whether ‘someone else’ is a family member or a charity.
Gunter often recommends these sorting bins for moving and donating items.
Why the best legacy is a small legacy
Corriveau says that one of the most powerful sentences in Magnusson’s book is: “A loved one wishes to inherit nice things from you. Not everything things about you.”
“At the end of your life, you want your loved ones to focus on your life and your memories instead of cleaning up your mess,” says Corriveau. “Think about what you leave behind – it will become the last memory your loved ones will have of you. If the state of your home is unpleasant, overwhelming, and you have annoying things in your drawers, that’s why they will remember you.
Uncluttering drawers, closets and storage units removes an element of emotional burden from those the elderly leave behind, says Gunter, whose parents are currently streamlining their home using Magnusson’s methods. “It’s a big relief for me. I’d rather not have to clean up their domain later in life. Anyone who has gone through this process knows how emotionally draining it is; it’s a big job that’s best done by the person who’s responsible for accumulating it all.
Gunter recommends grasping tools when seniors reach for objects to sort through, to reduce strain or unnecessary movement.
Check out the best grabber grabber tools
How to get started with the Swedish Death Cleaning method
“It’s best to start with the only thing that really matters: your family history and your photo collection,” says Gunter, who is a Certified Photo Organizer. “It’s never too early to tell the stories of your life. I see issues all the time with people postponing this for too long because it’s “too emotional” or “too complex.” As people get older, the memories fade,” she says, of sharing a family’s legacy. “Productivity also dictates that you start with the most difficult task while you have the energy for it.”
Archival boxes for items such as photographs and important documents are among the limited storage items that would likely appeal to Magnusson, Corriveau says. “Magnusson is so environmentally conscious and opposed to materialism and consumerism.”
If getting started seems overwhelming, Gunter recommends taking the opposite approach—starting with the easiest things to tackle, like clothes.
Read more: How to organize your photos
Allow enough time
It took years to acquire “stuff,” so “breaking in” will also take time, says Gunter. “A lot of people try to declutter over a weekend, but you need more time than that if you want to sell, reuse and recycle in a meaningful way. The Swedish Death Cleanse means you start well on time, so you have the chance to carefully consider where things are going.
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