Pack away your blankets and get rid of excessive amounts of scented candles – another Swedish lifestyle craze is set to replace the ubiquitous, hygge.
A new book, by Swedish artist Margareta Magnusson, outlines the Scandinavian practice of ‘death cleaning’ aka decluttering your home in preparation for your inevitable demise. Sounds morbid? On the contrary, Magnusson argues it is actually, ‘a relief’.
What is death cleaning?
The term death cleaning comes from the Swedish word döstädning, dö meaning “death” and städning meaning “cleaning.”
In a similar vein to Marie Kondo, author of The Life-changing Magic Of Tidying, death cleaning involves getting rid of possessions you don’t need or no longer use. The reason being, Magnusson told TIME, “One day when you’re not around anymore, your family would have to take care of all that stuff, and I don’t think that’s fair.”
Unlike Kondo however, who maintains that you should only keep items that bring you joy, Magnusson understands the importance of hanging on to sentimental objects. She has whittled hers down to one “throw-away box,” which her children know to throw out after her death, without looking through its contents. The box contains old letters and photographs, things she claims are “just for me”.
Who invented it?
The practical Swede, who confirms only that she is aged somewhere between 80-100, says she has always death cleaned, “because I want to have it nice around me, keep some order.” Her book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning (£12.99) is out now.
What are the benefits of death cleaning?
Death cleaning brings the opportunity to talk through the process of a death in the family. Practical discussions about the reality of a loved one’s mortality, before their death, can prove incredibly beneficial to a family facing grief. Sifting through a family member’s possessions after they’ve died can be painful, difficult and upsetting, and too much clutter is also proven to raise your stress levels. Being in control of your belongings and your home can reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed by ‘stuff’. Excessive amounts of objects can also be hazardous as you get older increasing the chance of a trip or fall.
How can you start doing it?
Magnusson’s book theorises that you should always be mindful of your possessions because, inevitably, someone else is going to deal with them after you’re gone. Ask yourself, do you need it, do you use it? “Don’t collect things you don’t want,” Magnusson encourages. ‘Generally, people have too many things in their homes. I think it’s a good thing to get rid of things you don’t need.”
She suggests starting with unworn clothes, unwanted presents, and surplus plates and cups that you could never use. A good way to declutter is to offload items onto friends and families. As soon as you’re aware of your own mortality you are ready to begin death cleaning, and the job is never done Magnusson states: “You don’t know when you die, and so it just goes on and on’, until you die, ‘finally’.”
The post-Christmas period is the perfect time to start death cleaning. Unwanted presents and an untidy home after a month of late nights and dinner parties? Palm off your unused presents to someone who might enjoy them and throw out that pile of magazines. You’re not heartless, you’re death cleaning.