Why The Swedish Art Of Death Cleaning Will Help You Live A Simpler Life


A few years after the Danish concept of ‘hygge’ swept into the worldwide consciousness, taking over our bookshelves and our homes with its ideas about cosying down for the winter and finding happiness in a simple home life, now their Scandinavian cousins the Swedes are set to own the publishing phenomenon of 2018 with “death cleaning”.

New book ‘The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning’ by Margareta Magnusson is set to be the de-cluttering trend of the year and already has publications from London to New York abuzz. The huge drive towards minimalism and simple living shows no sign of slowing down, and has been keenly embraced by overloaded Millenials raised on transparent consumerism and an endless culture of excess. We’re all curious about living with less and increasing our living space.

What is death cleaning?

Into this collective movement away from the pulling bind of objects that own us, comes the concept of ‘death cleaning’, which takes the idea to a natural, if rather extreme, conclusion: when you die, do you really want relatives to be left to sift through the endless detritus of a life spent worshipping at the altar of the shopping gods?

The theory runs that, when you pass on, your loved ones will be too busy remembering your pearls of wisdom and and finding funerals on a budget to want to dedicate days to sorting through your collection of teapots or unedited wardrobes. With this final destination in mind, Swedes apparently undertake the practice of ‘dostadning’ or ‘death cleaning’ – clutter-busting with the express intention of leaving behind you fewer possessions.

Once you get past the rather morbid central concept, the idea makes a huge amount of sense, as any one who has witnessed their parents deal with grandparents’ home and possessions once they pass on may realise. Huge chunks of time and money can be spent organising, removing and combing through.

Additionally, the book argues, anything that you wouldn’t want relatives to see – the love letters, the private documents – should be discreetly destroyed to save the posthumous embarrassment.

If living a more streamlined life isn’t sufficient motivation in itself, the idea of someone picking through your private items may well be.

Less is More

Similarly to organisation guru Marie Kondo, who is responsible for the KonMari method, Magnusson advocates letting go of any possession that you don’t love. But instead of spending hours holding each sock to to determine if you feel a spark of joy in your heart, you are supposed to begin editing down your possessions by giving them away to family and friends.

Magnusson advocates keeping one small box of personal, sentimental items, clearly marked and identified beforehand so that relatives know it can simply be disposed of when the time comes.

But the idea is more about living with less, to begin with. As Magnusson explains in an accompanying YouTube video released by the publisher, “Generally, people have too many things in their homes.” She describes the process of gradually letting go of the objects around us as “more like a relief” than a burden itself, and there is something poetic about the idea of travelling through life with an increasingly lighter load as you approach your later years.

Less focus on objects, after all, frees up more time and mental space to focus on experience and creating memories which are the only true legacy most of us can hope to leave.

Why not consider a trip to Sweden? There’s so much to see and do – Gothenburg, for example, is a particularly great city for a weekend visit.


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