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A Beginner's Guide To Swedish Death Cleaning

It's nowhere near as horrifying as it sounds.

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If you've ever lost a family member, you know the conversations surrounding who gets what stuff don't always end well. And even if they do, cleaning out the home of a loved one isn't easy.

That's where Swedish death cleaning comes in — the process of organizing and de-cluttering your belongings before you, well, die. But it's as much for you as it is for the people who come after you.For you, death cleaning can be the motivation to live with less, by considering how much your stuff actually means to you. But it's also a process that saves your significant other, family, and friends from having to decide what to do with all your belongings while they're grieving.
@scatteredmom / Via Twitter: @scatteredmom

That's where Swedish death cleaning comes in — the process of organizing and de-cluttering your belongings before you, well, die. But it's as much for you as it is for the people who come after you.

For you, death cleaning can be the motivation to live with less, by considering how much your stuff actually means to you. But it's also a process that saves your significant other, family, and friends from having to decide what to do with all your belongings while they're grieving.

When I first heard about Swedish death cleaning I assumed, fairly, that it was some special process Swedish people used to clean the dead. I was...incorrect.

In Swedish, the word for death cleaning is döstädning, which is a term for the cleaning and de-cluttering you do when you think your time on Earth might be coming to an end. But really, you can death clean at any age or stage in your life.A complete guide, The Gentle Art Of Swedish Death Cleaning, was released in January this year and the concept has since spread the word all around the world.
Gyan Yankovich

In Swedish, the word for death cleaning is döstädning, which is a term for the cleaning and de-cluttering you do when you think your time on Earth might be coming to an end. But really, you can death clean at any age or stage in your life.

A complete guide, The Gentle Art Of Swedish Death Cleaning, was released in January this year and the concept has since spread the word all around the world.

The book is written by the very funny Margareta Magnusson, who describes herself as being somewhere between "80 and 100 years old."

"Let me help make your loved ones' memories of you nice — instead of awful," she writes. "A loved one wishes to inherit nice things from you. Not all things from you."
@swedishdeathcleaning / Via instagram.com

"Let me help make your loved ones' memories of you nice — instead of awful," she writes. "A loved one wishes to inherit nice things from you. Not all things from you."

When it comes to death cleaning, an important thing to remember is that it's meant to be hard, but not sad.

In terms of the actual process of death cleaning, Magnusson has a lot of advice on how to do it:• Death cleaning doesn't have to be done in one go. It's something to slowly chip away at over the years. • Begin with the things you have in storage, hidden away in attics or garages. She suggests telling your friends and family when you're starting the process so they can feel free to come and claim things before you throw them away or donate them to charity. • Shred or throw away anything that could be upsetting, hurtful, or embarrassing for your family to find. "Save your favorite dildo — but throw away the other 15!" she says.• Leave your photographs, letters, and journals until last. As anyone who has ever tried to de-clutter can attest, it's all too easy to get stuck in a vortex of nostalgia and procrastinate from getting any actual tidying done. • If you know what you'd like to be done with certain belongings after you die, tell someone or leave a note. When Magnusson's mother passed away, she found notes attached to clothes and other belongings, explaining what should be done with them — like a will but for books that should be returned to their original owners, and a jacket that belonged in a museum.• Death cleaning is a great chance to actually ask people if they want your stuff. "To know something will be well used and have a new home is a joy," she says.
Gyan Yankovich

In terms of the actual process of death cleaning, Magnusson has a lot of advice on how to do it:

Death cleaning doesn't have to be done in one go. It's something to slowly chip away at over the years.

Begin with the things you have in storage, hidden away in attics or garages. She suggests telling your friends and family when you're starting the process so they can feel free to come and claim things before you throw them away or donate them to charity.

Shred or throw away anything that could be upsetting, hurtful, or embarrassing for your family to find. "Save your favorite dildo — but throw away the other 15!" she says.

Leave your photographs, letters, and journals until last. As anyone who has ever tried to de-clutter can attest, it's all too easy to get stuck in a vortex of nostalgia and procrastinate from getting any actual tidying done.

If you know what you'd like to be done with certain belongings after you die, tell someone or leave a note. When Magnusson's mother passed away, she found notes attached to clothes and other belongings, explaining what should be done with them — like a will but for books that should be returned to their original owners, and a jacket that belonged in a museum.

Death cleaning is a great chance to actually ask people if they want your stuff. "To know something will be well used and have a new home is a joy," she says.

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But one of my favorite tips is to create a "throw away" box, filled with items that mean a lot to you, but nothing to anyone else.

This box could hold anything from "old love letters, programs, memories from traveling" to "a dried flower, a stone with a funny shape, or a little, beautiful shell". The idea is that your friends or family may look through the box, but have permission (from you!) to get rid of anything inside. And of course, while you're still around, you get to enjoy all your lovely little things.
Margareta Magnusson / Scribner

This box could hold anything from "old love letters, programs, memories from traveling" to "a dried flower, a stone with a funny shape, or a little, beautiful shell". The idea is that your friends or family may look through the box, but have permission (from you!) to get rid of anything inside. And of course, while you're still around, you get to enjoy all your lovely little things.

So, there you go: Swedish death cleaning isn't morbid, it's just a thoughtful way to de-clutter your home and life.

Disney / Via giphy.com

Those Swedes sure know how to do things.

If you want to learn more, you can get The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning from Amazon for $12.91 or Barnes & Noble for $13.54.