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There is a subject that nobody wants to think about: Death. But as death is inevitable, so is the cleanup process once a loved one has passed.
On the positive side, there is a new trend called Swedish Death Cleaning in which people take it upon themselves to clean out their own homes before they pass away in order to both ensure that the items they want to go to particular individuals do so, and to relieve the burden on their loved ones of cleaning up their estate after they pass.
The Swedish word is döstädning, a mash-up of the Swedish words for death (dö) and cleaning (städning). And although cleaning out one’s estate before you die is not new, a new book is, titled The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter (Simon and Schuster).
Author and Swedish artist Margareta Magnusson states that there are benefits to death cleaning that can be enjoyed while you are still alive. According to her publisher, “Her radical and joyous method for putting things in order helps families broach sensitive conversations, and makes the process uplifting rather than overwhelming.”
One of the underlying principles of Swedish Death Cleaning is the involvement of others. The sharing of stories, along with the gifting of items, creates a bond among families and friendships. It can also help keep you accountable and set up a record of your future wishes for distribution. Tuck notes in with possessions that give a bit of history about the piece along with instructions for gifting the item or returning to its original owner.
Instead of trying to give items away to friends and family, offer things they have admired as presents. Items can also be sold or donated to charitable organizations where they can help others build their lives. Dispose of any items that could be potentially hurtful or embarrassing for someone to find.
It’s not about getting rid of your life’s story; it’s about keeping what’s good and expunging the rest. “It is a good thing to get rid of things you don’t need,” Magnusson says. She embraces minimalism and enjoys having her own surroundings be orderly.
Unlike other tidying-up experts, she endorses keeping just a few sentimental items such as letters and photographs. She doesn’t recommend starting with photographs, however, when beginning the death cleaning process. Instead, begin with easier sorting processes such as your closets or kitchen cabinets. Save the photos for last.
“This surprisingly invigorating process of clearing out unnecessary belongings can be undertaken at any age or life stage, but should be done sooner rather than later, before others have to do it for you,” Magnusson states. Her recommendation is to begin dispersing possessions starting by at least age 65.
Magnusson suggests not collecting items you don’t really want. “I don’t think it’s fair,” she says, to make your family take care of all your possessions once you’re not around anymore. “A loved one wants to inherit nice things from you. Not all things from you.” Instead of buying possessions, spend your money on experiences like travel, dining out, or entertainment.
Her own reason for writing this book came from her ordeal of having to deal with the deaths of her parents and husband. It was a puzzle to figure out what to do with their possessions. She has also moved 17 times throughout her lifetime, which enables her to know best “what to keep and what to throw away.” One way she will simplify the process for her children is by keeping a “throw-away box” of items that only have meaning to her. Once she dies, her heirs can simply throw that box away without having to sort through its contents.
Cleaning out a loved one’s estate after their death is often an emotionally-painful and time-consuming effort. It can also be expensive. Senior move managers and estate liquidators can charge up to several thousand dollars for their services. And nobody wants to be stuck with the overwhelming task of a packed house while they are both grieving and trying to manage their own busy lives.
If you are looking to downsize, or wish to start simplifying your life, 123JUNK can help. Simply create one pile of the items you no longer need or want, call us, and we’ll do the rest. Our philosophy, like that of Margareta Magnusson’s, is to gift your cast-offs to others. We work with a number of fine charitable partners who redistribute donated items back into the communities we live and work in. Your donated items will be documented and you will be provided a receipt for tax purposes. Items that cannot be repurposed are sorted for recycling or disposal.
Giving gifts to others brings much pleasure to both the giver and the receiver. Plus, with fewer possessions, you’ll have the added benefit of living in a much more manageable and pleasurable space. Perhaps this idea of Swedish Death Cleaning isn’t such a bad one after all.
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