Why 'death cleaning' could make all of our lives so much easier

Most people have collected a fair amount of non-essential items by the time they reach old age. Source: Getty

Anyone who’s ever cleared out a loved one’s home after they’ve passed away knows that it’s both a painful and tedious process.

Painful because so many of the little things you find remind you of the person you miss, and tedious because it makes you realise how many things we humans pointlessly hang on to, when we can take none of it with us – out-of-date medicines, newspaper articles we always meant to read but never did, clothes we haven’t fit into for a long time, and more plastic containers and glass jars than we’d probably ever use.

In many countries, it’s not uncommon to employ a house-clearing company to do the dirty work of removing the ephemera of a lifetime. But in Sweden, they do things in what may be a more sensible way. There’s even a word for it: döstädning, or death cleaning.

The idea is to minimise your worldly goods and put your home in order as you get older, according to a new book called The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson, which promises to make your own life more pleasant and your loved ones’ lives easier.

Published by Scribe Publictions in Australia and New Zealand, Magnusson, who describes herself as aged “between 80 and 100”, explains how she had to downsize after the death of her husband, which forced the mother-of-five to recognise the power of death cleaning. It resulted in this, her first book, which promises that if done well, death cleaning can not only ease your children’s burden when you pass away, but allows you to revisit a lifetime’s worth of memories.

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And it doesn’t just focus on the practicalities of downsizing, but issues such as how to deal with your own personal secrets and how to avoid heirs fighting over your belongings after you’re gone. For example, she advises never to start the process by sorting photographs, because you’ll immediately become nostalgic and then struggle to get any further with your cleaning.

Her advice was so well-received in her native language that the book has since been sold in many others, with editions due in the UK, US, and Germany among others.

If you’d like to learn more, Magnusson’s book is available from Scribe Publications.

Do you think death cleaning is something our culture should embrace in the way Sweden does?