This mildly morbid Scandinavian practice is coming to America

By Mackenzie Schmidt
October 24, 2017 12:54 PM
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In Sweden, decluttering is a life and death situation. Get organized in life, so your stuff isn’t a burden when you go.

That’s the ethos behind the Scandinavian cleaning ritual of döstädning — a combination of the Swedish words for death and cleaning — laid out in a new home organization guide by Margareta Magnusson. The 80-something artist’s book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, will be released in the U.S. in January and lays out the somewhat morbid process that’s already common in her home country.

Essentially, you go through all your belongings and get rid of anything that isn’t essential or sentimental. Her instructions suggest ditching things like unworn clothes, unwanted presents and “more plates than you’d ever use,” first. Items you should keep include sentimental items like photographs, love letters and children’s art projects, as well as any necessities for day-to-day living.

According to Magnusson, death cleaning should begin around age 65, but it’s never too soon to get started.

A few of her tips include keeping a book of passwords that will be useful to living relations, and compiling a “throwaway box” of things that matter only to you, with a note to toss it out after you go.

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Karin Olofsdotter, 51, the Swedish ambassador to the United States, told the Washington Post that her mother and father, who are in their 80s, are in the middle of whittling down their worldly possessions. “My parents and their friends are death cleaning, and we all kind of joke about it,” Olofsdotter says. “It’s almost like a biological thing to do.” She notes that living independently and never being a burden is part of Swedish culture.

Magnusson, who has outlived her parents, in-laws and husband, says after her spouse died, it took almost a year of cleaning and organizing before she could downsize to a two-room apartment. She’s been doing her own death cleaning as an ongoing process ever since.

Japanese organization guru Marie Kondo’s The Life‑Changing Magic of Tidying Up sparked an extreme decluttering trend in 2014, and How to Pack: Travel Smart for Any Tripby Hitha Palepu applies the minimalist method to travel.

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is available for pre-order, and will be released in the U.S. January 2.