By Margareta Magnusson
January 3, 2018

I am in the process of death cleaning, or, as we call it in Swedish, döstädning.

is “death” and städning is “cleaning.” In Swedish it is a term that means that you remove unnecessary things and make your home nice and orderly when you think the time is coming closer for you to leave the planet. This is something that we will all have to face sooner or later. We really must if we want to save precious time for our loved ones after we are gone.

Many adult children do not want to talk about death with their parents. They should not be afraid. We must all talk about death. If it’s too hard to address, then death cleaning can be a way to start the conversation.

So what is death cleaning? For me it means going through all my belongings and deciding how to get rid of the things I do not want anymore. Just look around you. Several of your things have probably been there for so long that you do not even see or value them anymore. Sometimes you just realize that you can hardly close your drawers or barely shut your closet door. When that happens, it is definitely time to do something, even if you are only in your thirties. You could call that kind of cleaning döstädning, too, even if you may be many, many years away from dying.

I am now somewhere between eighty and one hundred years old. Today things are very different from when I was young, of course. I did not say better. But the pace today is very fast. Many young families have to schedule their lives down to the smallest increment to have time to do what they consider most important. Do not ever imagine that anyone will wish — or be able — to schedule time off to take care of what you didn’t bother to take care of yourself. No matter how much they love you, don’t leave this burden to them.

How to begin?

Be aware of the fact that to downsize your home will take some time.

Start by checking the basement or the attic or the cupboards by your front door. Many of the things you have in storage have probably been standing there for ages. You may even have forgotten what it is you have there. Good for you, because you will now realize that you will not miss anything if you throw it away.

Visit these storage areas and start pulling out what’s hidden there. It may be a dollhouse or ice-hockey equipment, mostly things that you yourself did not want around anymore.

Tell your loved ones and friends what you are up to. They might want to help you and even take things you don’t need and also help you to move things that you cannot move alone. You will see that a steady stream of people you like (or even dislike) will come to take things such as books, clothes, and utensils.

Perhaps a grandchild or someone else you know is about to move into their first apartment. Invite them over and you can show them your things and chat about them, telling them stories about the objects (or perhaps even your life) that they do not know. Meanwhile, have some bags and boxes at hand that you can fill while you are chatting, so they can take stuff with them right away.

Sometimes I feel a little uncomfortable with how unappreciative I am being about some of the things I want to rid myself of. Some of these things have brought benefits to me.

But I’ve discovered that it is rewarding to spend time with these objects one last time and then dispose of them. When I was younger, I never used to have the time to sit and think about what an object meant to me in my life, or where it came from, or when and how it came into my possession. Each item has its own history, and remembering that history is often enjoyable.

This new job of yours will not be accomplished any faster if you wait, but with a little practice and preparation, it will certainly be easier for you to make decisions about how to get rid of things. Trust me, the more time you spend going through your belongings, the easier it will be for you to decide what to keep and what not to. The more you work at it, the less time-consuming it will become. You might even discover the added bonus that it will feel wonderful to visit a dump and throw worthless things as far as you are able to.

Excerpted from THE GENTLE ART OF SWEDISH DEATH CLEANING by Margareta Magnusson. Copyright © 2018 by Margareta Magnusson. Excerpted with permission by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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