Death is an inevitable part of life. And when you are “of a certain age,” most of us first start to face mortality when we lose our parents and grandparents.
Both my mother and mother-in-law were crafty gals, collectors of nick-nacks and keepers of their family’s “stuff.” And when I say stuff, I mean A LOT OF STUFF. When my mom died, I came into possession of my middle school roller-skate pompoms and a selection of country-themed home decor. When my mother-in-law died, my father-in-law started offloading boxes and boxes of “heirlooms” from his home to ours. Inside these boxes? My husband’s report cards, term papers, school assignments and assorted other treasures spanning kindergarten through grad school.
I should add a disclaimer here: I am no minimalist. I want to be. I’ve tried KonMari. I perform regular household purges. But still, I have stuff that I can’t let go of. I’ve gotten better as I’ve gotten older, though, and as I have given more thought to what is going to happen to that stuff when I’m gone.
When the cows-in-aprons decor started rolling into my house, I didn’t want it. And my husband’s homework from fourth grade? He didn’t want it. But there is a strange phenomenon when a parent dies: all of their “stuff” becomes family heirlooms to some weird extent, and I experienced a lot of guilt in not wanting that stuff, much less getting rid of that stuff. So my goal now is to spare my kids having to go through the same chore.
So you can imagine how excited I was as I sat at a medical appointment flipping through an issue of Time Magazine and I came upon an article about a book called The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.
Full disclosure: I am a self-help book junkie. But this topic really grabbed me, and the concept is one I can totally get behind.
There’s a Swedish word for unloading and decluttering: dostadning, which per Time is “a hybrid of words for death and cleaning. And as morbid as it sounds, that’s exactly what death cleaning is: the process of cleaning your house before you die, rather than leaving it up to your loved ones to do after you’re gone.”
Written by Margareta Magnusson, a Swedish artist who describes herself as between age 80 and 100, the book contends that this idea is not morbid at all. In fact, she says it’s “more like a relief,” and that it has benefits you can enjoy while you are still very much alive. She further explains that keeping things around that no one else is going to want is not fair to those you leave behind, and advocates for not collecting things that you don’t really want or need.
In a YouTube video posted by the book’s publisher, she says, “Generally, people have too many things in their homes. I think it’s a good thing to get rid of things you don’t need.” Magnusson has always practiced dostadning, “because I want to have it nice around me, keep some order.”
Time Magazine points out that The Death Cleaning method “bears similarities to that of the tidying-up guru Marie Kondo: Keep what you love and get rid of what you don’t want. But while Kondo tells people to trash, recycle or donate what they discard, Magnusson recommends giving things you no longer want to family and friends.” But she does advocate for keeping sentimental objects, like old letters or photos for example. And she keeps a “throw-away box,” filled with items just for her. Her children know that when she dies, they can simply throw that box away without even looking through.
In addition to sparing our kids the task of dealing with our junk, it’s been well documented that clutter has a detrimental impact on one’s mental health. Psychology Today shared the findings of a study done in 2016 at the University of New Mexico wherein researchers found that living in clutter turns your home into the enemy, when it should be your sanctuary and a point of pride. They further reported that people will practice unhealthier eating habits when in clutter. People tend to gravitate toward more sweets in a chaotic environment as a stress response to feeling out of control.
As you can see, streamlining our surroundings will benefit all of us as well as our families when we are gone. Let’s make 2018 the year of dostadning! Who’s with me?