To those unfamiliar with the practice, the words "death cleaning" (or döstädning in Swedish) would probably conjure up macabre thoughts. But fret not — it's not as morbid as it sounds. It's actually just a way to declutter your belongings, and it's one of many (remember Marie Kondo and her KonMori tidying method?) a lot of people swear by. Popularised internationally by Margareta Magnusson who wrote The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, this tradition that originates from Sweden has a simple philosophy behind it: make it easy for your loved ones to clean up and sort your stuff after you die.
It can certainly seem off-putting to some. But if you give it a chance, you might just reap the lifelong benefits of doing a death cleaning, such as knowing that your belongings will be put to good use and that your personal stuff won't be a burden to your family when you leave them behind. Curious to know more about what is death cleaning? Read on.
Death cleaning is just as beneficial to your life as it is when you die
Ironic as it sounds given its name, death cleaning is meant to have an impact not just for when you die but also to your current living situation. According to this decluttering method's philosophy, thinking about what would happen to your belongings when you pass on could be a motivation for you to constantly reevaluate what you choose to own. In the process, you become more mindful of your spending instead of just accumulating stuff for the sake of it. Margareta Magnusson's advice is to ask yourself, "Will anyone I know be happier if I save this?". Most of our belongings will probably outlive us, so treat yourself more as the current custodian of your things rather than the owner.
Death cleaning is an opportunity to shape your legacy
We all have our little secrets that we don't really want anyone privy to. When death cleaning, you can arrange these things, seal them in a box and label it as "immediately throw away". But it's not just your guilty pleasures that you can sort out, with death cleaning you can also shape your legacy. This is especially helpful if you're a parent with a young child. If — knock on wood — something happens to you, you'd want your child's memory of you to be a good and comforting one. You can also designate the things that you want your son or daughter to inherit from you when you depart this world, whether it's a cherished scarf or a personal trinket, you'd be at peace knowing that they will be passed on into the right hands.
Death cleaning vs. KonMari Method
You may be wondering what are similarities and differences of death cleaning to the popular KonMari Method. Well, there are a few but they share a similar goal of encouraging people to live their best lives by being more mindful of their belongings. Think of KonMari and death cleaning as two different roads that lead to the same destination. You just have to decide which one you prefer to traverse. To help you choose, here are some key differences between the two.
Death cleaning calls for a minimalistic lifestyle, KonMari doesn't
It's a common misconception that KonMari is all about minimalism. It's not really about paring down your belongings and more on just keeping what "sparks joy". So, if a whole cabinet of shoes sparks joy for you then, according to the KonMari method, you can keep it. On the other hand, death cleaning wants you to trim down your belongings and to moderate your spending tendencies. "It took me a while to understand this, but you can enjoy all these things without owning them. Even though this may sometimes seem quite hard to do, training yourself to enjoy only looking at things, instead of buying them, is very nice and also a good practice," Margareta Magnusson writes.
KonMari wants you to tidy at one go, death cleaning can be a long process
Because death cleaning deals with topics of serious nature such as our mortality, it can take a long time for one to process this especially if a loved one is helping you to do it. You'll also need more time to decide who you'll give away your cherished possessions to. In contrast, the KonMari method insists on decluttering at one go which can be overwhelming for some. Remember, one of its signature ways to declutter your wardrobe is to pile all your clothes in one big heap. This way, you'll get to see an overview of how much you actually own and it will supposedly deter you from wanting to add more when it's not needed.
Death Cleaning is practical while KonMari borders on whimsy
Let's face it, for all the love that the KonMari method gets you'd have to agree that parts of it can be a little too cheesy for some. If you think it's silly to treat your belongings as if they're sentient beings and can't stand to ask yourself "Does this spark joy?" a hundred times, then death cleaning may be for you. It's a more practical approach that isn't as dependent on emotions compared to the KonMari way.
Is death cleaning for you?
So now that you know what is death cleaning, it's time to decide if it's for you. We'd say that if you're looking for a more pragmatic, slow approach to decluttering and don't mind thinking deeper about your own mortality or living minimally, then yes death cleaning may be suited for you. Convinced to start döstädning? Margareta Magnusson has a thorough step-by-step guide in her book (available on Amazon).
(Cover photo from: Sarah Dorweiler via Unsplash)
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