Tiny Tuesday: Swedish Death Cleaning

You’ve probably heard of Japanese declutter queen Marie Kondo. Her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up instructs readers to examine all their possessions, one by one, and for each item ask if it sparks joy. If the answer is yes, then the item gets to stay. If the answer is no, then the item is given a ceremonial (and verbal) goodbye. This simple but severe advice has inspired a multitude of self-proclaimed Konverts who say that Kondo-ing has transformed their lives.

Author Margareta Magnusson offers a different but equally simple test with her new book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. In Magnusson’s view, decluttering is an act of compassion toward your loved ones who will need to sort through your stuff after you die. She favors a steady weeding-out of unneeded items, called dostadning in Swedish. The process starts before retirement and continues for the rest of your life, so that you leave behind no mess for others to clean up. Of course, that’s the opposite of how most Americans live.

I think Kondo-ing and Swedish Death Cleaning will eventually eliminate the same items from your life, namely junk. Ten-year-old receipts and catalogs; the extra dozen coffee mugs at the back of your cabinet (behind the four to eight you actually use); that rusting bicycle you swore you would repair one day. Where the two philosophies differ is their speed of application. Kondo-ing begins with a once-in-a-lifetime event where you gather all your possessions and literally set them in front of you to decide which ones to keep. Swedish Death Cleaning requires an unhurried but constant effort for the rest of your days, so you die with essentially zero possessions.

Personally I’m more of a Swede than a Konvert, but you can choose whichever method works best for you. Or, if you don’t have time for either, you can follow the lead of a friend of mine. When her two young kids complain of boredom, she replies, “Then let’s go through your old toys and decide which ones to give away!” It might not lead to decluttering, but it sure sparks joy in the stuff you already have.

Thanks to Abby Dery, aforementioned friend.

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