Exciting news: There’s a new organisational how-to in town. Look out, Marie Kondo, and make way for The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter. The author, Margareta Magnusson, who is “somewhere between 80 and 100,” started the process of cleaning out her home and organising her affairs for her heirs, and found it so rewarding that she wrote a book about it.
According to Whimn, “death cleaning” is a process (that ideally starts in your 50s) of slowly giving away extraneous possessions; 2) it is decluttering, but with an additional advice about how to deal with the practical matters surrounding death; and 3) that doesn’t make a very good book title.
This has sparked an interesting discussion on Metafilter, because anyone who is ageing or has ageing parents has a dog in this fight. There are stories of on-the-ball grandparents who left organised financial records and minimal stuff, and stories of despair at cleaning out hoarders’ houses full of junk. Some people think, as Alan Alda reportedly joked, that it’s okay to leave a household of un-edited stuff (What do we care? We’re dead) and others think it is both a responsibility and a kindness to streamline the process as much as you can for your loved ones after you go.
I’m with the streamliners, with caveats. For one, none of us knows when we’re going to go, and if I corked off tomorrow I would definitely be leaving behind a closet full of unworn clothes, a lot of CDs I still haven’t put on my computer, and a lot of random hand-written notes that say things like “buy TP, maybe write story about french parents? password to bank account is BANKTIME.” My will is…somewhere. (Probably filed under D for “dead.”) Dying is not like leaving for a trip, in which you clean yourself out the door — all of us will leave behind some unfinished business and a half-eaten carton of yogurt in the fridge. And two, we all have attachments to stuff that is meaningless to other people, so it’s hard to encourage someone else to declutter when you don’t fully comprehend how safe and cosy their shelf of Hummel figurines makes them feel. So we all have to tread carefully with helping loved ones clean out.
The nice thing about Magnusson’s instructions is that her book is also about taking charge of your life for yourself, while you’re living: “It is about a permanent form of organisation that makes your everyday life run more smoothly.” She also offers help on how to open this conversation with ageing parents who might be reluctant to talk about what they’re going to leave behind. Is it morbid? It doesn’t seem like it. It seems more like a peaceful, organised way to settle your affairs, so that you haven’t left a big Swedish death mess for other people to clean up.