Swedish Death Cleaning: A Cure for Clutter

Consider the virtues of “Swedish death cleaning”.

Translated from a Swedish term, Dostadning, this concept was headlined in a 2017 book: The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter.  In this book, author Margareta Magnusson advocates that individuals, regardless of their stage in life, consider reducing the volume of their personal belongings when drawers and closets become over-stuffed.   “A permanent form of organization,” she writes, “makes your everyday life run more smoothly.”

It’s sound advice, particularly for empty nesters approaching their retirement years.

I recently consulted with three siblings who inherited their parents’ Cape Cod home.  All three had long moved out of state, established their own households, and had busy professional lives.   When their parents passed away, the grown children and their spouses were left with an antiquated 4-bedroom home filled with tchotchkes, worn area rugs, outdated kitchenware and electronics, tired furniture, and peeling wallcovering. Sorting, organizing, and disposal became a daunting, emotionally-draining and weeks-long task. clutter.SDC

While cluttered homes aren’t limited to the elderly, there seems to be a general correlation between age and the amount of belongings.  The longer one lives, the more time there is to amass stuff.

Don’t burden your children or other heirs with too many possessions. Today’s young adults often express a desire to avoid the cluttered interiors they grew up inside.  Decorative holiday plates that aren’t microwave-safe and figurines requiring frequent dusting are two examples of how lifestyle preferences have evolved.

Here are a few tips for Boomers to reduce the inventory of possessions:

  • Ask your family members to identify which possessions they would like to inherit. Record those lists, label the items, and either grant those items to them now to enjoy, or specify them in your will.  Paintings and jewelry typically rank at the top of the wanted list.
  • Next, identify the items that no longer bring you daily joy, and designate them for re-sale or donation. Host an estate sale, sell these objects online, or donate to a local charity.
  • If consigning, be realistic about what items are marketable today. Take photos of each item and email them to a local consignment shop before transporting them, particularly large pieces.   Rocking chairs, towering dining hutches, older-model TVs, and threadbare sofas are among the items most consignment stores regard as unacceptable.
  • Once you’ve cleared your rooms, drawers, cupboards and shelves, maintain the parsed-down equilibrium. Avoid estate sales and flea markets, or follow the one-in/one-out rule.

Those steps may be the kindest gift you leave your heirs.