Books, podcasts and TV shows promote the liberating benefits of decluttering and minimizing your possessions. Swedish author Margareta Magnusson gives you a new reason to declutter in late middle age: to spare your heirs from having to face your mountain of stuff after you’re gone.
Lighten the burden
We accumulate a house full of possessions — keepsakes, letters, photos, books, awards and music albums — during our lives. You likely haven’t looked at most of those stored items in years. Magnusson’s book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, fearlessly and with keen wit addresses the need to relieve your heirs of the burden of dealing with this stuff after you pass. Her approach is not a morbid process, but a very practical way to spare your loved ones from having to sort through your mountain of belongings.
How the declutter process works
Sometime after your kids are grown is a good time to begin purging your possessions. Let your family know about your project, not emphasizing the death aspect, but the freedom and relief for you now and for them later.
Magnusson stresses that you don’t have to eliminate all your clutter overnight. Take your time over weeks or a few months, but don’t drag your feet either. Clear the clutter thoughtfully and methodically.
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning recommends that you sort every item into one of four categories: keep, sell, donate or trash. Be very discriminating about what you keep. Sell nicer items of value. If you need to get rid of an item but someone needy could use it, then donate it. Trash trivial stuff not worthy of any of the previous three fates.
Start with stored items you never see or touch. Open boxes, tubs, closets, cabinets and drawers. If you haven’t used or looked at an item in a year, dispose of it according to one of the four categories above. Be realistic about “just in case” items. Will you ever actually use it again?
Go through all your clothes and purge items you haven’t worn in a year. Cull your wardrobe down to simple and basic.
Dispose of anything that could hurt or embarrass your family or is associated with painful life episodes.
The hardest items to deal with in Swedish death cleaning are old letters, photographs, keepsakes and special occasion clothing that have emotional value.
First, contact the loved ones with whom the items are associated and ask if they’d like to have them. Don’t be offended if they say no. Adult children may not want to hold on to keepsakes from their childhood.
These items can also be dealt with in other ways. You can scan and save old letters and photographs and donate clothing to charity. Keep digital photographs of sentimental knickknacks and toss the items. Store the letters, journals and photographs you keep in a safe container, and leave instructions with a trusted loved one on what you want done with them after you are gone.
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