Swedish Death Cleaning and Mindful Decluttering & Organizing

Life is full of transitions, some great and many small. Yet one of the greatest transitions, and one that’s hard to think about, is something we all have in common: death.

It’s not surprising that we shy away from this topic. We live in a culture that does not always embrace the reality of death. We’re not encouraged to talk about it, prepare for it, or truly grieve when it happens.

Yet death is a transitional experience we ALL share, both in our families and communities and eventually, for ourselves. It is a sign of emotional and mental wellness to acknowledge it and discuss it openly and honestly with those you love.

Is it Time to Do Some Death Cleaning?

The Swedish concept of dostadning or “death cleaning,” aims to do this: to make preparing for death a normal part of life. The book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, goes into more detail.

Unlike the many rules in the KonMari decluttering method (discover why we don’t practice the KonMari method in How to Declutter if You’re Not Marie Kondo!), dostadning has simple guidelines:

  • Don’t start with your photos
  • Keep important passwords in a central place your heirs can access
  • Keep a separate box of things that are important only to you, that can be tossed upon your death.

I love the honesty and sheer practicality of this last tip: just because something is meaningful to you does not mean it will be meaningful to others! Nor does it mean that you have to let it go. If an old letter or trinket makes you feel good, by all means keep it! There is something refreshingly sensible about the advice to store your keepsakes in such a way that they will be easy for others to discard or donate when the time comes.

Death Cleaning for Your Heirs

Many of our clients express a concern that might be familiar to you: “I don’t want my children to have to go through this stuff.” The act of decluttering and organizing, whether you call it “death cleaning” or no, is a powerful step towards addressing this concern. And, of course, the sooner you make decisions regarding what to release, the sooner you free up your energy!

Decluttering and organizing is sacred and deeply personal work. While friends and family are often happy to lend a hand, such emotional closeness can make it tricky to let things go. This is about you finding greater peace and making space to live your life to the fullest right now – not preserving your daughter’s feelings about what you choose to keep or let go!

At whatever stage of the clearing process you find yourself, we are here to help. Sometimes it can make all the difference to have the right tools and a caring and non-judgemental professional by your side.

Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

For many years, Australian nurse Bronnie Ware worked in palliative care. Her job was to care for people on their deathbed, and she had plenty of opportunities to learn from her patients what they regretted as they neared their own death. A few patterns emerged:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a poignant list, and may prompt you to reflect on your life right now. You needn’t wait until your deathbed to consider what you can do more of to bring you joy now, how you can spend more time with loved ones, and how you can find the courage to be true to yourself.

What does this mean for you now? Is there something lingering in your mind, perhaps a personal project that you’re dying (forgive the pun!) to work on, but afraid to start? Perhaps it’s writing a book, or learning how to paint, or telling someone how you really feel. We invite you to take a few moments and reflect on just one step you could take to move toward that project.

Life is Not About Stuff

You’ll notice that nowhere on the 5 regrets list is anything like, “I wish I hadn’t gotten rid of that clock that belonged to great-aunt Mildred!” or “I wish I’d held on to those Nancy Drew novels from childhood!”

What the 5 regrets list illustrates is that the richest moments in life are steeped in friendship, in the courage to try new things, in relaxing and having fun, and in being honest about what you think and feel.

The richest moments in life are steeped in friendship, in trying new things, in having fun, and in being honest about what you think and feel... NOT in #clutter or stuff! Click To Tweet

Unfortunately, you might feel weighed down by your clutter. Ironically, the “heaviest” clutter is often what you inherited from your parents or grandparents, who didn’t do their own death cleaning!

Unwanted clutter is a drain on your energy. It’s hard to find the time to travel or learn to paint when you have your parent’s clutter to deal with. It’s hard to feel motivated when everywhere you look there are piles of stuff, berating you for ignoring them. It’s hard to find the physical space to invite friends over for dinner when you’re embarrassed by how your house looks!

As Mary Oliver says, this is your “one wild and precious life.” What will you do to give yourself the space for joy, for fun, for silliness, or new things?

Bonnie Ware observes,

“People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.”

Here’s to your peace, now and always.

Discover more ways to mindfully declutter your home >>

Note: I love recommending books. If you purchase The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning on Amazon, we receive a small percentage of the sales price as a member of their affiliate program.

Want more? Listen to this awesome podcast about death cleaning from our friend Michael Spencer of Let’s Purify!  It includes Michaels’ summary of the book and a short reading from the book.  I like to listen while I chop vegetables or go for a walk. 🙂