I just read a delightful new little book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter. According to its author, Margareta Magnusson, this book is for everyone over 65 who has difficulty culling their things or has simply not yet begun.
With a charming wit and a can-do attitude, Magnusson gives the reader a step-by-step process for “death cleaning,” which she describes as getting rid of all the excess wonderful stuff in your life so you can “make your loved ones’ memories of you nice – instead of awful.”
Magnusson should know how. Describing herself as a Swede “between eighty and one hundred years old,” she has made a lifetime habit of this decluttering process.
This book is a light and helpful guide for getting over the practical and emotional hurdles of downsizing. Examples: Do not start with photographs. “Don’t assume children will value the same things as you do” – ask yourself if anyone else would really want this when you’re gone. And “don’t keep gifts out of guilt if you don’t like them.”
She also serves as a bit of a therapist, suggesting ways to honor the sentiments evoked by our most valued possessions. “Spend one last time with them, cherish the memory, and then say goodbye.” And for those things that you absolutely cannot part with: “have a box of sentimental items that have meaning to you and no one else.” (But– no larger than a shoe box!) Keep it, and mark it “throw away” for those after you to discard.
If you are familiar with Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, you will find some similar themes: keep what you love (in Kondo’s words, what “brings you joy”) and, of course, only what fits in your new, smaller space if physically moving.
I read this conversational book in two short sittings. Magnusson is a wise and feisty character, and I frequently laughed aloud. Here is a short Youtube video of Magnusson explaining her death cleaning approach. And for an interesting perspective, here’s a twenty-something’s take on Magnusson’s work that I randomly came across; her wise (for her age) appreciation for leaving one’s legal affairs intact is refreshing.
This little ditty of a book could be a great gift for clients. Of course, it could also supply good content for a blog post, newsletter article, or tweet. You may also find it a good read for yourself and/or your own parents!
Magnusson posits that death cleaning is a gift that one gives to one’s adult children (or surviving loved ones)—but even more so, that it is a gift one gives to oneself. She also says, of course, that it is never too early to start this process. So happy death cleaning!
Randi J. Siegel, MBA, is the President of DocuBank® (docubank.com), which ensures that the emergency information and healthcare directives of its 250,000+ enrollees are available 24/7/365 through the largest advance directives registry in the U.S., as well as access to an online safe for storage of digital assets and other vital documents. Working with estate planning professionals since 1997, Randi frequently speaks at national estate planning conferences and has appeared on radio and television as an authority on registries. A member of the Philadelphia Estate Planning Council, the International Society of Advance Care Planning and the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care, Randi is active in health education and public engagement related to advance care planning/advance directives. She serves as Pennsylvania liaison to the National Healthcare Decisions Day initiative and as a board member of the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly. Randi is an ongoing contributor to the Academy blog.
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