Recently Peacock TV began streaming a show called “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning”, based on the book of the same title by Margareta Magnusson, published in 2018. Since I had read the book several years ago and loved it, I couldn’t resist checking out the new show. I found the advice in the book quite compelling and have recommended it to several clients over the past several years. And in all honesty, any show about decluttering and organizing sucks me in like a magnet! I also found it the book to be very relevant to my own personal experience and wrote about it in this blog at the time.
I can completely understand why the book resonated with so many in our stuff-burdened society. Margareta Magnusson writes of her journey with de-cluttering, Swedish-style, as she ages. The twin desires to downsize and not wanting to leave her loved ones with the burden of dealing with all of her physical possessions after she died, inspired her to begin the process of “döstädning,” or Swedish death cleaning. It’s a quick read, only 117 pages long, and a very personal and endearing account of her ongoing process to minimize her possessions and simplify her life as she ages.
In spite of the rather morbid title, the show (and the book) is not really about growing old, or death in and of itself. While one of the participants is dealing with an end-of-life situation, and another is recovering from a loved one’s death, the majority of them have, for various reasons, become overwhelmed by the clutter in their homes and lives. One of the clients in the show said she felt like she was “a prisoner of [her] possessions.” For anyone of any age who is feeling suffocated by their stuff, or whose quality of life is affected adversely by managing the physical and emotional clutter in their homes and lives, the concepts behind “death cleaning” are enormously helpful.
Letting go is hard, and changing habits is harder. If your reaction to any difficulty or emotional distress in your life is to go shopping (online or otherwise), or if you’re struggling to control your time and tasks, the basic premise of Magnusson’s book is to be very thoughtful about what’s important in your life, what’s worth keeping, and what needs to be eliminated. While I am a bit of a minimalist in my approach to my time and my stuff, embracing minimalism is not a requirement to living a less stressful and cluttered life! What is required is a thoughtful approach to what to keep, what to let go, and living with only those attachments (physical and time-wise) that allow you to live the life you want to be living. While these decisions can be wrenching, especially when it comes to sentimental items, gifts, and expensive things, the feeling of lightness and regaining control are liberating.
If you’re looking for some inspiration and motivation to do some gentle LIFE cleaning at any age, check out The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, both book and show. (A short warning: the first episode contains some very adult content and language, and, in my opinion, may feel a little cringey. If that kind of stuff bothers you, feel free to start at episode #2!) No matter where you are in your life journey, training yourself to make decisions on a regular basis about what stuff you keep and what you let go (or refuse to allow in to begin with!) is crucial to staying in control of your space and time.