The Swedish have an extremely pragmatic term known as döstädning. Translated, the term means death cleaning, as dö means death and städning means cleaning. It is the common practice of leaving one’s physical possessions and personal effects in good order to make things easier for loved ones upon our death. From my own experience, the process actually brings great simplicity and serenity.
I recently read The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson to help me face a houseful of things that belonged to my late father, mother, and grandmother. Although I generally have little attachment or sentimentality toward material objects, I found it painfully difficult to part with things that belonged to people I love.
When my father died six years ago, it fell to me to deal with his possessions. With the exception of his clothing, my mom wanted us to keep nearly everything else of my dad’s, including a wooden duck lamp he made in high school. Suffice it to say it’s an ugly duckling. That poor thing lived more than sixty years in a box that has moved from my grandmother’s house, to my parents’ house, to my mom’s condo, to my attic. It’s the poster child for Swedish death cleaning, yet no one could let it go.
After my mom passed away I knew I had to deal with her things, my dad’s things, and all of my grandmother’s things Mom had kept for more than twenty-five years. A few treasures found good homes, but a huge stash of furniture, books, knick-knacks, decor and memorabilia weighed heavy on my mind and on our attic floor.
Not only did Swedish death cleaning help me sort through my family’s belongings, it gave me a reverent opportunity to revisit and honor them. I was finally able to keep the memories and say goodbye to the objects. It also made me more aware of my own limited time and space on this planet. I’ve whittled down my possessions to what I need and what truly sparks joy, as Marie Kondo advises. My affairs are now in order to make things easier for my survivors, giving me enormous peace of mind.
The process left me with an unexpected sense of serenity, happiness and increased appreciation for what really matters in life. I’m grateful to be in good health, and I plan to live the rest of my days unburdened by excessive material objects. I do have a secret desire that my dad’s lamp is bringing joy to someone who finds it just ducky. §
“The process left me with an unexpected sense of serenity, happiness and increased appreciation for what really matters in life.”
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