Why Decluttering Now Will Help Your Family Later

A Swedish clutter-clearing exercise puts your life—and possessions—in perspective.

Posted in , Jun 20, 2019

Decluttering the house

The term “death cleaning” doesn’t sound at first like a positive one. But in Sweden, the word döstädning means just that—and it is definitely a positive experience. 

“Mess is an unnecessary source of irritation,” writes Margareta Magnusson, author of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter. “Life will become more pleasant and comfortable if we get rid of some of the abundance.”

The “death” aspect of the practice can sound jarring at first: the purpose of examining piles of material possessions at mid-life is to refrain from burdening future generations with managing and clearing it when we die. But döstädning doesn’t ask us to wallow in our inevitable demise—it encourages us to enjoy the experience of navigating our past, and letting go of what no longer serves us and our happiness.

“It is a delight to go through things and remember their worth,” writes Magnusson.

Clearing clutter is linked by research with greater happiness, despite nearly constant social messages that acquiring things is the path to joy. Instead, NBC News reports on research showing that those whose priorities revolve around wealth and material goods are more likely to be unhappy, lonely, and insecure.

Removing unwanted “stuff” from our lives has other benefits too. The author Gretchen Rubin connects “outer order” with “inner calm,” arguing that in the absence of useless items, we are more free to accomplish tasks, think creatively and enjoy our everyday lives.

Döstädning embraces these ideas and adds the opportunity for us to engage with our mortality in a productive and even positive way. Someone will need to deal with your possessions—when you take control of the process of clearing your clutter, those you leave behind will know your things were both meaningful and useful to you while you were alive. 

How do you manage clutter in your life? What do your material possessions mean to you?

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