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Cleaning up before you die: The Swedish art of döstädning

By Susanne Duijvestein, sustainable funeral director at Bijafscheid


During a vacation as a teenager, I decided to clean up some closets with old junk. Diligently I set to work and smoothly distinguished the things that looked precious and things that could get rid of.

Proud and satisfied, I showed my mother the tidy closet after her working day. And extra nice, I immediately had everything removed to the containers!


Döstädning, death cleaning, is the custom of organizing your material possessions towards the end of your life. You prevent yourself from saddling up your loved ones with a lot of junk.

Tears appeared in her eyes. The blue-striped bathrobe that had been there for years, until that day, turned out to be my grandfathers. My mother's father who died when she was thirty. My adolescent brain produced the response of "well, you weren't doing anything with it, were you?" But deep down I realized I had deprived her of an emotionally valuable heirloom. And I couldn't bring it back.

Up to this day, I am still quite rigorous with throwing stuff away. "I am not attached, certainly not to material things" I say to my husband. After a big spring clean-up once a year, I feel reborn. Recently I was very pleased to read about a noble art from Sweden: döstädning.





















Döstädning

Döstädning, death cleaning, is the custom to organize your material possessions towards the end of your life. You prevent yourself from saddling up your loved ones with a lot of junk. Because you can count on it, cleaning up is a huge job. I often see children taking months to tidy up their parental home. As if they don't have enough on their mind already, chaos and family quarrels lurking.


The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is a practical guide that helps you identify what is really important, to handle your belongings as comfortably and stress-free as possible.

SO, you can make this inevitable work easier for your kin. And you can do it now. Because it is never too early to get rid of your junk.

At least says the queen of döstädning, the Swedish Margareta Magnusson. She wrote a book about it. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is a practical guide that helps you identify what is really important, to handle your belongings as comfortably and stress-free as possible.




So "de-accumulating." Magnussen recommends starting with stuff that requires little effort, things without too much sentimental value. You are going to sell it, give it away or throw it away. Then you build up to things with more emotional value. Strategy: only keep those things that make your loved ones really happy.

In addition to its practical meaning, döstädning is also a ritual to reflect on your life - whether it is coming to an end soon or maybe later. What do you leave behind in material possessions when you are no longer there yourself? And what do these things say about you? By separating the heirlooms from the clutter, you immediately organize the precious memories.




Magnusson discusses the process of remembering, aging and death in a light, cheerful, and intimate way. She introduces döstädning as a method to celebrate all the happiness we collect in out life.





Meanwhile, I wonder what my daughter would ever find valuable. Jewelry, even if I barely have that. Clothing? Boxes, wooden furniture, linen, crockery? Maybe some books. And art.

I also suddenly realize that our photos are almost exclusively digital. And then also hundreds, thousands. Selecting this is really tough. But if I clean something up for her later with that, I might be able to do it once.


But could it also happen that I throw away things now that my daughter could have found important in twenty, forty, or sixty years?

Furthermore, I have a lot of beautiful timeless items, handmade and made of beautiful materials, but a lot comes from the thrift-store. Only if there really is a story, do I find it worthwhile. And so this means little remains.

But could it also happen that I throw away things now that my daughter could have found important in twenty, forty, sixty years?

If she's as nostalgic as her father, then yes. Coincidentally, my husband is now cleaning up his parental home because my mother-in-law is moving. Star Wars figures, Lego baking, a ventriloquist, an E.T. doll. Nothing seems to be allowed to go and I can already feel the burden of a storage room that needs to be rented. Help.

I haven't had this kind of old stuff for a long time. So it seems as if I have already mastered döstädning quite well. My daughter only has to make do with all those thousands of photos that showed those things. If the jpg formats still exist by then.

My husband is now saving old toys for her. Okay, secretly I think it's pretty nice. Because in the past, toys seemed to be made more for eternity. Because it makes me smile. Because I immediately see how my husband played with when he was a small child. Because there seems to be a soul in it.


Lees ook

- Carpet of Life transforms a once loved wardrobe into a unique boucherouite carpet: a memory to cherish

- Find happiness by contemplating your mortality

- Death. How do they do it in Japan?




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