Are you ready to downsize your home? Are you helping a parent downsize and need a little inspiration?
In this video, I’m summarizing a popular downsizing book called The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnussen. This book is really great for anyone who is either looking to downsize their own home and their own possessions or is the child of someone whose home needs downsizing.
So, what is: “death cleaning?” What we would more commonly call it in the U.S. is downsizing. It’s the act of reviewing all of the possessions in your home and making a decision about what is going to happen to them.
She describes the act of death cleaning as: “going through all my belongings and deciding how to get rid of things I do not want anymore.”
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is a tiny little book, just over a hundred pages. It’s filled with insights for organizing and downsizing and also personal stories. Through the many downsizing events in her life, Magnusson wrote down the challenges and solutions that worked for her.
So who is this book for? The author describes herself as somewhere in the age range of 80 to 100, but she says that the perfect age for downsizing is in your 60’s because you will have more energy to sort through a lifetime of possessions than if you wait until later. She also notes if this book finds you at age 30 or 40 or 50 there are still some great tips in there for decluttering. No matter what age you are if you are interested in decluttering this is a good book to pick up and read through and get some inspiration.
This is also a good book if you are helping your parents to downsize or if you are encouraging your parents to downsize. Margareta actually has a few helpful phrases that she would use to approach the idea of downsizing with a parent such as:
“You have many nice things have you thought about what you want to do with them later on?”
“Do you enjoy having all of this stuff?”
“Could life be easier and less tiring if we got rid of some of this stuff that you have collected over the years?”
“Is there anything we can do together in a slow way so that there won’t be too many things to handle later?”
Margareta recommends going into storage areas first. Attics, storage units, basements, and garages. Her rationale is that since things have been out of sight and out of mind for so long, those are probably the things that you can live without.
There is a big theme in the book about not burdening the next generation with the things in your home. You want to have things in order instead of passing on a houseful or a lifetime of possessions to the next generation. She often writes about her passing things along to children and grandkids: what things they wanted, what things they had no interest in, and just how she is sort of chunking through this lifetime of possessions a little at a time.
Magnusson explains that death cleaning is really a slow process. It is something that can take many months if not a year or more. This book really walks you through how to approach it at a very gentle pace. This caught my attention because as a Professional Organizer, I help people go through this process very quickly. I may work in a home for three days or a few weeks or a few visits over a couple of weeks. I help my clients downsize at a pretty fast pace because maybe the house is going on the market or someone has had to move to assisted living. She says that actually, it may be better for you to do this on your own and take your time rather than having a professional come in and try to knock it out in a few days or a few weeks. I thought that was really interesting since I'm usually coming at it from a different approach which is to get it done very quickly.
Magnusson recommends not starting your downsizing by looking through old letters and photographs. The reason for this is that you can get so caught up in reminiscing and looking through those things that you really are not able to do you're downsizing in an efficient manner. Your mind is just going to want to look through all of these items and relive those memories and you won't really get that far on the tasks that you wanted to get accomplished that day.
Magnusson does go into how to declutter specific household categories like the kitchen, clothing closets, and collectibles. She got advice on what to sell by working with an estate agent to run an auction. She found unique ways to let go of things, whether that was finding a specific agency that was interested in certain belongings or by approaching friends and children about taking things, and how important really it was to tell the story of the item while you are still alive. The act of sharing the story along with the item seemed to be really important to her instead of her children coming in and having a big auction after she was gone.
I read The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning at age 45 and shared the book with my mom who is approaching 80. I would say overall this is a cheery book despite it covering a topic that many find very stressful. Similar to Magnusson, my mom and I have found downsizing a time to reminisce and create new memories. We recently viewed hundreds of family slides by setting up a projector in my living room and having a movie night. We laughed at how bad the photos were and wondered why they had been kept all these years (most of the slides did not even show family members!).
I think anyone who is going through a downsize could benefit from writing down stories of their life and possessions as Magnusson does in Swedish Death Cleaning. I would imagine that would be very therapeutic and it's certainly what she's done with this book.
In some of her final thoughts, she says -
“I wanted to get you started with your cleaning and making you feel good when you think of all the hours you will have saved your loved ones because they will not have to use their precious time to take care of stuff you do not want yourself anymore.”
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is available in Kindle, Print, and Audio. Click Here to pick up your copy.