Book Talk: The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

Brian Gramling Front Porch Flyer

By Taylor Youngblood, Mueller Zero Waste Block Leader

As we go into a new year, I encourage you to reflect on what we have and on how we can help others. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margaret Magnusson (borrowed from the Austin Public Library) defines the act of death cleaning as “when you or someone else gets rid of things to make life easier and less crowded. It does not necessarily have to do with your age or death…” You may have heard the expression, “new year, a new you,” and by extension let us consider adding a new home/environment.

“Mess is an unnecessary source of irritation…Give everything a place and you won’t feel angry, irritated, or desperate when leaving the house.” If you have ever fought to get a jacket in or out of your closet, slammed a cabinet or drawer on a mess, or thrown things around because you can’t find what you need or a spot to place something, this mental shift in paring down what you work with and move around may be helpful. 

To some extent, death cleaning may be considered a form of minimalism. What do you need in your home to be content, but not to feel burdened by cleaning, organizing, or taking care of possessions? What are you ready to move on that can be rehomed to someone else who really needs that item? I like to think of it as, “Can someone else use this now rather than sit unused in my cabinet in case I may need it one day?” Mueller has two Buy Nothing Facebook groups and Nextdoor, which are local sites to rehome your possessions without them going into the landfill. And it is an excellent way to meet and connect with your neighbors. 

A second zero-waste angle, in addition to keeping things out of the landfill, is to not bring them into your home to begin with, “…you can enjoy all these things without owning them….training yourself to enjoy only looking at things, instead of buying them is very nice and a good practice.” The sites I mention above are great places to lend and borrow tools you may use around the home. I’ve lent out bolt cutters, Instant Pots, blenders, coolers, shovels, and much more. 

Magnusson  shares with us the following image, “If you don’t death clean and show people what is valuable, once you die there will be a big truck that takes all your wonderful things you have to an auction (at best) or to a dump.” If you have worked on minimalism or clearing out before, you may know how little you get back for selling something (compared to the price you paid for it) or even how difficult it can be to donate an item to someone. Doing it now while the interest is there is easier and more rewarding when you can receive the gratitude and appreciation now.

I leave you with this excerpt and thought, “Will anyone [you] know be happier if [you] save …” Are you happy climbing over it, not fitting a car into the garage? Will your child want to inherit this (be honest)? Will your executor process this the way you want, or will it get dumped? This can be a hard concept to open up to and sit with, but I have never regretted any clean-out I have done. I encourage you to sit with this idea this year.