what is the swedish concept of death cleansing?


When Priya Rao recently lost her mother to cancer, she and her sister had to spend a lot of time cleaning up years of accumulated possessions, from dishes and clothes to shoes, books and photos. It was then that Rao decided she would start decluttering her own home, as she did not want her children to go through this physically and emotionally draining experience.

Rao unknowingly tapped into the Swedish practice of dostadning (death cleansing), a thoughtful method of decluttering that ensures your earthly possessions will be of value to your loved ones after you die. The philosophy is also about facing your departure from the world in a mature way, as well as the thought that true happiness does not come from possessions, but from relationships and experiences.

[Dostadning] invites us to be intentional, so that we live our legacy, not just leave it behind

Jody Adams, professional organizer

While Vikings and Egyptians chose to be buried with their possessions – from their swords to their jewelry (perhaps to avoid fights between loved ones) – most of us have too many material possessions, getting rid of or allocating which can be overwhelming and expensive. for our loved ones.

In The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleansing: How to Free You and Your Family from a Life of Clutter (2018), author Margareta Magnusson says that unworn clothes and unwanted gifts are possessions that you can easily get rid of, by gifting, donating or recycling.

What you may want to keep are items with sentimental value like letters or photo albums. However, Magnusson suggests that you shred and destroy anything that could be hurtful or embarrassing if discovered after you die. Alternatively, you can put your most personal belongings in a disposable box adorned with a sticker that reads: “Please dispose of this unopened”.

Magnusson’s book has its origins in the traumatic deaths of her husband and mother. “Don’t collect things you don’t want,” she wrote. “Someone has to take care of it one day. The cleansing of death is not about dusting or cleaning; it is a permanent form of organization that makes your life more fluid. My motto is: if you don’t love it, lose it. If you don’t use it, lose it.

While Magnusson’s book is aimed at people over 50, Jody Adams, a professional organizer who lives in Pittsburgh, says “the decluttering framework applies to almost any age, not just when we’re older.” aged. It reminds us that now is the time to clean up the things that no longer fit in our lives.

The process of emptying drawers and storage spaces [can help] peel away layers of dust and mental debris

Deenaz Damania, psychologist

“It gives new use to objects that would otherwise go unused, gives voice to the stories behind objects, and allows our loved ones to understand and appreciate what we have when we are no longer there to use it. In the end Indeed, it invites us to be intentional, so that we live our legacy, not just leave it behind.

Sifting through years of accumulated possessions involves a lot of decision-making, so involve your loved ones to better understand what they might value. Decluttering is not overnight but rather an ongoing process that takes time and effort. The upside is that donating books and other valuables or sending clothes to charity can be a rewarding experience.

Be selective when deciding which treasured memories to keep with your material possessions.  Artwork by Nick Donaldson

We’re also accumulating a lot of digital clutter right now, from email to online bank accounts and social media. Getting them in order is also a good idea, writes Magnusson, who suggests keeping a password book so family members can access your accounts.

From a health perspective, decluttering is associated with less stress and more productivity. “It’s such an important concept for a psychotherapist to work with. The process of emptying drawers and storage spaces [can help] peel away the layers of dust and mental debris,” says psychologist Deenaz Damania. “Decluttering your physical environment is a great way to jump-start the process of mental clarity by clearing the mind of unwanted and unhappy thoughts and the heart of sad emotions.”

Above all, be organized but not obsessive. Decluttering is an ongoing process that’s never really finished because, as Magnusson says, “You don’t know when you’re going to die, so the cleansing of death goes on and on and on.”

Updated: January 15, 2022, 11:43 a.m.


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