Decluttering: Swedish Death Cleaning vs the Marie Kondo Method

I’ve unsettled my daughter by reading Margareta Magnusson’s The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning and everything else that has been written about this concept, particularly in comparison to the current trend of Marie Kondo’s Magic of Tidying Up aka the Marie Kondo Method. Here’s the backstory as to why I dove into this in the first place: I went through hell sorting out my parents’ belongings during their confinement and after their death, and was also part of the disposal crew for my parents-in-law after they passed away, and I hated every minute of the monumental task. I resented my parents for hoarding so much and hanging on to it for so many years. There was so much precious space in the house that could have been put to better use, instead, each room seemed like an extension of a storage space. I felt choked in that house and was eager for more space, uncluttered space. So I vowed then and there not to pass on the same experience to my daughter and that process had to begin with me.

At the time there was no Marie Kondo method yet, and I hadn’t heard of Margareta Magnusson either. I do subscribe to the Marie Kondo method of getting rid of everything that is superfluous in my home and retaining only a few essential things that bring me joy. If had to be perfectly honest I would love to chuck out even more and just be left with the bare minimum and be surrounded by plants. I’m half way there I think, and have come quite a long way since my parents’ congested and cluttered home.

Then I stumbled on a blog that was full of praise for the Swedish Death Cleaning and my curiosity got the better of me, so I purchased the book and began reading. The last book that was so transformative in my life was Sarah Ban Breathnach’s Simple Abundance, a proverbial nudge that led me down the gratitude path that I embraced fully in my 30s. Learning to find the joy and beauty in the small and simple things that surround us was, and still is, an essential part of my emotional growth just when I was learning to navigate motherhood.

Now that I am in my 50s, gratitude is an integral part of my being, but so is decluttering, both physically and emotionally. The Marie Kondo method espouses reduction of accumulated things in the house that are simply occupying space but no longer form an active part of your life. Whether it is clothes, toys, tools, furniture, or whatever else you collect, if you haven’t worked with them, touched or used them in the past year then get rid of them. I despise the trademark line “does this bring you joy?” as the deciding point, but she does have a point, I’ll give her that. The bag or the backpack I thought I loved but I haven’t used in ages? Out with it and maybe someone else can put it to better use. Those coats that have gone out of style and are ill-fitting? Or those clothes that you keep dreaming of fitting into again some day. Get real babe, and accept the fact that your body today is not what it was 10 or 15 years ago. In my case, I have lost so much weight in the past two years that I had absolutely no desire to hang on to the big-girl pants or any other reminders of those dreadful heavy years. Bottom line is that the Marie Kondo method focuses on making the present a lighter, breathable space for you to enjoy visually and emotionally.

Margaretha Magnusson, on the other hand, is the complete opposite and takes decluttering to a whole new level that threw me off guard at first. She writes about decluttering your life as a favour to your children, so that after you die they won’t inherit the burden of having to sort through the rubble and curse you before your body is cold in the grave. She underlines the fact that it is important to dispose of as many unnecessary things around you, and retain those items that bring those who will inherit them joy. Obviously, because they are your treasures and you are downsizing when you retire, everything brings you joy, but you have to take this minimalism to another level and only retain specific items that will be assigned to particular people.

Creepy? Yes, in the beginning, but it makes perfect sense. I don’t want to die knowing that whatever I want my daughter to inherit, or a niece or perhaps a god daughter to inherit ended up in the bin or charity. Margnusson goes as far as saying that if you can part with the item while you are still alive then do so, and that way you ensure it lands safely in the right hands. For us photographers – who will inherit our archives of photos? Not all of us are blessed with children who share the same passion and will appreciate the thousands of photographs you leave behind. Or what about for my fellow writers – books, manuscripts, journals, doodles – who gets what and why? What do you want preserved and what do you consider to be your legacy. That is the crucial question.

I have absolutely nothing to do with Sweden, Swedish culture or language other than IKEA, but the Swedish Death Cleaning has me on a new path and I am thinking from a whole new perspective.

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