Everyone knows what a hoarder is. You might be one yourself. If not, you probably have some family members and friends who are one. I’m not a hoarder but my father was. He just couldn’t throw anything away.

I also have relatives and friends who are major hoarders with junk overflowing in their homes.

But even if you’re not a hoarder, you probably have more junk in your home than you should. Even if you’ve outgrown the use of certain things — clothes, furniture, exercise equipment, electronic gadgets, electrical cables, kitchen utensils — it’s human nature to keep these things around just in case you might have use for them one day.

Never mind that that “one day” might never come. You can’t bear to get rid of something that’s not broken.

Over the years, these things can really stack up, collecting dust in all corners of your home. I think if each of us were to ask ourselves objectively whether we have too much junk, the answer is “yes”.

If you’ve always wanted to declutter your home or your room and don’t know where to begin or don’t have the heart to part with things that are no longer relevant to your life but are still in good condition, take heart. There’s a proven methodology that you can try.

Swedish Death Cleaning

It’s called “Swedish Death Cleaning”, which sounds a whole lot more morbid than it actually is.

The phrase actually comes from the Swedish word Dostadning which refers to the practice of getting rid of one’s possessions before one dies.

The idea is that you want to save your family members and loved ones the burden of figuring out what to do with your junk. Do they throw it away? Do they try to pawn it off? Do they donate it to charity? Do they store it somewhere and further clutter their homes?

Instead of burdening them with this, you help them by getting rid of all stuff that’s not useful or relevant anymore. This is what Swedish Death Cleaning is all about.

It’s an act of compassion — to your loved ones and to yourself as well. In the process of death cleaning, you rid yourself of clutter and can thus have more serenity and peace of mind.

Swedish Death Cleaning was popularised by Margareta Magnusson, author of the book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. “Death cleansing means removing unnecessary things and making your home nice and orderly when you think the time is coming close for you to leave the planet,” writes Magnusson.

“When you death clean, it stops you from running around the house looking for your bag or your keys because there are less things for them to get lost in. It gives you more time and makes you less stressed.”


Anyone can do it

Swedish Death Cleaning isn’t just for the aged or those in the winter of their lives. You could be middle-aged or even a millennial. It doesn’t matter. Everyone benefits from living a decluttered life so this is suitable for everyone. It’s all about keeping what is relevant and useful and getting rid of what’s not.

Do it gradually

A hard core approach to decluttering will shatter any spirit. It’s hard to throw away things due to sentimentality and the natural human distaste for discarding something that is not actually broken.

Magnusson recommends separating your belongings into categories and tackling the easiest ones first. So don’t start with things like printed photographs or birthday and Christmas cards, and so on. Avoid anything that has sentimental value. Deal with those last. Instead, start off by getting rid of things that are easier to part with like old clothes or digital devices that are outdated such as old calculators, old mobile phones or equipment for sports you no longer play. If they are still in good condition, you can donate them to charity. If they’re no longer in condition for re-sale, just throw them away.

Key question

Whenever she’s stumped on whether to get rid of something or not, Magnusson asks herself this key question: “Will anyone I know be happier if I save this?” If the brutally honest answer is no, then she gets rid of it. But what about the really sentimental things that may not be of use to anyone but are special to you? For that, she suggests setting up a throw away box.

Throw Away box

Let’s just say after a period of proactive, gradual decluttering, you’ve gotten to the point where you’ve gotten rid of everything that you don’t need anymore. What’s left are items that might have no practical utility but are of sentimental value to you. These could be old postcards, a cap you got at summer camp or a teddy bear someone gave you. These would be of no use to anyone else but are of immense personal value to you. Magnusson suggests that you keep a “Throw Away” box to store such items, with instruction to your family members that the box can be thrown away upon your demise.

Realisation is important

Ultimately the key to effective decluttering is the realisation that getting rid of junk is a compassionate thing to do for the loved ones whom you’ll eventually leave behind. Even if you don’t want to do it for yourself, do it for them.

“Once someone has gone, things can be chaotic enough,” Magnusson says. “Sorting through everything is sad sometimes, but I really don’t want to give my beloved children and their families too much trouble with my stuff after I’m gone.”

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