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'How to sort out your affairs so loved ones won't have embarrassing memories of you after you die'

“It’s a lovely way to reminisce on years past while also letting go of a few painful memories.”

Laura Hutchinson

LET ME ASSURE you that “Swedish death cleaning” sounds so much cooler than it actually is. At its core, it’s death-prep decluttering – the process by which you streamline and simplify your personal possessions in advance of your demise. Cheery stuff.

It’s outlined in Margareta Magnusson’s debut book, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” (props to the marketing department for that catchy title). Understandably, it’s causing quite a stir.

According to the author, the benefits are twofold: peace of mind for you, and no big junk pile for your relatives to have to pick through after you’re gone. The promise made is to “help make your loved ones’ memories of you nice – instead of awful”. (Apparently we’re to judge the measure of a person solely by the belongings they leave behind now.)

Clear instructions

How is it done, then? By going through each of your possessions and asking, “Will anyone I know be happier if I save this?” Whatever’s left should have clear instructions as to what’s to be done with it after you’re gone, whether that be dumping, donating, or distributing amongst loved ones.

Magnusson recommends that you begin the process “when you think the time is coming closer for you to leave the planet”. Sixty-five, she thinks, is a good age to get going on it. The truth is, though, that none of us knows when we’re checking out of here, so the sooner we start, the better.

While the book was a bestseller in Sweden, it’s hard to see it being a big hit here on the Emerald Isle. For a start, we’re a superstitious lot that don’t like talking about death, and certainly not in any practical sense. As for actually preparing for it? Well you might as well climb into your coffin right now.

And lordy, the very notion that we should put ourselves out so as not to inconvenience someone else by popping our clogs! Why should we care what cousin Mary will have to deal with after our death? If we want to keep our collection of a thousand teacups, by god we’ll keep them and the Swedes can just go and whistle.

The brass neck of them to even suggest such a thing.

‘Beneficial endeavour’

But let’s ask ourselves, are we cutting off our nose to spite our face? The truth is, from a practical standpoint, decluttering is a beneficial endeavour that can bring calm where before there was only clutter and chaos. It’s a lovely way to reminisce on years past while also letting go of a few painful memories.

And it sure beats moving that stack of papers from one surface to the next for the rest of your life.

Like it or lump it, the grim reaper comes calling for us all at some point, so best to have your affairs in order so that blackguard Michael doesn’t make off with all the good china.

Still, if death cleaning were to take off here, it would have to focus on the personal benefits, because fiddlesticks to aunt Fanny, we’re in it for ourselves or not at all. (And wouldn’t it only be good enough for her after all the torment she put us through? Bit of hard work would do her no harm either. Really, we’d be doing her a favour.)

But I just can’t help feeling that this method is the very antithesis to our idea of the luxurious life. After all, it would only be the most virtuous (or masochistic) among us who wouldn’t enjoy making a big ol’ Swedish death mess and then leaving it for someone else to clean up.

Laura Hutchinson is a wife and mother who has taken a leave of absence from her legal career and gives practical, real-life advice on How to Get Your Shit Together. You can follow her on Twitter @HowToGYST.

Read: Need to organise your home? The three Ls are the secret to finding time to declutter>

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Laura Hutchinson

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