Simplifying Connection Through The Gentle Art of Death Cleaning

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Much of Connection Theory is about simplifying and streamlining your existence, so that we can more easily glide into a connected life rich with meaning. Many books have been written and sold about simplifying/de-cluttering, and many of them are very good. But in our opinion, the best approach to simplifying is the one that works for you and your life.

Not everyone can purge all unnecessary belongings in one marathon stretch of tidying. With the mountains of stuff many of us have in our houses, it’s impossible to go through everything in a single sitting, or even over a weekend. Most people want or need to take more time to process saying goodbye to their belongings, especially sentimental ones.

We recently picked up the slim, charming book by Margareta Magnusson called The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. Despite the title, this is not a book about cleaning up after death – it’s a wise, warm, and compelling collection of personal stories intended to help people get real about their possessions, savor life’s pleasures, and not burden their loved ones with a house full of junk. It offers an alternative approach to tidying up that considers the personal, human details of each of our lives, and encourages honoring those needs as well as those of our loved ones.

Magnusson had to go through her mother’s, mother-in-law’s, and husband’s belongings after they died, and vowed not to leave that task to any of her descendants. With all her “death cleaning” experience, Magnusson is truly a master of her craft. Her book makes the case for purging your own stuff while you’re alive, and continuing to live simply throughout your life whether or not you feel your time on earth is drawing short. She guides the reader through the best practices she uses for parsing her own possessions, as well as tactful ways to start the process with your own relatives while they are still with us.

Her touching, matter-of-fact approach is a refreshing and inspiring read, full of human stories and struggles and thoughtfulness. She shares the rapturous joy of living simply, authentically, with only the things you love and cherish around you. She also shares the joy inherent in the process of death cleaning, writing: “One’s own pleasure, and the chance to find meaning and memory, is the most important thing. It is a delight to go through things and remember their worth.”

Throughout the book, however, Magnusson also emphasizes the value of “death cleaning” to your loved ones – the hours of toil, heartache and headache you will save them by parsing your own belongings and keeping them organized. For people who struggle to complete self-improvement projects without some external accountability or consequence (“Obligers,” to use Gretchen Rubin’s shorthand), this may be the angle they need to get started simplifying their connection to their possessions, and nurturing more authentic connection to themselves.

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