What the heck is that you ask? The latest hot declutter trend. That’s what.
And there’s a new book out all about it.
I’ll explain how it works practically in a moment. But first, why it is so important and how it can help big time, if you – and your family – are drowning in clutter.
And feeling utterly rubbish about your total inability to get rid of it or stop more coming in.
(There’s a big load of psychology coming up so whizz to the bottom for the practical tips, if that’s not your thing. Or check out my simple FREE declutter guide. It includes checklists, daily challenges, selling tips and more.)
1. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning
The Gentle Art Of Swedish Death Cleaning was written by Scandinavian grandma Margareta Magnusson and has been a big bestseller because it has a new take on the crazy epidemic of clutter we are all facing.
Clutter is literally a disease that is causing misery in households across the world and seriously hurting our families’ mental health. Many of us are getting into debt filling our homes with stuff that doesn’t make us happy.
And then do you know what we do? We cling on for dear life to all that stuff making us miserable AND finally pass it onto our kids. Or our grandkids. Or some distant relative.
When we step back and look at ourselves, it’s crazy. Why the heck would we keep doing something that makes us so unhappy? And then dump all that misery on our loved ones?
“A loved one wishes to inherit nice things from you. Not all things from you.” M. Magnusson
Well the culprits it turns out, are three deep down instincts we all have in spades, that explain our weird psychology of clutter:
- Our clutter instinct
- Our hoarding instinct
- And our fear of death
And it’s these villains Magnusson takes on in Swedish Death Cleaning by unleashing a secret power we may not realise we have!
I’ll explain now how these baddies took over – we’ll dive deeper into the psychology – but if you’ve got the gist, whizz to section 3 for Magnusson’s practical ways to fight back.
2. The Psychology Of Clutter
Our Clutter Instinct
As humans we instinctively like stuff. All the pretty, shiny, useful stuff we dream up and make with our clever hands.
And from when we’re tiny, we grab at it. We do this, partly because it’s pretty and clever, but partly because we’re anxious.
I mean, the world’s a scary place isn’t it? And stuff comforts us. Sort of. We think.
But when our clutter instinct joins forces with our hoarding instinct and our fear of death, oh boy, we are in trouble!!
Our Hoarding Instinct
Back in the day, hoarding was useful. It got us through bad winters and famine. And fear of death is pretty essential for survival isn’t it?
However, they both increase our natural tendency to grab at and cling to stuff and throughout history we humans have got ourselves into a right old mess with clutter.
Take the Egyptians for example.
They tried to take all their clutter with them when they died, rather than palming it off on their relatives. I’m not sure which is crazier!
But basically whenever times got tough – Game of Thrones style – we humans hoarded.
Our world was turned upside down and we didn’t know how it would turn out, so we held onto stuff. Lots of stuff. Just in case.
Which is understandable. If there are monsters on the march, we want to be ready for them.
And most of us had a secret weapon to keep our hoarding sensible: we were just too poor.
BUT 200 years ago, a new monster appeared. A Frankenstein, we created ourselves.
The Clutter Monster
Suddenly, the clever machines – we humans invented – could create clutter at a volume never seen before in the whole of history.
Even poorer people could indulge in more pretty stuff. And it soon became a problem.
Victorian novels are full of characters who collect stuff. And can’t stop. Authors like Charles Dickens saw the monster for what it was: an addiction dragging families into debt.
And Dickens know this first hand.
His dad, John went to prison because he kept buying pretty china plates, he couldn’t afford.
How crazy is that? His family ended up in prison with him because he couldn’t stop shopping for stuff he already had!!
BUT these days crazy clutter hoarding is an epidemic. And MOST of us suffer from it. So don’t think clutter is your personal failure. It’s not.
The Crazy Clutter Epidemic
Today’s machines let some people capture huge wealth by spewing out crazy volumes of clutter at lower and lower cost.
Skilled jobs are lost but the clutter keeps coming and every day we are bombarded with stuff at cheaper and cheaper prices.
Clothes. Toys. Gadgets. Furniture. Food. Entertainment. More AND more of it.
It’s more than we could ever have space for. More than we could ever have time to enjoy.
BUT it is so hard for us to resist, because we are human and we like stuff and once that stuff has invaded our homes, it is even harder to let go.
And that’s because we are wired deep down:
- To cling onto things
- And to hoard in case of bad times
And because we are scared of dying, we dump our crazy clutter on our families when we die.
It’s all totally understandable. But it is no less crazy than the Egyptians burying their clutter in their pyramids and we have to do something.
Because millions of ordinary families now struggle with clutter chaos causing:
- Family conflict
- Debt & financial difficulties
- Stress, anxiety and depression.
Honestly the emails I get in response to my declutter newsletter are heartbreaking. People are hurting out there.
So the last thing we want to do is pass on that pain to our loved ones. And this is where Margareta Magnusson’s The Gentle Art Of Swedish Death Cleaning comes in.
Her simple advice helps us slay the clutter monster right here, right now, so we don’t bequeath the battle to others.
3. Putting Swedish Death Cleaning Into Practice
The Gentle Art Of Swedish Death Cleaning is full of practical decluttering advice based on Margareta Magnusson’s own experience of letting go of loads of her stuff so she didn’t pass on that burden to her children:
She did this as a pensioner – who’s had 5 kids and 17 different homes! – but her approach is relevant for all of us, however old, and really highlights that decluttering is a family affair.
And it all starts with one big declutter question, Magnusson tells us to ask.
The Big Declutter Question
We’re used to asking whether stuff makes us happy – whether it sparks joy for us – but Magnusson tells us to ask:
Will anyone be happier if I save this?
The magical power of this question is that it makes us start talking honestly in our families about the few things that truly make us happy.
And this unlocks a way to let loads of stuff go that is incredible joyful: and that’s gifting.
It might all sound a bit airy fairy but it is easy to put into practice with these simple steps.
Simple Steps To Start Gifting
- Recognise it’s odd to hold onto so much stuff that doesn’t make us happy
- Even odder to dump it on our families
- Accept little value in lots of things we own
- Commit to living with only things that bring happiness as “benefits incalculable”
- Get the family talking about the things that truly bring them happiness
- Gift things they can enjoy more than you
- Talk to all your friends and if they can enjoy more something you don’t love, gift it.
- Don’t make assumptions about what people will enjoy, ask them
- Make a party of it invite people round to see what you’re ready to pass on and encourage them to take anything they’d love BUT without any obligation to
This thoughtful gifting away of belongings brings deep joy. And we shouldn’t wait til old age to do it. As we move through milestones in our lives, we need to pass on things that will now make other people happier.
This is a brilliant habit to get kids into. It really helped my 9 year old let go of toys that will make someone else happier.
And once you start looking at stuff in that way, it’s amazing how much it frees us to let stuff go: all those craft supplies, books we’ll never read again, the kitchen gadget still in it’s sealed box. Someone else could truly enjoy them.
But it also lets family and friends be honest about stuff they don’t love and don’t want.
And which we need to “gift” in a different way.
The Stuff No One Wants
If we cannot find anyone to gift things to, Magnusson advises us to:
- Donate them to charity
- Or sell them and make a donation
Which seems blindingly obvious, doesn’t it? But it is now much easier to pass this stuff on because we have got into the “gifting” mindset.
It turns out, we have a deep instinct to “give gifts”, which we can use to fight the monster our hoarding instinct has become.
The Gifting Mindset
So the “gifting” mindset can be super helpful for people who totally resist decluttering.
It appeals to all our better angels, and may just be the breakthrough you need, for hoarders in your family, old or young.
Gently create opportunities for them to gift. Rather than nagging them to declutter.
The huge power of this – like lots of the ideas in Swedish Death Cleaning – is it makes us look at our clutter differently.
And not just us but our families too.
Practical Tips For All The Family
The book is a must read for baby boomers.
Magnusson combines handy tips on downsizing your way to retirement freedom with refreshingly honest advice to avoid dumping clutter on your kids when you die.
But tips like these work for all ages:
- Avoid emotional clutter at the start but recognise different members of the family will be emotional about different things
- Keep just one special box of mementos you can truly enjoy revisiting
- Make a “death kit” with hard copies of passwords and essential financial details, it sounds morbid but will make life so much easier if something happens to us
- Focus on what makes us happy and stop worrying about the rest and let it go.
- Stop treating ourselves with things and learn to enjoy things without owning them
If you’ve struggled to declutter, Margareta Magnusson’s Gentle Art Of Swedish Death Cleaning could be your breakthrough.
Especially if you’re drowning in your partner’s, kids’ and parents’ clutter as well as your own.
The secret power of gifting may be just what your family needs to start fighting back and defeat the the clutter monster.
I really hope this helps to get your whole family decluttering.
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