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  • Writer's pictureHilary Jay

Til Death Do Us Part - Or Not


The Swedes call a particular kind of decluttering döstädning: dö meaning “death” and städning meaning “cleaning.” Death Cleaning! A term as ominous as it is inevitable. But let’s face it, even the most minimal among us have too much stuff. No matter how old you are or your stage in life, taking responsibility for clearing out unwanted things should be done sooner than later. And, the process can be liberating. That's the premise behind Margareta Magnusson’s 2018 book, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning,” who posits you’ll not only feel better for purging, but you’ll be doing the next generation a big favor.


Letting go, downsizing, editing, curating - whatever you want to call it - is a perennial process that includes culling through books, clothes, personal papers, photographs, even the kitchen pantry on a regular basis. No question, inertia easily sets in when you have space and no particulate impetus to do the de-cluttering work. Still, the psychic weight of metaphorically carrying unwanted stuff takes a toll.


Purging can be so overwhelming, though, that procrastination sets in. Here are six tips we use at the Department of Better to help clients begin the process, and stay the course.


  1. Start small. Break the big job into smaller parts by picking one space or one category of thing to tackle. Start with the bookshelves, cedar closet, or attic crawl space, for instance, and focus there before taking on another area. If you’re overrun with boxes of family photos, become your own curator, selecting only the best to preserve. Share your duplicates with family or friends.

  2. Out of Sight. Remember why you stashed stuff away in the first place. Marie Kondo has a point. Focus on keeping only those things that bring you joy; let the rest go.

  3. Get creative. Rather than trying to sell that Santa Claus collection, offer it up for your favorite charity auction. Organize a pop-up yard sale with neighbors to move out things like clothes that don’t fit, tschotckes, kids toys, and household items. Ask your local historical society about archiving historic family papers. Art school programs are perfect for old magazines and certain ephemera.

  4. Don’t discount hand-holding. This is emotional work that often requires a kind, gentle approach. Having a friend, family member, or professional working alongside eases, and sometimes speeds up, the processes. Plus, that second opinion is invaluable to the decision-making process.

  5. Save yourself embarrassment. Those old love letters and journals might be better in the recycling bin than discovered after you’re gone.

  6. Get Help. Finally, professional organizers lend a layer of empathy and expertise to the entire process. Consider hiring a pro who can create a strategy, a schedule, and a process custom-made for you.


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