Death cleaning

Have you ever heard of Margareta Magnusson? Probably not. But she is attracting a fair amount of attention right now because of the publication of a new book: The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. She admits to being north of 80, and so presumably the prospect of her passing from this earth is a little more on her mind these days. The Swedes even have a name for this phenomenon—they call it döstädning. The idea is that you do all your younger relatives a favor by pruning down your pile of life possessions so that when you finally do exit, you don’t leave behind such a massive cleanup job. Isn’t that a sweet thought?

Have you ever had to clean out the house of a relative who passed away or needed to go into assisted living? Wow—what a massive labor of love. Both my mom and mother-in-law are still living in their homes, and so those two cleaning adventures await us, but I was part of the team that had to clean out my wife’s aunt’s small house and garage. It took two 14-hour days, and we still didn’t get all the stuff out. Exhausting! You know, moving gives people periodic incentive to travel lighter, but Carol and I haven’t moved. We’ve lived in the same home for 31 years, and we are both borderline hoarders. I hope our dear Lord spares us a few more years so that we can do a little döstädning. Our kids would never forgive us if they had to do it all.

There is a cottage industry in decluttering these days. The Japanese “organizing consultant” Marie Kondo’s best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, tells readers that if a certain possession doesn’t “spark joy,” discard it. Her latest book, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up, has practical advice about decluttering. The letgo.com website will help you move all your used stuff. Peter Walsh might be the King of Declutter; he has quite a few books out, including Lose the Clutter; Lose the Weight, Let It Go, Enough Already! and the It’s All Too Much workbook. Perhaps you saw his Clean Sweep TV show on the TLC channel.

Writer James Wallman says people today suffer from “stuffocation.” I get that. I have the soul of a Victorian-era decorator, and for me two square feet of blank wall space in my home is like an empty canvas waiting for color and line. Carol and I have a friend whose house and yard are crammed with an overload of stuff; we constantly warn and mock each other, only partly in jest, when we think the other is becoming like her. Do I like all the stuff in my house because of its beauty and usefulness, or am I drifting into hoarding and maybe even greed? Am I sharing joy or showing off? Jesus tells us, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).

Maybe outing myself like this will help me get started on the döstädning process. How cluttered is your house?

Pastor Mark Jeske has been bringing the Word of God to viewers of Time of Grace since the program began airing in late 2001. A Milwaukee native, Pastor Jeske has served as the senior pastor at St. Marcus, a multicultural congregation on Milwaukee’s near north side since 1980. In addition, he is the author of several books and dozens of devotional booklets on various topics.


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