Margareta Magnussen, who describes herself as somewhere between 80 and 100 years old, has cleared the houses of many who have died: parents, friends, in-laws, and her husband. In doing so, she’s come to know intimately how much stuff a lifetime accumulates; stuff left to the living to reconcile.
In 2017, Magnussen wrote a book called The gentle art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to free yourself and your family from a lifetime of clutter. A guide for setting your affairs in order, it finds that decluttering is noble not only in life but also in death. Minimizing the amount of administration left to the grieving, Magnussen urges, can be a gift.
While art is not clutter, it can require thought before you die. With a philosophy of care and flexibility, including virtual consignment, we can help lighten your load.
Lin Onus, 'Pitoa Garkman (Blue Frogs)'
In Swedish, Death Cleaning translates to döstädning – a combination of the word “dö”, meaning death and “standing”, meaning cleaning. The practice entails sorting through your belongings into what is essential and not, then parting with the latter. Magnussen suggests it can be done at any age, but particularly past sixty-five.
Decluttering has well-touted benefits for the living. It can reduce stress and boost happiness. Less stuff means less to clean and keep track of, more space to focus on what’s important, as well as the catharsis that comes with clearing.
"Life will become more pleasant and comfortable if we get rid of some of the abundance … Mess is an unnecessary source of irritation."
Charles Blackman, 'A Siesta'
As Magnussen argues too, it is also a way to reconcile with mortality.
"Some people can't wrap their heads around death. And these people leave a mess after them. Did they think they were immortal?"
Getting rid of things is a reminder that not everything lasts forever, even us. Sorting through our possessions can be a way to take stock of who we are and what legacy we want to leave.
Swedish Death Cleaning for collectors
Our Director, Angela, helped her living parents pass on an early colonial painting that while collectable, was no longer in vogue. It took a while for it to find the right custodian, continuing to happily live in her parent’s home, until it did. Virtual consignment can represent the gradual but steady transitioning of a collection onwards.
As valuable and culturally important objects, fine art takes care and expertise to pass on. Dealing with this before you pass can save another duty for your next of kin, while also preserving your legacy.
If you would like to explore parting with your collection, reach out.