The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson

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“Part guidebook on how to how to de-clutter your home, part meditation on coming to terms with aging and how to make the process of downsizing less painful,”

“The only thing we know for sure,” writes Magnusson in the very first sentence of the book, “is that one day we will die. But before that, we can do anything.”

Apparently, one of the most important things one can and should do is decluttering his/her house.Because, as our favorite modern lyricist Leonard Cohen says : “Putting your house in order, if you can do it, is one of the most comforting activities, and the benefits of it are incalculable.”

So, let’s see what this means in practice and how tidying up your home can be – or even is – related to death.

Döständning, or One Last Sweep Before You Die
Let’s start with an inevitable fact: one day you’ll die, and you’ll leave a lot of items behind you. Have you ever thought about what will happen to them once you’re gone?

As it should be only obvious, your loved ones will one day have to go through them. You can guess the results: they’ll throw away some of them, they’ll keep others, they’ll try to decide who deserves what of the most valuable ones.

This process is both physically and psychologically taxing; in many cases, no wonder that, in many cases, it can result in acrimonious disputes.

Take, for example, Margareta herself.On her deathbed, her mother left her a charming bracelet. However, unlike her mother, Margareta has five children, so she knew full well that no matter what her choice would be on who to inherit it, that bracelet will probably cause much more sadness and bitterness than joy and laugher.

Her solution?She simply sold the bracelet; as valuable as it was (of course, emotionally much more than financially), it wasn’t nearly as valuable as family bliss.

The selling of the bracelet was part of Margareta’s döständning, Swedish for “death cleaning,” or, as we would like to say “one last sweep before you die.”It may sound strange, but it is a fact of life in the Scandinavian countries.

Just like it is a great idea to clean your house before you leave on vacation (so that you are not shocked once you come back), the Scandinavians believe that it is an even better one – nay, a duty! – to comb through all of your belongings and throw away the unnecessary stuff before you live this planet.

After all, who knows them better than you? And why should you bother others with your useless items?

Decluttering Is Bonding – If You Do It Right
In other words, if you care for your loved ones, then it’s only fair to spare them the emotional and physical burden of cleaning up your stuff.
Start with your attic or basement (depending on which one of the two you have) and with the big items: furniture, books, items that take up a lot of space…

It’s not that you can’t start with the small items in that secret box under your bed, but let’s face it – it will take you forever to make any progress if you do that.

Not that it’s easy to get rid of your old dollhouses or twice-used sports equipment!After all, these items will remind you of your happy childhood days just as you’re nearing to your death; and, as we learned from Citizen Kane, nothing can be more poignant and heartbreaking than that!

However, think of the problems your books or toys may cause between your loved ones once you are gone; and should we remind you that you won’t be there to mend them?

So, ask yourself for each item: will you ever need this again? Will someone else need it?

Granted, as tricky as it is, the first question may be a bit easier to answer than the latter one.

Magnusson has a solution for that: if you don’t know if something will be useful to some of your loved ones, well, call them and ask them!
While you’re alive.There, now you’ve created a great opportunity for the family to bond!

Because not many of them will know everything about the younger “you,” and some of them – like your grandchildren, for example – will probably discover a completely new “you.”

Nothing bonds as much as a walk down memory lane.

Here’s your chance to walk it – while you declutter!

Döständning and Being Discreet
As you’ve probably guessed, it’s a bit dangerous to invite your loved ones over to help you declutter if some of the things you’ve kept throughout the years, you’ve kept hidden from them for a reason.

Take a page out of Margareta Magnusson’s book.After the death of her parents, she was death cleaning their house and found a few unusual items; for example, secret cartons of cigarettes hidden in a linen closet.

Apparently, her mother was smoking in private – something she didn’t want anyone to know or find out. Margareta included: she realized that she might have been happier if she had never found about her mother’s vice.

More mysterious and even scarier, in her father’s desk, Margareta discovered a large piece of arsenic dating from at least three decades before her father’s death.

Since her father passed away in the 1970s, it was evident to Margareta that the arsenic was acquired when her parents had feared that Sweden might be invaded by the Germans.

However, why did it remain in the cabinet for so long? Did her father – or even her parents – had another secret that Margareta would probably never find out?Once again, do you really like your children and their children to wonder about things such as these once you’re not alive to offer an explanation?

So, be very careful before you start inviting your relatives and gifting them your memories. Some of your memories are not supposed to be given away.Yes, that is especially true for your diaries and your love letters!Read them carefully and see if there’s anything in there you don’t want anyone to find out.If so, ask yourself whether it’s smart to keep them still.

Time to throw them away or, better yet, burn them!

The Throw-Away Box and the Cabinet for the Ugly
Now, Margareta knows that it’d be almost impossible for you to get rid of things as personal as diaries, letters or photographs.

If that’s the case, Margareta suggests putting them in an easily disposable “throw-away box,” adorned with a sticker: “please throw away this without opening it.”

This should certainly help since it bereaves you of the burden of throwing away something you cherish in addition to relieving you from your doubts that these things will eventually be seen by someone else after your death.

But, let’s face it: there’s no guarantee about the latter. So, we suggest the strategy above: when you are confident that something of yours should be seen by nobody other than yourself, make sure that you are the last person who’ll ever see it.

On the subject of throw-away containers – Magnusson mentions another type:I do know people who maintain what we in Sweden call a fulskåp, a cabinet for the ugly. A fulskåp is a cupboard full of gifts you can’t stand to look at, and which are impossible to regift. Usually these are presents from distant aunts and uncles that you put on display when the giver comes to visit.

You don’t need Magnusson to tell you that “this is a bad idea.” It both occupies space and inspires others to give you similar gifts.

If those gifts are not who you are – be honest.

If you’re a girl and you vax, you know what we’re talking about: the rip of the Band-Aid hurts like hell, but everything’s both better and cleaner soon after.

Key Lessons from “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning”

  1. Decluttering: A Lesson from the Vikings
  2. Swedish Death Cleaning: The Art You Should Master
  3. Decluttering and the Two Questions You Should Ask About Each Item You Own

Decluttering: A Lesson from the Vikings
Once you die, you leave behind many of your items on this planet. Of course, these become a responsibility of your loved ones: they need to clean your stuff up.So, take a page out of the book of the Vikings: when they died, they were buried (or cremated) together with their belongings.

This way, the Vikings believed, they wouldn’t miss their favorite items in Valhalla; but also – speaking in more practical manners – this way the surviving loved ones wouldn’t have to quarrel over who should own them.

For example, in Greek mythology, Ajax went mad and killed himself after Odysseus got Achilles’ armor soon after Achilles was killed.

Yup, that’s a very cruel, but also good, metaphor for the problems your bracelet may cause once you die – if, say, you have more than one daughter.

Swedish Death Cleaning: The Art You Should Master
There’s a better way to tackle this problem.It’s called döständning in Swedish, a word which can be translated as “death cleaning” in English.

And it means exactly what you think it means: getting rid of the stuff you don’t need so that your surviving loved ones don’t have to once you leave this planet.

It’s not only good manners – but it’s also a great way to spare your loved ones the psychological burden of painful memories even long after you’re gone.

“Let me help make your loved ones’ memories of you nice,” says Magnusson at one place, “instead of awful.”

Decluttering and the Two Questions You Should Ask About Each Item You Own
An excellent way to decide whether an item should be thrown away or kept is by asking two questions about it.The first one is the obvious one: “Will I ever need this?”

The second one becomes more important with every day you’re nearing to your death “Will anyone I know be happier if I save this?”

If you don’t know the answer to the second question, invite your loved ones and ask them in person. Thus, decluttering becomes a great way to bond with them.

However, don’t ever forget:

You can always hope and wait for someone to want something in your home, but you cannot wait forever, and sometimes you must just give cherished things away with the wish that they end up with someone who will create new memories of their own.

Before The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, we didn’t even know that there was such a thing as “death cleaning.” Now, it’s suddenly all we think about.

“A fond and wise little book,” writes Dwight Garner for The New York Times. “I jettison advice books after I’ve flipped through them. This one I will keep.”

The Seven Spiritual Laws Of Success Summary

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The Seven Spiritual Laws Of Success brings together the spiritual calmness and mindful behavior of Eastern religions with Western striving for achieving internal and external success, showing you seven specific ways to let both come to you.

Deepak Chopra is one of the most well-known advocates of Eastern medicine and approaches to health and living in the Western world. He’s written over 80 books (!) a great deal of which have become bestsellers. To this day, The Seven Spiritual Laws Of Success remains his most popular one, having spent over a year on the NYT bestseller list.

He’s often featured in documentaries too, like Finding Joe, which is also where I first saw him. This book is about combining both Eastern and Western philosophy to arrive at a middle ground that’s the best of both worlds: calm, patient, confident about the future, yet not attached to outcomes or desperately struggling to get to your destination.

Here are my 3 favorite lessons:

  • Be defenceless. Stop justifying yourself.
  • Have strong, positive intentions to make what you want areality.
  • Just show up and serve the world and let your purpose findyou, instead of fighting to find it.

Let’s look at how you can merge Eastern spirituality with Western drive, shall we?

Lesson 1: Accept your struggles, because the people who make your life difficult are here for a reason too.

Imagine you move to a new place. Apartments are expensive, so you decide to get a roommate to share rent with. For the first week, things go great. But then you start to discover little annoyances here and there and after two months, you’re really upset by some of your roommate’s behaviors.

For example, he might not clean his dishes after cooking and let them sit in the sink, or she might always tell you to take out the trash, but never take it out herself.

Of course this makes you frustrated, but there’s only one good solution here: accepting the situation and looking for the lesson it’s supposed to teach you.

Have you ever thought that even the people and events that make your life more difficult might be there for a reason? Maybe you just haven’t learned to stand up for yourself enough, or not written enough, or not helped others enough.

Accepting where you are and not forcing your view of the world on others is what Deepak Chopra calls defencelessness. It’s the art of giving up the need to justify yourself and it’s very powerful, because it lets you move on much faster.

Lesson 2: Manifest your desires with intense, positive thoughts.

However, that doesn’t mean you should just let yourself get steamrolled whenever there’s a dispute. It just means you have to look for a different way of making your dreams come true. Instead of arguing where the world throws negativity at you and trying to flip it, why not direct your positive intentions forward in those areas of life that really matter?

You’ve surely witnessed the power of a self-fulfilling prophecy firsthand. You told yourself you’d do great at something, you walked in with confidence – and then you did kick ass.

This is the power of positive thinking, and it works for one simple reason: it programs your actions subconsciously, by getting you in the right mindset.

For example, if you’re stuck in that roommate situation from above, you could then proceed to pick out all the things that are wrong with your apartment and your living situation, thinking about how you want to move, but can’t afford a place on your own. Or, you could be grateful for having a place to live for now and instead focus your energy on getting an even better place, for example by thinking about what you want your next apartment to look like.

The universe has a funny way of working out, but in essence, you’ll most often get back the same kind of energy you put in. You give negative energy, you get negative energy back. You give positive energy, you’ll get back more positivity.

Lesson 3: Let your life’s purpose find you, instead of desperately struggling to find it.

This is one of the lessons that couldn’t be closer to my heart at the time I’m writing it. Just two days ago, I had a huge mental shift. For weeks I’ve been working on and preparing the launch of a product based on the content I’ve created all year long. But something didn’t feel right. And then I realized: I want to be a full-time writer, but not at all cost.

I don’t want to create products, just for the sake of having products. I want to create things of real value. And if at some point, what I do allows me to keep on writing full-time, because it happens to pay the bills, then great! If not, that’s okay too.

Ask the universe what you can do for it, not what it can do for you.

Don’t try to desperately force yourself into a certain purpose and then that purpose upon the world. Take a look at yourself. Where are you right now? What can you actually do? Where can you give help? Where can you create value?

And then let the rest fall into place. Once you start waking up excited every day and seem to have endless energy to get things done, that’s when you know you’ve found it.

My personal take-aways

These laws aren’t complicated. But they don’t exactly feel simple either. I think that’s because they pull from two opposing sides. And while that makes them not quite easy to fully embrace, it’s also what makes them so very powerful. If you’re hungry, if you want to achieve big things, but feel your impatience is sometimes hurting you in the process, this is for you.

The Art Of Happiness Summary

Categories Happiness, SpiritualPosted on

The Art Of Happiness is the result of a psychiatrist interviewing the Dalai Lama on how he personally achieved inner peace, calmness, and happiness.

Yesterday morning, at 7:00 AM, my uncle died. He went to the toilet, back to bed, fell asleep, and just never woke up again. He was 52 years old. Last year he had lost 60 lbs, and was in the best shape of his life.

Seneca said “Life is long, if you know how to use it.” But sometimes life truly is short. I think he used his life well. Nevertheless, if you’ve ever faced such pain in your own life, you know that you instantly start to search meaning in it.

My search led me to “The Art Of Happiness”, a book based on psychiatrist Howard C. Cutler interviewing the 14th Dalai Lama about happiness.

Here are the 3 things I learned:

  • You don’t have to be religious, to be spiritual.
  • The only constant thing is change.
  • Know your limits.

Let’s examine them a bit further.

Lesson 1: You don’t have to be religious, to be spiritual.

My uncle’s body will be cremated. Do you know how long the Wikipedia article for cremation is? It’s a widely spread, religious practice, used in many cultures, Western or Eastern.

I don’t know much about it. No one in my family is very religious, some of us are even atheists. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be spiritual.

The Dalai Lama says it doesn’t matter which religion you belong to, or whether you belong to any, for that matter.

He believes in basic spirituality, being compassionate, a good person, and caring for one another.

I spent a lot of time thinking yesterday. I took a long walk with my roommate, and we talked about life. My Mum called, and I spoke to my cousin as well.

We each have our own way of dealing with suffering, and none of them are right or wrong.

To me, being spiritual means seeing the bigger picture, understanding that there is a meaning behind everything, and learning from both good and bad events.

Only then can I take what I learned and use it for both my own and the greater good.

Ask yourself: What does being spiritual mean to you?

And then don’t let anyone tell you you’re wrong.

Lesson 2: The only constant thing is change.

When asked about suffering, the Dalai Lama shares a big mistake we “Westerners” make: thinking it’s unnatural.

Suffering is a part of life, he says, but by rejecting that we make ourselves into victims and start assigning blame, when there really is none to be assigned.

The only constant thing is change.

As contradictory as it may sound, it means we have to learn to let go.

Resistance to change leads to suffering. As a matter of fact, it is the root cause of suffering.

Once you accept the change, you can openly address it, find the meaning in it, and learn from it.

You can bitch and moan about slamming your car door and hurting your hand, yell at the cashier for being too slow, or cry for hours after a loved one dies.

But the second you accept the change, that’s when progress happens. It’s when you calm down and turn the situation around. And that’s the path to happiness.

Lesson 3: Know your limits.

There are a lot of different approaches to building confidence, most of them based on challenging yourself (including mine).

The Dalai Lama has a great alternative point of view here. He says to know your limits.

Be honest with yourself and others about what you can and cannot do. If you’re okay with not knowing everything, then you can openly admit it, and won’t feel like a fraud.

So rather than building confidence from the outside, build confidence from the inside, by allowing yourself to be honest.

And if you don’t understand something, try this. Say “I don’t understand.” People will explain again.

Being okay with your limits, however, means knowing what they are in advance, and that requires self-awareness.

So do an audit on yourself. What are you really good at? What do you suck at?

Go all in on those strengths, and be honest with yourself and the world around you.

My personal take-aways

It takes a while to process when a loved one dies. I know I haven’t fully grasped it yet. But I’m not going to fight it.

Instead, I’m taking 2 major lessons from my uncle’s premature death:

Stop doing shit you hate. There is no reason to do work you don’t like. None.

Spend time with family and friends, because you never know how much you’re gonna get.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he stopped by our house the day before he died and talked with my Mum about not doing things we don’t like.

If anything, it’s a confirmation for me to keep writing, coaching, freelancing, and doing work I enjoy, until everything comes together in the big picture.

I’m really grateful for this lesson, and for the Dalai Lama’s wisdom. 

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