How do I decide what personal property to keep for me or my family?

A recent WSJ article discussed the art of decluttering our lives, which has become a hit TV series but offers a serious discussion regarding how to determine what is valuable in our lives:

How ‘Swedish Death Cleaning’ Became the New ‘Tidying Up’  A European decluttering philosophy focused on mortality is catching on in the United States, thanks to a bestselling book and a new reality TV series onPeacock

By Chavie Lieber Follow, May 24, 2023 

Since losing her mother in 2021,Barbara Mohs has been sorting through family photos, Christmas ornaments, Danish china plates and vintage magazines, deciding what to keep. A new TV show has helped her see the value of relinquishing objects.

“At one point in the show, they say, letting go of these things does not diminish your love in any way, and that really resonated,” Mohs, a retired elementary schoolteacher in San Antonio, said of “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.” Since watching the reality show on NBC’s Peacock, she has given away many of her mother’s possessions and has also begun to sort through her own. “My kids don’t want to carry around this china or silver,”Mohs, 59, said.

Margareta Magnusson’s book on the subject was first published in 2017. Popularized by a self-help book from 2017, Swedish Death Cleaning follows a simple philosophy: Who wants to burden family members with clutter left behind? Swedish artist Margareta Magnusson,the book’s author, wrote a how-to guide for döstädning—the practice of getting rid of material possessions at the end of your life.The English translation, published in 2018, became a bestseller in the United States. After the April premiere of the Peacock show, weekly sales for “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” more than quadrupled in the U.S., according to Scribner, its American publisher.

In an email, Magnusson, 89, said the practice should not be viewed as somber. “Sad and morbid is a good description of what it is like to amass a bunch of stuff, and not really appreciating it,” she said. “[It’s sad] to leave all this cleaning to others. Keep the things you
really, really love, things that you look at and enjoy regularly. Get rid ofthe rest of your stuff.” In the Peacock show, which is narrated by Amy Poehler, three “Death Cleaners”—an organizer, a psychologist and a decorator—work with clients including empty-nesters, a
retired singer and a woman with terminal cancer. The inevitability of death is a guiding force in their process.

“Obviously it’s not fun to think about your own death, but I could get hit by a bus tomorrow,” said Jina Anne, a 39-year-old user-interface designer living in the Bay Area. “And so I’m thinking about my brother and all the stuff he’d have to go through.” Anne said binge watching the show inspired her to part with furniture, broken devices, art supplies and old beauty products.

Casey Clowes, a 31-year-old attorney in Tempe,Ariz., said the show empowered her to get rid of an unwanted kitchen accessory that was a gift from an aunt, as well as some dance memorabilia she held on to since she was a child. “Sometimes you keep things out of obligation,” she said. “I’ve been asking myself, ‘Will anyone, including myself, be happy if I keep this?’”

The Swedish Death Cleaning trend shares some tenets with organizing consultant Marie Kondo’s keep-it-if-it-sparks-joy approach, laid out in her 2010 bestseller “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” Her book was also adapted for TV—in a 2019 Netflix series—but Swedish Death Cleaners say the Kondo method is quite different. “That’s more of a project whereas Swedish Death Cleaning is a mind-set,” said Ebony Mikle, a 42-year-old educational diagnostician in Dallas. “Now, with anything, I ask, ‘Do I need this, do I use this? Is this what I want people to find in my home?’” Mikle has also decided which family members will inherit her items.

Swedish Death Cleaners are advised to take their time going through items and to give things away as gifts when possible. Anything else may be donated or thrown away. “I set stuff aside, and then if I don’t need it for two weeks, I’m like, OK girl, let it go,” said Mikle.

Ella Engström, an organizational coach who stars in the Peacock show, said she was surprised by how much stuff Americans accumulate. She attributed the excess to a shopping culture. “We have this Swedish word, lagom, which means just the right amount, and it’s deeply rooted in our culture,” said Engström. “But Americans, you love your stuff, and you have something for every season! Someone has made you think you need those things.