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Sidebar | Sparks of Joy and Swedish Death Cleaning

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If our world worships stuff, a counterculture has arisen about the opposite: the rejection of stuff.

Books on the subject, serving as bibles for this movement have been written: The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson, and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo.

The two women serve up a philosophy of stuff that is almost like a religion. Ms. Kondo, for example, tours the world to teach this art of decluttering to disciples. The process isn’t so simple: the physical work is relatively minimal (pile all your stuff on the floor, choose the ones you love, and throw out the rest). However, the process of selecting the things you love will be difficult. To know if it is still important to you, touch something and “if it sparks joy,” keep it. If not, throw it out. It is also advised to start with clearing away less-sentimental objects (to avoid getting stuck the whole day with reminiscing instead of decluttering).

Ms. Kondo’s book also had tips about minimizing the use of space: there are techniques to fold clothes in a certain way so they can be stacked up or rolled away neatly. It’s not just about clearing space for your things, but also for clearing your mind. We guess it’s in line with a talk we heard in October from Japanese brand Muji. Muji’s art director, Kenya Hara, talked about “emptiness” in the Japanese consciousness: “Because it is empty, … there’s a possibility to be filled,” he said, referring to Japanese shrines and temples that were designed to be bare so that deities may reside in them.

A counterpart in the Western world can be found in Swedish Death Cleaning, which thinks about the world beyond, and the world we leave. Every death leaves in it wake remnants of lives lived, and it’s not always a pleasant trip to sort through the bits and bobs that have been left behind. The book advises a gradual cleaning, thinking the whole time about what would happen when you die and about the people who, if you do not do the decluttering yourself, will have to deal with your stuff once you’re gone.




Just like Ms. Kondo’s book, it advises one to declutter the things with most sentimental value last, so you can get on with your task and not be left in a swirl of memories. Documentation is important, and it advises the cleaner to leave behind notes or instructions to return, dispose of, or bequeath certain things—think of it like writing a will, but more personal and proactive. Things that may upset your loved ones should also be thrown away: and doing it now, while you’re still alive, also releases you from the object’s pain. Also, it advises people to do away with things they don’t need or use in this present life, but will be helpful to another. So, why not give your sister who loves entertaining that crystal punchbowl that’s been gathering dust in your cupboard? Why wait till you’re dead? – JLG