I have known about The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning for years and have known people who read the book. When a follower dropped me a DM letting me know there was a show on Peacock, I gotta admit, I wasn’t too eager to watch. Once you’ve seen one decluttering show, you’ve seen them all, right? Then she mentioned that Amy Poehler was the narrator and producer and I was sold! I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised but how lighthearted and fun this show was considering it has the word death in the title. (A word that, let’s face it, I’m more comfortable with than most.) However, I almost instantly started seeing a pattern of major red flags and we need to address them ASAP!
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What is The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning?
While I haven’t personally read the book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, the basic takeaway is this: it is our responsibility to rid our home of clutter so our loved ones don’t have to deal with it after we’re gone. After we’re dead. There, I said it.
This is something I wholeheartedly agree with and have spoken about previously after I cleaned out my grandparent’s house and hosted their estate sale.
In fact, having to clean out a loved one’s home after they passed was one of the top reasons I found that inspired people to begin practicing minimalism in their own lives! Read: Traumatic Events That Create Minimalists.
Trust me, I know how difficult it can be to part with possessions, especially when we can’t bare the thought of our stuff piling up in a landfill! While I have previous shared my thoughts on this, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning — the show — really helped demonstrate the creative possibilities of repurposing and I absolutely loved it!
That being said, there were 5 major red flags that were flying around throughout the entire show, and I’m officially ready to dive in.
We need to get more comfortable with death
People always cringe when I bring up the word death. If I mention my life plans should my husband die before me, I am met with a lot of wide-eyed stares of disbelief.
In our culture death has become something that is tend to be seen as very hush hush and in poor taste to discuss. Personally, I think the more we keep our lips zipped about death, the more harm we are doing to ourselves in the long run.
Studies show that 42% of Americans are afraid of death to some degree. That’s close to half the population! If it isn’t our own death we fear, it is the death of a loved one.
Believe me, I know the loss of someone we care about, or the fear of the unknown for ourselves can be such an unpleasant thought, we’d rather shut it out, however, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning made the problem around our silence quite obvious.
Silence around death for the dying
In episode 2 of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, Shauna is a woman who is battling a terminal cancer diagnosis and wants to prepare her home for what she knows is coming.
During the declutter sessions, each host gets the opportunity to connect with psychologist Katarina Blom to help them cope with whatever their current struggles are around clutter — or more often, life itself.
When Shauna sat down with Katarina, she opened up and shared about how her family and friends had always said they would be there to support her, but that none of them would acknowledge her death out loud. During their conversation, she is brought to tears when she shares that, besides her doctor, Katarina is the only person to actually talk out loud with Shauna about the fact that her cancer is terminal.
The silence from Shauna herself as well as her friends left her feeling alone and unsupported during her literal death journey.
Making death a part of the conversation
Unfortunately, I know this type of scenario isn’t uncommon as I have had it play out in my own life. When my step dad had lived 3 years with a terminal diagnosis, there came a day when it became clear that his time on earth was coming to an end. Within a day, his home was filled with professional caretakers, doctors, and a hospice team and yet, no one actually told him that his next step was death.
It was crazy to me to think that up until that point in his cancer battle he had been walked through every step: surgeries, chemo, medicine…every poke, jab and procedure…and yet when it came time to prepare him to die, no one said a word.
At the end of the day, death is inevitable for all of us, our silence around it doesn’t have to be. I can’t help but feel if we in America allowed ourselves to open up the conversation more, there would be a lot fewer of us who live our lives being afraid of what it inevitable for us all.
*Mini Spoiler Alert* Thankfully by the end of the episode Shauna finds her voice and takes bold steps to share her wishes to be more open about her terminal diagnosis with her closest friends and family.
We let other people’s wishes dictate our lives
In episode 3 of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, we get a glimpse into the home and basement of a woman who is storing all of her mother’s belongings. Even though she has 2 children of her own and has become incredibly overwhelmed by all of the clutter, Lindsey, couldn’t help feeling obligated to care for the items her mom found valuable
As the declutter team, Johan, Ella, and Katarina, go through Lindsey’s house using Ella’s Dot System for quick decluttering they lay out a rule with Lindsay and her kids that “Only people who live here get to have a say,” as far as what goes and what stays in their home.
Even Lindsey’s two daughters in this episode make it clear that the clutter in the home causes them stress to see and be around. It’s a very eye opening episode about the effect that carting around more than we need can truly impact the whole family in a negative way.
Later in Episode 6 this same concept comes into play with Flora, mother of 8. Her adult children have never allowed her to declutter their belongings even though none of them are living under her roof.
If they don’t live here, they don’t get a say
Unfortunately, I know so many of us struggle with the fear of letting go of things that have been given to us. It’s not even uncommon for the gift giver to deal out a guilt trip about getting rid of stuff they’ve passed down.
For the life of me, I can’t remember where I heard this, but it’s the statement that after a gift has been given, it has already served it’s purpose and you are no longer obligated to it.
Setting boundaries around stuff
If you are someone who prefers to keep a more minimal home, and isn’t a fan of being given material gifts or hand-me-downs, get good at setting this boundary and clearly stating this to friends and family who love giving.
When your home is overwhelming for you, but is filled with the belongings of other people’s things, even your closest loved ones, there is nothing wrong with clearly stating that items must be removed or dealt with as you see fit as everything is contained in your space.
Clutter can be a sign that we’re blocking something out
There are several episodes through The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning where people are hanging onto or find themselves surrounded by clutter after the loss of a loved one.
Episode 4 Sue is grieving the sudden loss of her partner due to Covid. Because of the strict regulations, she never actually got a chance to say goodbye and her long time partner died alone in a hospital bed. Because Sue never truly processed her emotions or let go of her girlfriend, Sue continued to fill the house with stuff — which was actually covering up the history of a major woman’s movement that Sue was a part of.
Episode 5 Godfrey shares how he lost both of his parents almost back to back in the midst of battling cancer himself. He and his brother still share a home that is filled with their parent’s old belongings and Godfrey’s struggles to let go of the clutter because it feels like letting go of his parents all over again.
Over consumption has many faces
Just like we would notice a friend or family member drinking too much, partying too hard, or overeating in order to avoid their feelings, the same can be noticed for those who fill their homes with clutter.
Overconsumption in any form is a sure sign that we or someone we care about is struggling or grieving. It’s even better when we can recognize this same struggle within ourselves.
While we don’t all have access to a team or caring professionals, a good place to start can be:
- Setting small goals for decluttering Use my 160+ Things to Declutter Checklist to get started
- Seeking someone who talk to about our grief
- Staying connected to a minimalist or clutter-free community. Start with the Unstuffed Podcast
Our favorite things are getting lost in the shuffle
In the very first episode of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, the team connects with a 75 year old woman whose house is filled with…creative…knick knacks (you’ve gotta watch the show to know) and nostalgia from years past.
Another thing that she has held onto is a blanket of her grandmother’s but the beauty of the blanket is lost under piles of clutter. After working through her home to help her clear clutter from her space, Johan, the designer, literally works to design a room with this blanket as the center piece.
He goes through house after house helping home owners highlight their favorite pieces that had previously been lost in the chaos of clutter.
Decide what you value, let go of the rest
The realization that a lot of us have wonderful items that we cherish, or family heirlooms we want to hang onto, but rather than finding a way to display them, we store them away where they aren’t being fully appreciated. Read: Decorate Your House With Sentimental Items You’re Not Ready to Let Go Of
One of my personal favorite ways to declutter is by deciding what I value. Start by asking yourself what you want your life to look like, what you want your home to look like and then start letting go of anything that isn’t align with those images.
A lot of us are living in the past
One thing that can clearly be seen through most of the episodes of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is how so many of us stay rooted in our past through the things we aren’t willing to let go of.
Whether it’s collector’s items, photographs, or wardrobes from days gone by, it’s clear that many of us struggle to let go of our past, which only prevents us from showing up fully in our now.
There is a lot happening around you right now, in this present moment, but oftentimes the items you hang onto are preventing you from fully stepping into everything that is currently available to you.
It’s never an easy process, but slowly allowing yourself to detach from and let go of things from your past can be an incredibly healing process, and might even be considered a grieving process as you are truly having to let go of items and times that meant a lot to you. Allow yourself the space to grieve and let go and embrace the way doing so allows your heart to open up and accept the life in front of you right now.