How to Leave This World in Peace

The Nordics always know better. Tapping into the Swedish approach to life and, mostly, death, learn how to leave behind a beautiful legacy.

By | January 7, 2021

“I often ask myself, will anyone I know be happier if I save this?”— Margareta Magnusson.

The book Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning (aka Döstädning) by Margareta Magnusson piqued my interest when I heard of about it in the organizing community last year. It sounds morbid and I understand there is much taboo and superstition, but the topic of death has always been an open conversation growing up in our household, as death is certain and we were raised not to be afraid of it. As a teenager, I have to admit I was very upset that my mother wouldn’t save any of the vintage items from her parents’ homes when she had to clear out their mountain of belongings after they passed. She explained to me why and vowed she too would never burden us with “stuff” after she herself passes.

That level of compassion opened up my eyes to how this was truly an act of love for her kids. My parents have openly communicated to the family how they want to age (in a retirement home with friends!), and that they are not resuscitated or put on feeding tubes when the end is near. Just recently they casually discussed how they had decided that they don’t want to be laid in a burial plot despite already owning one as they do not wish to burden their descendants with managing and visiting their grave. We truly believe that our soul will be everywhere once we pass, so we don’t need to be tethered to a physical location.

Now, as a young mother of two, I can see clearly that the “lessons” we leave behind to our descendants are far more precious than the physical belongings. As Magnusson states in her book, “Living smaller is a relief.” Some of my favorite lessons from my parents include their zest for life (they are life-long travellers!) and the ability and excitement to learn at any age. Aside from that, I have started to pass down to my own children what my parents have taught me, including 該做的事先做完 (“finish what you need to finish first”),把握機會 (“don’t let opportunities pass you”) and being in tune with our heart and mind with spirituality to guide us to do the right thing 有謙卑的心 (“with a humble heart”).

What I appreciate about this particular book is how it guides you to prepare your affairs and belongings in order to leave behind a legacy of how you want to be remembered—we are in control of it and have the ability to design it! In this respect, you can apply the KonMari Method® as your motivation and goal is to spark joy not only in your life but in your loved ones as well. After all, it is more blessed to give than to receive. This selfless act of taking care of your family members is an act of love. If we don’t want to burden family members or cause strife among them, precious items can be sold so that the money can be distributed equally with no drama. The same goes for items we want to remain private even after we pass—perhaps it’s time to let go of it with gratitude. Can the memory live on without the memento?

Losing a loved one is absolutely not a matter to be taken lightly—a part of you will always long for them, and they will always be a part of you. Rather than overwhelming our loved ones with all the stuff that we leave behind, or even worse, messy wills and unclear inheritances that split families apart, we can mindfully and thoughtfully organize our life so that when the time comes, everything will be in order and our loved ones will have the space to mourn in peace.

“Do not ever imagine that anyone will wish—or be able—to schedule time off to take care of what you didn’t bother to take care of yourself. No matter how much they love you, don’t leave this burden to them,” Magnusson advises. After all, isn’t peace of mind one of the greatest gifts we can leave behind?

Rebecca Jo-Rushdy

Rebecca Jo-Rushdy

The Tokyo-HK-NYC transplant is Malaysia’s first KonMari certified consultant, professionally and passionately dedicated to creating space for joy in people’s lives. Rebecca is also a mother of two daughters and a few dozen house plants.