The Swedish Secret to a Decluttered Life



Photo: Oprah Daily

An easy path from the author of the bestselling Swedish Death Cleaning.

A very clever woman I know—or knew, as she passed away some time ago—had a natural tidiness about her.

Her name was Birgitta, and she was the owner of the Gothenburg art gallery where I had my first exhibition in the late 1970s.

People were always dropping in and out to look at her artists’ works.

To the left of the entrance to Birgitta’s art space there was a big table made of light brown marble looking like toasted meringue, a table around which the cultural celebrities of Gothenburg (there were not many; Gothenburg is not a big city) would gather to have coffee, drink sherry, talk art, and argue politics all through the day and night.

I did not participate in the nighttime sessions—I was a square with five children—but I do know that Birgitta had a slogan she would softly shout at anyone who stood up to go to the bathroom, or to go to her little kitchen to get a snack or more sherry: “Don’t leave empty-handed [Gå inte tomhänt]!”

“Don’t leave empty-handed [Gå inte tomhänt]!”

Birgitta was not instructing her guests to pluck pieces of art from the walls and take them home.

She simply wanted everyone to help clean the table bit by bit as the day turned into night.

Since they were going inside anyway, they could help by taking something with them.

Her gentle order was simple, friendly logic.

She said it to everyone, from the CEO of Volvo to the head of the Gothenburg art museum, from her interns to her artists.

All were asked. Nobody protested. Everyone helped.

I saw how her slogan was very effective, and so I started practicing her technique with my children at home.

In no time at all, it was part of our daily routine—and it wasn’t just for clearing the dinner table.

I think the principle of not leaving empty-handed can be applied everywhere you go in life.

If there are dirty clothes on your bedroom floor and you pass the laundry basket empty-handed, that is not clever.

The pile will only get bigger. Don’t leave empty-handed.


When … [ keep reading on Oprah Daily ]

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