What is Swedish Death Cleaning?

November 16, 2023

Swedish Death Cleaning might sound dramatic, but this trending topic is gaining some traction, and for good reason. Although the name implies dying, it’s actually about living… living lighter, freer, and happier. 

What is it?

We’re all guilty of it. Over time, we accumulate a vast sea of personal belongings: clothes, furniture, glassware, photographs, books, jewelry, and the list goes on. And while it may seem morbid to think about it, who will go through all of it and decide what to do with it when we’ve passed? 

That’s how the idea for Swedish Death Cleaning was born. That jarring name comes from the Swedish dostadning, death (do) and cleaning (stadning). The concept was introduced to the world by author Margareta Magnusson in her book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter. (Not exactly pithy, but pretty much says it all.) Magnusson, an artist, decided to write the book after dealing with the death of her parents and husband and being faced with deciding what to do with all their possessions. The point of the book is to help people slowly begin to declutter their homes so that their death isn’t such a burden for those left behind. Morbid sounding – fine, but genius nonetheless. It’s even inspired a hit show

How It Works 

Swedish death cleaning is not a quick fix but an often complicated and time-consuming process. Magnusson explains this as a process to “remove unnecessary things and make your home nice and orderly when you think the time is coming closer for you to leave the planet.” 

While death cleaning, at its core, is about preparing for death, it doesn’t solely apply to those who are nearing the end of their lives. Swedish death cleaning can occur many times during a lifetime, including at the end of a relationship, when downsizing, or taking care of what remains after a family member’s death.  

Although any time is a good time to start to declutter your life, the book recommends age 65 as a good starting place. You’re hopefully still physically able to tackle the job and also have the time to invest in it. When your closets are bulging, or your drawers won’t shut all the way with all the junk in them, it might be time to employ the Swedish death cleaning method. 

Giving It A Go

A good place to start is with clothing. It’s easier to identify what you need and what you don’t when it comes to clothing vs. something with more emotional attachment, like photographs and souvenirs. Examine clothes, shoes, and accessories. See what still fits or what is hopelessly out of style. Make a toss pile and donate to a good charity. Win, win! 

Next, declutter items that occupy the most space. Furniture fits the bill as most of us aren’t as emotionally attached to tables and couches as we might be to special jewelry or gifts from over the years. And thanks to social media, it’s easier than ever to sell what you’d like to discard and have someone come pick it up and remove it! Plus, it’s a nice way to generate a little extra cash to spend on experiences, rather than more stuff. 

From there, you can work your way down to smaller items and personal mementos. Perhaps dedicate one box for hard-to-part-with items like letters and photographs and think about it another time. 

Don’t Forget Digital 

An often-overlooked form of clutter is in the digital realm. Think of the confusion and frustration after a loved one dies trying to untangle passwords and other challenges of their online life. Make sure to have one secure place with all your important login details for things like online bank accounts, credit cards, and myriad other bills and accounts. Take time to declutter your hard drive and desktop as well, it will make your loved ones’ lives so much easier! 

Declutter and Donate

Getting rid of something doesn’t have to mean losing it forever. Swedish Death Cleaning can be a great way to gift your friends and family objects you no longer need or want but might be special for them to have. Many items can be sold or donated to good causes instead of going into the trash. And you don’t have to wait until you’re late in life to try this organizational technique. It would be helpful at any age to get a clearer sense of what matters most to you. Keep yourself surrounded by the things that have a deeper, more personal meaning. 

As long as you’re paring down clutter around your home and surrounding yourself with the most meaningful essentials, you’ll declutter your mind while making life for your loved ones a little less chaotic. 

At its heart, Swedish Death Cleaning is about making decisions about what you keep and what you let go! Give it a try and enjoy the freedom of less clutter.