the newest way to declutter: swedish death cleaning

The newest way to declutter_ Swedish Death Cleaning

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If you haven’t heard, the new decluttering trend these days sure is a cheerful one:

Swedish death cleaning. 

Pleasant, isn’t it?

Being the decluttering freak expert that I am, I had to look into it. I started with a web search and also read the book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter.

The book was actually charming at times. The author, Margaretta Magnusson, lives in Stockholm and is in her 80’s or 90’s and has undergone the “death cleaning” process three times. I’m not gonna lie — a good portion of the book is her reminiscing about events in her life that she was reminded of during the process of death cleaning.

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What is Swedish Death Cleaning?

Just like it sounds, Swedish death cleaning involves decluttering and purging your home in anticipation of your departure from this earth. The idea is that doing so will make it easier for your loved ones after you’re gone, while also making your time in your home a more pleasant experience while you’re still alive.

Do you feel warm and fuzzy yet?

The book was understandably targeted toward an older audience, but still presented nuggets of gold to those of us who (hopefully) still have a few decades left. In some ways, it reminded me of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Although, perhaps not quite as uplifting. [Insert sarcastic face here.]

The Swedish Death Cleaning Process

Like Kondo, Magnusson recommends saving sentimental items for last, since those are more likely to get you stuck. But unlike Kondo (whose approach to decluttering is strictly by category), Magnusson’s approach involves both category and room of the house.

Here’s the process for death cleaning Magnusson seems to recommend:

  1. Items/Areas you’ve likely forgotten about (e.g., basement, attic, junk drawers)
  2. Clothes
  3. Room by room (e.g., bathrooms, kitchen, garage, tool shed)
  4. Sentimental (e.g., photographs, love letters)

7 Tips for Swedish Death Cleaning

There are a few things you should keep in mind while going through the death cleaning process. I’ve compiled a list of 7 tips (below), based on my research and Magnusson’s book.

7 tips for Swedish Death Cleaning

1 – Remove excess. For example, Magnusson recommends keeping only the number of dish sets that your table can seat.

2 – Go digital. If you use the Internet for recipes, you can ditch the cookbooks.

3 – Discard with intention (and without guilt). Be intentional about finding a new home for everything you no longer wish to keep (e.g., Give to family/friends, Sell, or Donate). But don’t hold on to something forever, waiting for the perfect home to show up. At some point, you need to just get rid of it. And don’t feel guilty. As author Magnusson says, “I will never feel guilty for not keeping presents forever. To be grateful and happy for a present when you first receive it is something different, because that gratitude is not connected to the thing itself but to the giver who gave it to you.” (By the way, when giving gifts, consider giving books, or shopping second-hand.)

4 – Buy less. Learn how to enjoy things without owning them. And reduce waste by learning how to fix your things (e.g., learn how to sew). Reminds me of the documentary on minimalism that I watched. They said that while we are highly consumeristic, we should actually place more value on possessions than we do. If we did, we would care for them more, rather than seeing them as disposable. And if you do need to buy, try to buy second-hand.

5 – Be gentle and considerate of others. For example, consider those who might be — ahem — cleaning up after you. Don’t save anything that will unnecessarily shock or embarrass them after you’re gone. Likewise, for the people you might be cleaning up after, be gentle about broaching the subject of “death cleaning” with them. 😉

6 – Take care of yourself. While “death cleaning”, don’t forget to take care of your present life. Your home still needs cleaning, your garden still needs tending, and you still need showers!

7 – Allow yourself to feel and reflect. Give yourself the time and space to feel the feelings that will come from your death-cleaning experience. Although it sounds like a depressing activity, you might enjoy the opportunity to reflect on your life and all the events that helped shape you. You will also likely feel freer after completing the process, knowing that your home is in order and your loved ones are left with less of a burden.

Well, that wasn’t so bad, was it?

That said, while I do appreciate the need for “death cleaning”, I might stick to Marie Kondo’s method of tidying: Keeping what sparks joy and supports the lifestyle I envision for myself.

What are your thoughts on this new decluttering trend?  I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

8 Replies to “the newest way to declutter: swedish death cleaning”

  1. I like the idea of only keeping what I love. It just seems like a more cheerful approach to tidying. 🙂

    1. Agreed! 🤣

  2. Maureen Koeven says: Reply

    This is a brand new idea to me! I do love that “death cleaning” takes away all the self indulgent thinking and actually helps you reflect on others & what impact your stuff will have on them. We get so stuck on ourselves and how our things make us feel. If we thought more of others everyone would have a simple & more refined home with just the beautiful basic necessities. Thank you for this great article!!!

    1. Great point! I hadn’t thought about it that way — thinking more of others. 🙂

  3. After experiencing clearing out my parent’s home, which was the home I grew up in, I vowed never to put my children through that. I know that Mom and Dad intended to keep that from happening, but life circumstances changed their plans. It was physically and emotionally exhausting and I still have tons of stuff stored in CA for my children, because it all had to be done in a few days and our kids were out-of-state. My Mom is 98 and in a nursing home, I’m in PA and my brother is in AK. That home was an anchor of love and memories for all of us. There was 50 years of home to go through, and much is in storage for the adult kids. So, for two years I’ve been trying to get things organized and downsized and I hired an incredible woman to help me on just how to do that. She was amazing and left me all the “tools, tips training” that eventually get us through 31 years of stuff. Now that my husband has retired, he is beginning to see the yes, I think we need to be considerate of those that may have to come into our homes and clear our possessions out and I am praying I can do that for them and also for my husband and I while we still can.

    1. “While we still can” — so true. I guess that’s the key. We all think we have plenty of time, but at some point, we won’t have the energy to death clean! I guess it’s a balance of how much death cleaning you should be doing in each decade of your life. e.g., A person in her twenties won’t do as much as someone in her sixties, seventies.

      Thank you for sharing your experience of this with us!

  4. My husband always was a bit of a minimalist. He reckoned he could exist on three shirts – not!. Since 2008 we have moved twice – downsizing a bit each time.

    Since his passing last year I found and bought the book Swedish Death Cleaning and it makes sense to me. Our homes have always had a bit of a minimalist aspect but now there are still things that I need to deal with before I again move at the end of this year. Who in their right mind would let me loose with a heavy duty electric drill? If I have anything that needs drilling I’ll simply hire myself a handyman. There are some things that just make sense to get rid of.

    I do like your tip #1 – items/places you have forgotten about. In my case not so much forgotten about but avoided. Like your previous writers ….delving into deeply personal areas of those who have passed still feels like an invasion of their privacy. At least it’s a chore that I don’t have to rush.

    1. Wow, yes. An invasion of their privacy. I hadn’t thought about that, but I would feel the same way going through a loved one’s belongings. Thank you for sharing your experience and perspective with us, Julie!

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