The Practice of Swedish Death Cleaning + Beginner Tips

Published November 30, 2020
Empty dresser drawer and messy clothes all over the floor before organising

What is Swedish death cleaning? The name sounds a bit eerie. Swedish death cleaning is a topic that has gathered a lot of attention and interest. Learn about the practice and discover several reasons why it is a skill that you may wish to embrace.

What Is Swedish Death Cleaning?

Many people make the incorrect assumption that Swedish death cleaning is a process used for cleansing the dead. The Swedish word döstädning means "death cleaning" and is the process of eliminating unnecessary clutter and possessions from your life. It is an act that helps prepare for death, but has incredible benefits for while you are still alive.

Margareta Magnusson

The concept of Swedish death cleaning has become popular around the world, thanks in part to the book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, by Margareta Magnusson. An exhibited artist, Magnusson has five children and eight grandchildren. She has moved seventeen times, both in and out of her native Sweden. The book shares her experiences decluttering, sharing with those in need and sparing her heirs the difficult decisions about what to do with possessions after death.

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter

Tips for Making Swedish Death Cleaning Work

If decluttering your home is a resolution, here are some tips that will help you start and sustain the process of cleaning your life before your death.

Start Any Time You Want

You can start Swedish death cleaning any time you want. You do not have to be "at death's door" to begin this process. In fact, you will receive many more benefits from the process the earlier you begin. Many people will do several rounds of the process during their lifetimes. Trying a cleaning at mid- to late-twenties, and then once each decade, can be helpful and productive. It is also never too late to begin to trim the excess from life.

Set Aside Sentiment

Put a stoic smile on your face. Swedish death cleaning is a practical skill to organize and simplify your life. This is not the time to be sentimental or overly emotional. The process involves making some difficult decisions that may trigger memories and emotions. When the process first starts, it is easy to start mourning and grieving the loss of each item. As the process continues, it will become easier to part with things that you no longer use. The value of uncluttering and prioritizing in your life will bring a smile to your face.

Tackle the Big Items First

Start with the larger items in the house or room and then work your way to the smaller things. Begin with the largest items in the room. Quickly look at the furniture for items you could do without. Is there a chair that no one uses? A local charity or thrift store can benefit by your process.

Be Organized in Your Efforts

Progress through the house in an organized manner. The task of whittling down a lifetime of accumulation is large and may be overwhelming. Map out a plan that will move you through your house one room at a time. Celebrate steps of progress along your journey.

Limit What You Keep

Limit yourself to one box of personal items. There are some items that you will want to hold onto as personal mementos or keepsakes. These items may have special meaning to you, but may not mean a great deal to others. Set them aside in one storage box. This will help you see what things are really meaningful to you, opening the door to give away other things.

Start Slow and Small

For many, giving away everything at once is an overwhelming task. Give away times gradually, over an amount of time. Think about who you want to have certain items and why. Give your family and friends meaningful belongings of yours for birthdays, holidays and special occasions. As you are waiting to give things away, organize your items in storage boxes marked for certain people or certain occasions.

Sell Items

There will be many items that friends and family simply would not be interested in having. A great way to make some extra cash is to hold a yard sale. The saying "One man's trash is another man's treasure" can add treasure to your pocketbook.

Donate Items

Rather than prolong the process indefinitely looking for the right buyer for the right product, consider taking the items to a local charity or thrift store.

Maintain Your Efforts

Maintain this lifestyle by engaging the process on a regular basis. Examine the motives and the reasons behind every article that you bring into your home. Make a purchase only on items that you will really use almost every day.

Woman organizes clothes in living room of her home

The Greatest Benefits

Perhaps the greatest benefit of Swedish death cleaning is the psychological gains you will receive in going through possessions and paring down the things you accumulate.

  • There are strong arguments that assert eliminating clutter allows you to better focus on the things that are really important to you.
  • Many sociologists agree that happiness does not come from things, but from relationships and experiences.
  • The process may help you cope in a more positive way with your own mortality. Western culture often avoids talking about death and making related decisions at a time when there is less stress.
  • Research shows that the soon you clean, the better. People are less likely to pare down their possessions the older they get.
  • There is a strong movement toward anti-materialism. Motivated by religious or political values, along with an environmental push toward less of a "footprint" on the planet, a minimum of material possessions is a desirable discipline.
  • Finally, you will want to create an end-of-life plan to let your family know what you want to do with the rest of your things that remain after your death. This will take away the pressure and stress of making decisions about your possessions at a time of mourning and loss. Decisions about who will be given special family mementos can be made ahead of time. The fact that some items have no real meaning for you will be a great help to your heirs.
Senior woman looks through some memories just before the house move begins

Cleaning Your Possessions and Your Conscience

Utilizing the Swedish death cleaning process provides a concrete way to organize and declutter your home and life. Using these tips for structure, you can move your way towards the peace of mind of a prioritized life and the freedom of knowing you are not leaving difficult decisions for your loved ones after your death.

The Practice of Swedish Death Cleaning + Beginner Tips