Swedish Death Cleaning Explained: Definition, Steps & Tips

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If you’ve ever cleaned out a loved one’s home after they passed away, you know how stressful that can be. Swedish death cleaning aims to solve that problem, at least in part. 

Döstädning is the Swedish word for death cleaning. And it’s a method of decluttering that’s sweeping across Scandinavia and the United States, alike. 

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Margareta Magnusson is the author of the definitive text on Swedish death cleaning, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. Magnusson presents the method as a means to living a happier life, in addition to making things easier for your loved ones after you die. 

Below, we’ll go in-depth into what Swedish death cleaning is, exactly. We’ll also provide some steps and tips for getting started with Swedish death cleaning—a few from Magnusson herself. 

What Exactly is Swedish Death Cleaning?

In Swedish, means “death,” and städning means “cleaning.” But döstädning—“death cleaning”—isn’t something you do after someone has died. Instead, Swedish death cleaning is a process you undertake in preparation for your own death. 

Death cleaning has the goal of ridding your home of unnecessary belongings and clutter. That way, when you pass away, your family has fewer things to deal with. But Swedish death cleaning also has many benefits while you’re still living. 

ยป MORE: How do you host a virtual or hybrid funeral? Start here

 

What’s the Swedish Death Cleaning Method?

The Swedish death cleaning method is essentially a more extreme form of minimalism. It’s similar to the popular Marie Kondo method in some ways. But you’ll find yourself getting rid of much more stuff overall. Instead of holding onto anything that “sparks joy,” you’re tasked with giving away any items you don’t use regularly. 

After you’ve finished the death cleaning method, your house will be streamlined, clean, and decluttered. You’ll have more space to focus on the things that matter most, and you’ll have a more restful home environment. 

10 Tips to Start Swedish Death Cleaning

Do you want to give Swedish death cleaning a try? Maybe one of your New Year’s resolutions is to declutter your home. 

If so, here are some tips that will help you start the process and get through the journey of Swedish death cleaning.

1. Start Swedish death cleaning whenever you want

You don’t have to be dying to start Swedish death cleaning. In fact, you’ll get many more benefits out of the process and the results if you begin as soon as possible. 

You can do a round of Swedish death cleaning in your 20s, one in your 30s or 40s, and one once you’ve passed middle-age. 

Similarly, it’s never too late to try Swedish death cleaning. Most of us acquire clutter large and small over a long lifetime. Swedish death cleaning will help you pare down and aid your family after you’re gone. 

2. Take a deep breath

Swedish death cleaning is practical and unsentimental. It’s all about ridding your home of as many items as you can, without making daily life harder on yourself. 

Before you dive into Swedish death cleaning, take a deep breath and prepare to make some tough decisions. As you go through the process, it will become easier to part with things you no longer use. 

But when you’re just getting started, you might find yourself mourning the loss of trinkets, furniture, and clothing—even if they’re things you never use. 

3. Work big to small

Sometimes when you’re cleaning or decluttering, it helps to start with smaller items (clothes, shoes, pots and pans, etc.) You might even start by organizing and storing important personal documents

With Swedish death cleaning, though, you want to start with large items and work your way to the smaller things. 

Take a look around for furniture you could do without. Is there a chair no one ever sits in? A table that’s just gathering dust? It’s time to donate those things to your local thrift shop. 

Getting rid of large items first is the best way to get the ball rolling with Swedish death cleaning. It can immediately free up space in your home and help get you in gear for further decluttering. 

4. Keep one box of personal mementos

Part of any decluttering process is paring down everything you have in storage. This is especially true with Swedish death cleaning. When your family cleans out your home after your death, you want them to have as few boxes to worry about as possible. 

While you’re still alive, though, you might have photos and other personal items you want to hold onto as keepsakes. These are small items that have sentimental meaning for you. They’re not necessarily things you want to pass down or give to family members after you die. 

Limit yourself to just one storage box of personal mementos. This will help you identify which items are truly meaningful, and which you can give away right now.

Tip: If you're interested in unique ways to honor a loved one that won't take up too much space, you can consider a custom urn from a store like Foreverence or even have a memorial diamond made from ashes with a company like Eterneva.

5. Put your last wishes into action

Part of Swedish death cleaning is giving away, donating, or throwing out items right now, rather than waiting until you’re gone to pass them on. 

For example, if you’re holding onto your mother’s wedding ring because you want to pass it down as an heirloom, you can pass it on now, instead. A piece of antique furniture that you love, but which no longer serves any practical use in your home, is another example of something you can give away. 

Imagine what you want family members to do with your belongings when you’re gone. Are there items you want them to keep? Are there things you wouldn’t mind them throwing away? Are there items you want them to donate to charity? 

Instead of making a list of your belongings and what you want family to do with those things, you can put your “last wishes” into action right now. The only things you hold onto will be things you use regularly. 

6. Gift items gradually and thoughtfully

If it’s too jarring to give away all of your belongings at once, you can gift your items gradually, over time. Make sure to think about who you want to have each item and why. You can even give family and friends meaningful belongings for birthdays, housewarming parties, and holidays. 

While you’re waiting to give things away, it’s best to set everything aside in highly-organized storage boxes. Create one for birthday gifts and one for housewarming gifts. Create a box of items you want to give to your daughter and one for your nephew. 

Setting items aside and storing them in that way will help you parcel out your belongings over time, but also ensure you don’t hold onto unnecessary things.

7. Ask for help

Swedish death cleaning can be taxing, both physically and mentally. As you’re beginning the process and paring down large items, don’t be afraid to request help from family and friends. 

Your friends and family can help keep you honest about which things you really need and which things you don’t. You can also let them go through your closets and cupboards and take a few things off your hands right away.

8. Donate and sell

You’ll most likely end up with a lot of stuff that you don’t want, and that family and friends aren’t interested in taking. 

If you want to make some extra cash, you can hold a yardsale to find homes for some of those belongings. Other items can be donated en masse to a local charity. 

9. Declutter regularly

After you’ve finished a round of Swedish death cleaning, it’s important to maintain that way of life if you want to hold onto your decluttered results. 

As you go through daily life, examine every item you bring into your home. Before you make a purchase, consider whether that thing will truly find use on a daily basis. 

One of the benefits of Swedish death cleaning is that you’ll learn to appreciate items without actually purchasing them and bringing them home. 

10. Create or edit your end-of-life plans 

Finally, you’ll want to create an end-of-life plan—or update your current end-of-life plan—to let your family know what to do with the rest of your stuff. 

Maybe you want them to throw away your box of mementos that contains personal journals and memories. Perhaps you want them to donate everything they can. Maybe you don’t really care what happens to the rest of your stuff. 

If you have any wishes regarding the items that remain in your home, make sure to write those wishes down in your end-of-life plan. 

Swedish Death Cleaning for Life

Swedish death cleaning is a great way to honor your family and give them a more peaceful mourning process. But Swedish death cleaning is also about more than death—it’s about how we live life. 

Through Swedish death cleaning, you can rid your home of unnecessary clutter that might be weighing you down, both physically and spiritually. Rather than focus on belongings, Swedish death cleaning can help you live more for meaningful experiences and the people you love. 

If you're looking for more tips on decluttering, check out our guides on downsizing your life, how to get rid of clothes, and what to do if you inherited a house full of stuff.


Sources

  1. Magnusson, Margareta. “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.” www.simonandschuster.com/books/The-Gentle-Art-of-Swedish-Death-Cleaning/Margareta-Magnusson/9781501173240

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