Swedish Death Cleaning: What to Know About This Decluttering Strategy

Updated: Jun. 09, 2023

Yes, the name Swedish Death Cleaning is off-putting but it's kind of meant to jar you into action to decrease the burden on your family. Find out what you need to know about Swedish Death Cleaning.

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What is Swedish Death Cleaning?

The name “Swedish Death Cleaning” gets a lot of attention for good reason but once you learn about it, it’s a pretty sensible, practical way to deal with your possessions as you approach your later years.

“The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning”

It’s based on a book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson. Magnusson, an artist, embarked on the book after dealing with the deaths of her parents and husband and tried to figure out what to do with their possessions. Magnusson, a Swede, writes about the Swedish idea of döstädning, which translates to death cleaning.

Dö means death in Swedish and städning means cleaning. The thrust of the book is to slowly begin decluttering your home so your death isn’t such a burden for those you leave behind. It’s similar to other trendy thoughts on home organization and approaches to life, like hygge style, which caught on recently.

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When to Start Swedish Death Cleaning

Magnusson urges those 65 and older to start the process of shedding possessions. Of course, you don’t have to be retired to start the process. Remember, this is, ultimately, a strategy for decluttering your home, something people of all ages can appreciate.

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Where to Start Decluttering

Magnusson says to stay away from photographs as the first entry point into Swedish Death Cleaning. Instead, try to start by decluttering the closet where you’re sure to find items you no longer wear and things that just don’t fit anymore.

You can start by selling some of the items you want to get rid of, a nice way to generate a little extra cash to spend on experiences, rather than more stuff. Once you get started, the purge becomes easier.

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cabinet rollout shelves
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What to Keep

You’ve kept certain items around the house as a reminder of an experience but you don’t need to have the object to trigger a memory. Your mind still holds onto the trip or special day you had that led you to keep a souvenir. Take a look in kitchen cabinets and make a note of how many plates and glasses you keep. Chances are you don’t need them all.

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Things to Document

An important piece to Swedish Death Cleaning is involving others. This is helpful for a couple of reasons. First, it will help keep you accountable if you tell others of your plan. It also becomes a good time to share with your family your wishes after you pass.

It’s during this process that you begin putting together a document that holds any login and password information for any financial institutions or other relevant information that’s going to be tough to find after your death. Make sure your remaining items are packed and stored properly.

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Woman putting money in a piggy bank
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Make it Last

Taking a new approach to something is never easy. It takes on average two months form a new habit. So, along the way of Swedish Death Cleaning, Magnusson says it’s alright to reward yourself. But reward yourself in a new way as well. Go see a movie or grab a cupcake, just don’t buy a bunch of new stuff.

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four newspapers piled up
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Will Anyone be Happier if I Save This?

That note your crush passed you in middle school isn’t going to mean anything to anyone other than you. One of the important questions Magnusson poses in her book is: Will anyone be happier if I save this? It’s a good way to frame the inner monologue debate that will go on in your mind as you start to declutter.

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How to Give Things Away

You can’t just give things away at random. People are unlikely to accept things that don’t have any use or meaning to them, leaving you to find somewhere else to take your stuff. To avoid that problem, Magnusson suggests bringing your things to friends and family as presents. Instead of a bouquet of flowers, give your friend whatever item of yours they’ve long admired.

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Swedish Death Cleaning Checklist

Ultimately, Swedish Death Cleaning is a decluttering process with the bigger picture in mind: the bigger picture being how your friends and family have to deal with the stuff you leave behind. The goal of it is to winnow down your possessions to the things you need and identifying what’s important to you. So there aren’t any easy 1-2-3 steps to the process, there is a rough path to follow to complete the task.

Start small: Tackle your closets or your clothing first. It’s easier to identify what you need and what you don’t when it comes to clothing versus thing with more emotional attachment like photographs and souvenirs.

Group items you don’t want: As you go through your things, identify the items you want to sell, things you want to give away, stuff to donate and, finally, what to recycle or discard.

Digital declutter: Delete the various accounts and services you don’t need or don’t use. For instance, you can probably delete that old Hotmail account from 2005 that you don’t use anymore. For the accounts and services you do need, find a secure way to store passwords and other information people will need to access it. It sounds a little morbid, but it’s important that someone you trust can take care of your email account, for instance, if you’re gone.

Work in manageable chucks: You don’t have to do all of this in a single weekend, and most people probably couldn’t anyway. Set reasonable goals for yourself.