the gentle art of swedish death cleaning


The very words “Swedish Death Cleaning” is sure to get your attention, but it’s not as gloomy as it sounds. It’s more of a wakeup call, a way to motivate you to action, and a way to reduce the burden on your family. 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, the idea is to declutter your home so your death doesn’t encumber your loved ones.

After dealing with the death of her parents, Magnusson was stuck trying to figure out what do with all of their possessions. The Swedish author writes about the Swedish idea of döstädning, which translates as death cleaning. “Visit [your] storage areas and start pulling out what’s there,” she writes in the book. “Who do you think will take care of all that when you are no longer here?” Also less disorder around your home to deal with can help you enjoy life more. “Life will become more pleasant and comfortable if we get rid of some of the abundance,” Magnusson writes. “Mess is an unnecessary source of irritation.” Death cleaning is not about dusting or vacuuming. “It is about a permanent form of organization that makes your everyday life run more smoothly,” she explains. And you may even find the process itself enjoyable, she adds. “It is a delight to go through things and remember their worth.”

Ask yourself (and be brutally honest in answering): Who will even want some of your old stuff? Magnusson’s bottom line is: “Someone will have to clean up after you. Whoever it may be will find it a burden.” At what age should you consider death cleaning? There is no magic age. You don’t have to wait until you’re in your 80s; middle age is probably a good time to start and if you are a bit of a pack rat maybe you want to start even sooner.

Family Handyman magazine says, “An important piece to Swedish Death Cleaning is involving others. This is helpful for a couple of reasons. For one, 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.”

A good place to start, Magnusson advises, is in your closet. You probably will find clothing that you no longer wear—like that tie-dyed tee-shirt from the 60s or those jeans that no longer fit—and tossing old clothes is a lot less emotional than say, sorting out that box of photographs. “In general when death cleaning, size really matters. Start with the large items and finish with the small...I do not want you to give up immediately.” 

Another good question to ask yourself, Magnusson writes in her book, “Will anyone be happier if I save this?” Family Handyman says, “It’s a good way to frame the inner monologue debate that will go on in your mind as you start to declutter.” Next offers that there is a bonus: “Your uncluttered, simplified life will bring you pleasure. Put on a little ABBA in the background while you clean and you’ll really feel it.”



Timothy J. Cuddigan (Founder - Retired)
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