The Newest Way to Declutter: Swedish Death Cleaning

The Newest Way to Declutter_ Swedish Death Cleaning #swedishdeathcleaning #konmari
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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, which was actually charming at times. Leave it to the Swedes to find ways to incorporate balance and harmony into an otherwise dreary topic. 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. I almost felt like I was sitting down for a cup of tea with my great-grandmother, patiently waiting for her to get the point of her story. I suppose it’s a little charming… if you aren’t in a hurry!

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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. 😉

How to Do Swedish Death Cleaning

Like Kondo, Magnusson recommends saving sentimental items for last, since those are more likely to get you stuck. I’ve been known to get suckered into old photos myself. It can be enjoyable of course, but not very productive if you’re looking to get your life in order.

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

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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.

Swedish Death Cleaning Tip #1 | remove excess

For example, Magnusson recommends keeping only the number of dish sets that your table can seat. I recommend keeping those dishes versatile (e.g., tumbler glasses instead of juice glasses + wine glasses + water glasses, etc.)

Swedish Death Cleaning Tip #2 | go digital

If you use the Internet for recipes, you can ditch the cookbooks. Or, perhaps you have a growing pile of masterpieces and artwork from your kids? Save one or two and take a photo of the rest.
Or, if you like to read, consider switching to an e-reader. While I can completely appreciate reading a paper book (and still do sometimes), most of my books on my Kindle Paperwhite e-reader. The screen reads like paper, it’s super light to hold (great for traveling), I can look up the definitions of new words, and I can read it in the dark or in direct sunlight!

Swedish Death Cleaning Tip #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.)

Swedish Death Cleaning Tip #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 something said in the Minimalism documentary: Although we are highly consumeristic, we don’t actually value possessions very much. If we did, we would care for them more, rather than seeing them as disposable. If you’re buying a gift for someone else, consider the four categories of minimalist gift-giving. (Note: I also recommend looking on sites like OfferUp or Nextdoor for second-hand shopping.)

Swedish Death Cleaning Tip #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. 😉

Swedish Death Cleaning Tip #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! I fully advocate for a little bit of hygge while death cleaning. There are countless ways to practice self-care while you get your life in order.

Swedish Death Cleaning Tip #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.

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Well, that wasn’t so bad, was it?

I can appreciate the need for “death cleaning”.  As morbid as it appears, it’s actually quite liberating to feel like you’ve got your home in order.

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17 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!

  5. After my divorce I startet cleaning up. Always with my children in mind.
    One usefull thought was: my house is not a museum!
    A clear administration, a handwritten will, a secret place for all the pascodes, ect.
    The funny thing is that now many people love my home, because it is so clear.

    1. Good point about your house not being a museum! I like that thought and imagine it to be helpful when deciding whether to keep something or discard it. Thanks!

  6. One way to declutter is to ask a silly sounding question. Would I pay to air freight this to Hawaii?
    If not why am I keeping it? Try saying this when you are deciding whether or not to keep anything.

    1. Ha!! Wow, I love that. Definitely gives me a lot to think about. *Looks immediately at kids’ toys*

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  8. Oh my goodness this is a brand new concept to me and I love it. I can’t wait to get home from the holidays and declutter!

    1. Oh, how exciting! Let me know how it goes for you!

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