What Is Swedish Death Cleaning?

Living room with oriental rug

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Move over, Marie Kondo. Step aside, hygge. There’s a new kind of minimalism on the block. 

While Swedish Death Cleaning may sound like some kind of morbid crime scene cleanup, it’s actually a thoughtful and effective approach to decluttering.

What Is Swedish Death Cleaning?

A translation of the word döstädning, Swedish Death Cleaning is a method of organizing your home that asks you to consider what will happen to your worldly possessions—and the people tasked with dealing with them—after you’ve passed.

Okay, so maybe it is a little morbid. But Swedish Death Cleaning can actually provide some real benefits in the here-and-now, helping you decide what items are truly important and what you’d be willing to part with. Rather than a grim end-of-life task, think of it as a Scandinavian twist on the Konmari Method. 

What’s the History of Swedish Death Cleaning?

Swedish Death Cleaning is the brainchild of author Margareta Magnussen, who coined the term in her 2017 book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter. Magnussen asks her readers to consider the loved ones who must comb through your possessions after you’ve died, providing suggestions for making their experience as easy as possible.

Minimalist living room
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In practical terms, this means organizing and decluttering your home to reduce the burden of sifting through dozens of objects and trying to decide what’s significant. With Swedish Death Cleaning, you’ll have already done that for them by only holding onto items you've determined to be essential. 

“Sometimes you just realize that you can hardly close your drawers or barely shut your closet door,” writes Magnussen. “When that happens, it is definitely time to do something, even if you are only in your thirties. You could call that kind of cleaning döstädning, too, even if you may be many, many years away from dying.”

How Do You Do Swedish Death Cleaning?

While the essence of Swedish Death Cleaning is simple, this philosophy of decluttering can extend to numerous aspects of your home. It goes deeper than wiping down surfaces or even doing a deep clean—at its heart, Swedish Death Cleaning is about making decisions about what you keep and what you let go.

Well organized closet
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Do clothing first

Not sure where to begin? Start with your closets. It’s usually easy to sort through clothing and figure out what fits and what doesn’t (or what styles are better off going in the “toss” pile). While you’re at it, get organized and create a system for your closet—like reserving the main sections for regularly-worn items and putting seasonal clothing towards the back or up top.

Declutter by size

With furniture and other items around your home, start with the ones that take up the most space. From there, you can work your way down to smaller items and personal mementos—consider dedicating a box to hard-to-part-with items like letters and photographs. As you’re decluttering, don’t dwell on whether or not something sparks joy (this isn’t the Konmari method). Instead, simply take a clear-eyed look at the many items clogging up your kitchen and decide how many you actually use on a day-to-day basis.

Think digital

Our loved ones go through more than just our physical possessions when we die. You need to think of the digital clutter they’ll also need to sort through, which means making sure they have important login details for things like online bank accounts and other important sources of information. While you’re doing this, consider taking an afternoon to declutter your hard drive and desktop as well—that’s one mess no one looks forward to dealing with.

Well organized kitchen
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Common Misconceptions About Swedish Death Cleaning

As Magnussen mentions in her text, you don’t need to wait until late in life to start Swedish Death Cleaning. More than simply decluttering your home, taking this mode of minimalism up early can give you a clearer sense of matters most to you. Instead of being surrounded by random objects, the things you keep are imbued with deeper, more permanent meaning.

Clean living room
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Getting rid of something also doesn’t have to mean losing it forever. Swedish Death Cleaning can be a great way to gift your friends and family objects you no longer need, but might hold meaning for them—like that copper pan set you’ve seen them eyeing. You’ll also find that many items can be sold or donated instead of simply going in the trash.

In the end, there’s no right or wrong way to do Swedish Death Cleaning. As long as you’re paring down the clutter around your home and surrounding yourself with the most meaningful essentials, you’re not only making things easier for your loved ones—you’re living a more purposeful life in the present moment.