Swedish Death Cleaning: The Art of Decluttering

Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pixabay – Qimono

“Swedish death cleaning” isn’t nearly as macabre as it sounds. This method helps you declutter, downsize, and organize your things, so that the task doesn’t one day fall to loved ones left behind. 

In a time and society where almost everyone owns incredible amounts of unnecessary stuff, it is not exactly surprising that decluttering and minimalism are growing topics. How best to approach the seemingly monumental task of decluttering your home is up for debate, and there are several different popular methods. Swedish death cleaning is one of them. 

Swedish Death Cleaning: Organize Your Space

This decluttering technique and its morbid name come – surprise! – from Sweden: “Döstädning” is a compound word out of the Swedish word dö, meaning ‘to die’ and  städning, meaning ‘cleaning’. It is translated almost literally into English as “death cleaning”.

What is meant by this is the process of decluttering and sorting your apartment before your own death. The thought behind it is to consciously take care that your space is organized and not buried under piles of pointless junk, so that the burden of sorting through it all doesn’t one day fall to someone else.

But don’t panic: you don’t have to actually be preparing for your own death in order for Swedish death cleaning to be a helpful concept. As a thought experiment, it can help you decide what you really want to keep, and what is excess. This way, it is easier to get rid of the unnecessary things that we tend to collect. A life unencumbered by useless and redundant possessions is a liberated one.

Margareta Magnusson and “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning”

The current Swedish death cleaning trend is based on the book by Swedish author Margareta Magnusson, which was originally called “Döstädning” and translated to English as “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning”. 

You can get this book at your favorite local bookstore or online on Amazon**.

The basic concept of the book, and the method that it describes, is: 

“Death cleaning is not about dusting or mopping up… it is about a permanent form of organization that makes your everyday life run more smoothly.”

Margareta Magnusson
Swedish death cleaning bookshelf
Swedish death cleaning: Freedom through order. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash)

In a Youtube video, the author says 

“I think it’s a good thing to get rid of things you don’t need…It is not sad, it is more like a relief.”

Margareta Magnusson

Magnusson believes, a person should start using the Swedish death cleaning method as soon as one is old enough to think about it. Her message is: “Don’t collect things that you don’t want.”

Behind her philosophy is a simple concept: If I were to die tomorrow, it will fall to someone else to sort and declutter all of my things. The goal of death cleaning is to minimize the amount of junk and unnecessary clutter that someone else will one day have to sort through. 

How Swedish Death Cleaning Works

The Swedish death cleaning method is similar to the basic idea of Marie Kondo’s bestseller “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” (find it here on Amazon**): If you don’t want it and you don’t use it, get rid of it. 

“Keep only what you love and what makes you happy in the moment. It’s like Marie Kondo, but with an added sense of the transience and futility of this mortal existence,” writes Hannah-Rose Yee of the New York Post.

Margareta Magnusson has nothing against keeping things with sentimental value. She herself has a “to throw away” box with all of her letters, photos, and other things that are valuable only to her and can be gotten rid of without a thought after she is gone. 

Part of Magnusson’s method is speaking openly about death cleaning. This way, family members have a clear idea of what to expect when the time comes. Speaking about it with friends might also help you to fully commit to the idea and actually stick to it. 

books on a shelf
Swedish death cleaning means: only keep things that make you happy. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash- Roman Kraft)

Remember: don’t be afraid of throwing things away. It isn’t about forcing yourself to get rid of things that you care about, or to suddenly part with everything that has made your house a home. It is also not about the fear of death. It is about making your current existence a more comfortable one. 

Swedish death cleaning is not about death and its inevitability. It is about getting rid of things that don’t make you happy, that don’t enrich your life. This leads to a form of minimalism that is very individual and flexible. 

Magnusson advises: in order to make the process of decluttering less unpleasant, reward yourself! Treat yourself with something you enjoy: dinner at your favorite restaurant, see a movie you’ve been wanting to see, or take a weekend trip. Incidentally, buying new unnecessary things may not a fitting reward for carrying through on your Swedish death cleaning…

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Swedish Death Cleaning: The Art of Decluttering
Pin it! (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pixabay – Qimono)

This article was translated from German to English by Christie Sacco. You can read the original here: Death Cleaning: Der schwedische Weg, Ballast loszuwerden

** Links to retailers are partially affiliate links: If you buy here, you actively support Utopia.org because we get a small portion of the proceeds.

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