If you’ve done a search for decluttering tips during the past few years, you’ve probably seen or heard the term Swedish death cleaning — and thought, ‘Whaaat is this? Swedish death cleaning? Who wants to read a book about preparing to die?’
If you’ve hesitated to read any further about the topic, then this post is for you. Here’s my take on the Swedish death cleaning book and why I think doing a Swedish death purge is — or isn’t — something you might want to try.
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What Is Swedish Death Cleaning?
The term ‘Swedish death cleaning’ was coined by author Margareta Magnussen in her 2018 book ‘The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter.’
‘Swedish death cleaning’ comes from the Swedish word döstädning, and it’s a process of decluttering your household and preparing for the future with fewer things. Swedish culture believes in being prepared, so Swedes will often do this type of ‘cleaning’ when someone’s health starts to decline or if they’re close to retirement age.
Okay, listen… I understand the term might make you a little uncomfortable.
But think of it this way… More and more of us are living a fantastic, long life. Along the way, we usually hit a certain life stage where we start thinking about our later years and quality of life.
With that, we question whether we really want to live in a large house. Then we start to wonder if we have too many unnecessary belongings or personal mementos and sentimental items.
In her book, Magnussen helps readers figure out which items they can easily get rid of. She also suggests taking some time to handle sensitive issues and prepare your loved ones who will be sorting through what’s left of your possessions after you’ve died.
The author also discusses many events from her life, which makes the book a bit of a memoir and fun to read.
Some reviews that I read claim Swedish death cleaning is a process that can be done by anyone at any stage of life, but I tend to disagree.
For most of us, there is no reason to try Swedish death cleansing when we’re in the midst of raising a family and collecting all the stuff that goes along with that.
However, when that natural ‘next stage of life’ comes along, it could be the perfect time to consider doing a major clutter purge. Whether or not you call it ‘death cleaning,’ letting go of excess and decluttering after 50 in order to live a happier life is always good.
Top Decluttering Mindset Tips From Swedish Death Cleaning
These are the actual passages I highlighted when I was reading Margareta’s book for the first time.
With that in mind, some of these statements seemed logical (though not always easy), some things surprised me, and some things were very pragmatic.
1. “Death Cleaning is Not Sad”
This chapter title is the main message, and it really says everything you need to know if the book title makes you uncomfortable. Rather, death cleaning is a great way to approach dealing with personal items that don’t improve everyday life. And it’s also a positive framework for having sensitive conversations that we may have been avoiding.
2. “… but the death cleaning took almost a year.” p. 35
This is probably my favorite surprising takeaway from the book.
Because this book feels like it’s written from a place of cool Scandinavian practicality, I doubt the author has ever had an issue with holding clutter. She seems to take an unsentimental approach to dealing with clutter. Therefore, the fact that she spent nearly a year doing her own death cleaning is significant… and actually encouraging.
If you’re living in a home filled with a lifetime of clutter and memories, it’s TOTALLY OKAY to spend a LONG TIME working through the process of decluttering.
3. “No matter how much they love you, don’t leave this burden to them.” p. 9
4. “A loved one wishes to inherit nice things from you. Not all things from you.” p. 40
This is the no-nonsense older lady talking… the one who’s going to let you know straight-up that leaving your mess for someone else to deal with is the epitome of rudeness.
I know SO MANY people with houses overflowing with things they’ve inherited, and it’s heart-wrenching to see how overwhelmed and guilt-ridden they become.
Let’s not do that to our family members and beloved friends.
5. “You can always hope and wait for someone to want something in your home, but you cannot wait forever, and sometimes you must just give cherished things away with the wish that they end up with someone who will create new memories of their own.” p. 42
I think this is where SO MANY of us get stuck. We fall into the trap of thinking we need to find exactly the right person for every.single.item in our home — and it’s even more difficult when we’ve attached sentimental feelings to an object.
However, it’s absolutely imperative that we get past that sticking point. We cannot make others responsible for items just because WE want them to go to ‘a good home.’
If those things don’t belong in our space, then it’s simply time to let them go… even if we don’t know where or with whom they will end up. We are no longer responsible!
6. “Regard your cleaning as an ordinary, everyday job. And in between, enjoy yourself as much as possible with all the things you like to do.” p. 48
What a fabulous reminder that ‘death cleaning’ doesn’t have to be a depressing job that takes up every moment of the rest of our lives.
It fits in seamlessly with my recommendations for short decluttering sessions and how to reduce clutter in your home.
7. “Sooner or later you will have your own infirmities, and then it is damn nice to be able to enjoy the things you can still manage to do without the burden of too many things to look after and too many messes to organize.” p. 48
THIS is exactly why I started decluttering several years ago!
8. “You really can’t take everything with you, so maybe it is better to not try to own it all.” p. 75
This definitely tends toward the minimalist side of ownership, and it feels like a very Scandinavian attitude. In my opinion, that’s a good thing. 😉
9. “If I give a present to someone, I understand that it may not stay with that person forever.” p. 83
Okay, let’s think about this in two ways:
First, regarding the things you give to OTHERS. Once you give something to another person, you no longer have a say in what happens to it. And that is OKAY.
Second, it’s important to remember that just because people gave things to YOU, doesn’t mean you need to keep unwanted presents forever out of some misplaced sense of guilt.
10. “I often ask myself, Will anyone I know be happier if I save this?” p. 121
I think that HONESTLY answering this simple question is THE most important thing you can do when undertaking ANY type of decluttering project.
More Decluttering Help
8 Strategies To Use When Your Partner Refuses to Declutter
Top 7 Decluttering Mistakes for Overthinkers & How to Avoid Them
9 Practical Decluttering Tips for Seniors – Simple Lionheart Life
11 Top Tips For How to Start to Declutter a Room
As you can tell, the process of Swedish death cleaning is not for everyone. That said, there’s no time like the present to start making changes that will make daily life easier later on down the road.
So how about it… are you ready to try some Swedish death cleaning tips to help you get rid of items that will no longer be useful in your new home or lifestyle? If so, you’ll want to pick up a copy of the book and read it for yourself to make sure you get the most out of it for your situation.
You’ve got this!
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5 thoughts on “10 Takeaways From Swedish Death Cleaning That Will Inspire You To Declutter”
Thank you for this great post.
I recently gave away an old family sideboard. It had been in a family southern plantation for a hundred years, and UGLY as sin. Nobody in the family wanted “The Hulk” and I took it because I am the sentimental fool in the family. Well, I’ve been dragging it with me, everywhere I’ve moved, from Florida to Oregon for the past 20 years. Recently, my roommate’s sister came for a visit and stopped in her tracks and just went crazy over it when she saw it. So I gave it to her. Not a twinge of guilt. It is now in the hands of someone who will cherish it. She sent me a picture of it in her home, all shined up and polished. “The Hulk” has a new home.
I think this is very important. I’m not at the end, as far as I know, but I definitely need to work on decluttering my stuff. The thought of inheriting everything in my parents’ home is pretty overwhelming.
Thanks for the thoughtful post.
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I recently left my partner of 19 years. I went from a 1600 sq ft home to a two bedroom apartment. I took the time and have gone through every single item in the house (it is being sold and needed to be emptied) with the help of friends. I have sold or given away to friends, strangers or charities everything that I no longer liked, needed or wanted. Anything that reminded me or triggered me from my previous relationship was gone. This was not done in a mean spirit, I just want to really move on. I don’t want to enter my apartment and be reminded of my past relationship. I sold all heavy furniture and now have only furniture I can move with the help of another 50-something female, if needed. I LOVE my apartment so much more than I ever loved my home. I felt overwhelmed and burdened in my home, trying to manage 3 persons’ possessions, two dogs, work, the house and yard and for all intents and purposes….life as a single mom with a non-helpful partner. I still have several bins to sort out, but I will finish those this summer. Among those bins are a bin of my father and a bin of my sister’s possessions as they both passed away in the last 6 years and I haven’t had the time or emotional strength to get rid of it. Instead, I moved them. Lol! Those precious bins will be moving on as well. I am now single, 56 years old with a progressive disease and I have one child. I do not want to leave a ton of stuff for him to sort out. I have what I want and need and he can empty it out in a day or two, when the time comes. If I am healthy enough and have the luxury of knowing about my death in advance, I will help him! I am SO much happier than I have been in 20 years. I feel as if I have lost 200 pounds!
Nanette, thank you for sharing your experience! It sounds like you have a fantastic attitude and you’re making a great start on your new life!