What Is Swedish Death Cleaning All About?

Memories are funny things. They attach themselves to objects that otherwise seem meaningless. And they can make you hold onto something that you might not need anymore. Like your first record player that quit working 20 years ago. You don’t need or use it, but you haven’t let go of it yet.


With age comes accumulation, and oftentimes clutter. You hold onto things because of memories associated with them, or because of habit. But do they all bring you joy? And when you pass, how will your loved ones handle all you’ve left? One way to surround yourself with only the things you want and need, and to leave your family a tidy legacy, is a purging method called Swedish death cleaning.


If you take the time to sort through your belongings and decide what stays, what goes, and who it goes to, then you can say goodbye to clutter and hello to order. But just as important, you show your love for your family and those who will be responsible for your home after you are gone. You make things easier for your loved ones. This concept is explored in detail in Margareta Magnusson’s book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

The art of Swedish Death Cleaning

What is the Swedish Death Cleaning Theory?

In Swedish, the word döstädning means “death cleaning”, and is the practice of clearing out unwanted clutter and getting your house organized. It doesn’t have to be associated with dying, but it can be. It is done to make things easier for your loved ones and give you a tidy home. It reduces confusion and the possibility of arguments between loved ones and creates a home for you full of only things you want or need.

In her book, Magnusson says the difference between death cleaning and other cleanup forms is the amount of time they take. Swedish death cleaning may take longer than a regular cleanup, but the benefit that organization brings to your everyday life is worth the effort. 

She also says that the book is not meant to be sad, but rather “helpful, entertaining, perhaps even a bit humorous.” She covers all aspects of death cleaning, from where to start, to what to do with your secret things, and how to handle the stuff you can’t part with. 


The Benefits for You

The time it takes to sort and organize, but it is worth it. Some of the benefits you experience are:

  • The end of clutter. When you go through the process of sorting your belongings, you’re in control of what you keep, what you donate, what you throw away, and what you give to others. This means everything in your home now has purpose and meaning. No more clutter and chaos! The extra stuff that multiplies over the years is dealt with by you – the one who understands what everything is.
  • A time to reminisce. Another benefit of death cleaning that is special for you is the actual act of sorting through your things. It can be a wonderful trip down memory lane. You can admire and appreciate things that you don’t want or need anymore. As Magnusson put it, “It is rewarding to spend time with these objects one last time before disposing of them.”
  • Being able to give special gifts. When you sort through your things, one of the piles you make is stuff to give away. By death cleaning, you give yourself the beautiful experience of gifting meaningful items to people right here, right now. They don’t have to wait for your will to be read, and you can share the heartfelt moment of giving the gift. 
  • A feeling of satisfaction. What is peace of mind worth? Is it worth the time of sorting through your closets, cabinets, and drawers so that everything is in order for your loved ones? If you want to make things easier on them by leaving your affairs in order, then the answer is a resounding, YES! You benefit from the peace of mind Swedish death cleaning brings because know you have done the best you could for those you love.

The Benefits for Your Family

The Swedish death cleaning experience is good for you, but it is good for your family too, because they will feel the effects of your thoughtful planning. They do this in these ways:

  • You have everything in place. Many families struggle when a loved one passes due to a lack of planning, direction, or organization. When you finish Swedish death cleaning, you have eliminated the possibility of confusion and arguments as best you can. You have answered the questions that naturally arise at this time by putting everything in order now when you can do so.
  • They can be a part of it. You can also involve them in this process, and enjoy time together. The memories that come up when you’re sorting baby clothes from 40 years ago can make great stories to share with children or grandchildren. Plan special cleaning mornings where you can share family history and get the closets organized simultaneously.  

When Should You Start Swedish Death Cleaning?

Although the name of Swedish death cleaning might imply you need to have a terminal diagnosis for this to be pertinent, you don’t have to wait for a time like that to come around. You can start anytime you want to organize your home. It doesn’t have to be a death that inspires this. It can simply be the “death” of clutter and disorganization in your home.


If you want to consider an age to look at death cleaning, Magnusson suggests 65 as a good age to start this practice. She describes herself as being between 80 and 100.

What is the Red Dot System in Swedish Death Cleaning?

The task of sorting through your belongings could seem overwhelming, especially if you have lived in your home for a long time. Magnusson’s book gives you wonderful methods to follow that help ease these feelings. And she does it while telling stories of her own experiences with death cleaning and her life in Sweden.


One of these methods is the red dot system. When sorting through your things, put a red dot on the items you don’t want to keep and a green dot on the keepers. This is a good visual reminder and helps keep things organized even if sorted piles get mixed up.


The book is full of tips like this. Like, don’t start with photographs, but try going through clothing as a first step. She also suggests asking yourself if saving “this” will make anyone happier. If not, maybe it should get a red dot.

Help with Swedish Death Cleaning

If this sounds like something you or a loved one would like to try but don’t want to tackle alone, I can help. We can work together to sort and purge. I would love to hear about the memories of your favorite things and can assist in discarding the items that no longer bring you joy. Please contact us today.

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