Marie Kondō has nothing on Swedes.
I don’t know about you, but a new year always inspires me to clean and organize my home. Nothing feels better than throwing my closet doors open, carefully culling through each item, and keeping only the things that, as Marie Kondō would say, spark joy.
And apparently Swedes love a good deep-cleaning, organizational purge, too! But they take it to a. Whole. New. Level.
Enter: Death Cleaning
Döstädning, or death cleaning, is “a term that means you remove unnecessary things and make your home nice and orderly when you think the time is coming closer for you to leave the planet”, according to Margareta Magnusson, Swedish author of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.
I read Magnusson’s book during the first half of my Christmas vacation this year to get me into the decluttering spirit. There is something about a fresh new year that always makes me want to deep clean, declutter, and organize my home and belongings. And this book definitely did not disappoint from an inspiration standpoint.
The concept of döstädning is all about getting your possessions in order. Take the time now to decided what you would like to happen to your belongings after you die. Magnusson, who is “somewhere between eighty and one hundred years old”, believes that death cleaning for yourself is a kindness you are doing for those who will come after you, so let’s get started!
How to Death Clean
Step One: Go through all your belongings – purge and sort them
It will be hard to death clean without first taking an inventory of what you have. Magnusson recommends starting as soon as possible, but ideally no later than your 60s. She recommends going room-by-room as to not rush the process.
Start with the biggest things (furniture, art work, etc.) and work your way down in size. She recommends leaving photos, letters, and other sentimental items for last as they can slow your progress down. As you cull through your belongings, sort them into different piles: keep, repair, donate, and discard.
As you tackle each area, like your closet, be sure to remove everything from the area first and then, item-by-item, sort through it. Only the “keeps” should go back inside the space. Everything else should be sorted into clear piles and dealt with.
Step Two: Label your belongings
Having death cleaned for multiple other people in her life, Magnusson clearly highlights the importance of labeling items. After her mother passed away, Magnusson truly appreciated finding instructions on garments and boxes in her mother’s house. This was to go to the Red Cross. This should be donated to the local historical society. That should be thrown away.
By labeling what you would like to have done to your belongings after your death, you are easing the burden of deciding what to do with each item on those who will need to clean up after you’re gone.
Step Three: Start now
It is never too late to start death cleaning, so start now. But rather than just labeling this necklace for Anna and that plate for Erik after your death, consider gifting it to them now! This way you can experience the joy of seeing them receive and use the gift! This is also a great time to share any stories around how the item came into your life.
As Magnusson noted many times in her book, we will all die. It is the only certainty in life. So take the time now to think about what you would like to happen to your possessions after you pass away. Your friends and family will thank you for it!
- Swedes have a reputation for being ever-practical and I think the concept of döstädning is a perfect cultural fit.
- Margareta Magnusson’s book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is a short and fun read all about death cleaning and her many tips on how to approach it. Give it a read if you are looking for inspiration!
- When I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, I really enjoyed it and took many, many tips away. If you are looking to dive deep into the topic of decluttering, I think this book is the holy grail.
Hope you learned some new Swedishness today and I’ll see you in the next post!
- The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson (2018)