Swedish Death Cleaning: What is it and why should you start now?

Spring cleaning has become almost a biological ritual. The winter has gone, the windows are open and we suddenly want to give the house a freshening up. We wash, we dust, we sort. Some things are tossed or re-homed. But what if we cleaned, not with the birth of a new season in mind, but use our own death as motivation instead.

There is a practice called “Swedish Death Cleaning” or döstädning — a combination of the word “dö” (which means death) and “standing”.

This type of cleaning is not about washing the windows or cleaning the baseboards; it is about a permanent form of organization that makes your everyday life run more smoothly. But it is also a favour for those you leave behind. 

Swedish artist Margareta Magnusson explains it all in a book called

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter” . Magnusson has spent much time going through and dealing with, the belongings of parents, in-laws and friends who have died and wants to encourage people to tackle these tasks sooner rather than later. 

“We must all talk about death. If it’s too hard to address, then death cleaning can be a way to start the conversation,” Magnusson writes in the book. 

 In the last couple of years,  more and more people are thinking about their end of life; the pandemic has forced us to look at our mortality. Concepts like Swedish Death Cleaning are becoming more mainstream. In fact, a new tv streaming series was recently announced based on Magnusson’s book.The unscripted show will be available to stream on Peacock. Executive, Rod Aissa says. “We hope our compassionate and dynamic series sparks conversation within each household and breaks the stigma around mortality and the tough reality of letting things go.”  

You don’t have to be facing end-of-life to start this process, just thinking about it.  How you choose to approach this exercise is up to you.

Some would say start with things you have in storage since those are probably items you haven’t used/worn/.read in a long time. If you haven’t made use of an item in the past couple of years, let it go to someone who can use it now, whether it’s a family member, a neighbour or a charitable organization.

Others will simply advise starting with clothing as it’s easy to identify those things that no longer fit or that are just taking up space in your closet or dresser.

The next time your favourite niece comes to visit, ask her what pieces of jewellery she likes and let her take it, or let her know it goes to her after you die. Or get your kids to tell you what piece of furniture they would like to have. (Or not have, so you don’t leave them something they don’t want). Think of things that you value and where you would want them to go. Take pictures of items and send them to people to ask if they want it. That way there is also a record to avoid arguments later. 

In any case, this kind of cleaning and clearing is a longer process than just sprucing up your surroundings. Dumpsters.com provides a lot of helpful articles to assist you with decluttering. You can check out their 7 suggestions to Swedish Death Cleaning to help you get started.

However you choose to tackle it is up to you, but the main thing is to start now. Don’t wait until you’re too old or too ill, just open up the windows, breathe in the fresh Spring air,  think about what will be left after you die and let the cleaning begin.

And then enjoy the rest of your clutter-free life.


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