What is Swedish Death Cleaning? Why is Swedish Death Cleaning popular?

Swedish Death Cleaning (Döstädning in Swedish) sounds grim but it’s one of the latest branches on the minimalism family tree. Below I explore why it’s resonating with people.

Have you ever known someone who has been charged with going through the belongings of someone who has passed away? Were they calm? Were they feeling carefree and enjoying the process?

Of course not! They were stressed and burdened. They felt like they didn’t know where to begin, what to keep, what to purge, what to donate, and where to donate it. They likely were also grieving their loved one while going through their things, which brought up a lot of pain, memories, and sadness.

In high school, I had a friend whose grandparents passed away leaving not only their huge house packed with clutter, but also their entire basement containing the contents of the store they ran prior to their retirement 30 years before their deaths. My friend’s mother had to move into the house, temporarily close her store, and spend 24/7 going through the house to prepare it for sale. It took months. Upon each of my visits, I rarely saw any progress despite her constant hard work.

Why were her grandparents keeping a basement full of stuff from a business they owned 30 years prior to their deaths? Did they not realize that their survivors would be burdened by the floor to ceiling towers of boxes? They obviously never thought about it and clearly never threw anything away.

‘The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter’ by Margareta Magnusson is the book that has introduced people to the concept.

Swedish Death Cleaning has already been exposed as not truly being a Swedish tradition. It’s basically a rebranding of minimalism for Baby Boomers. Minimalism tends to appeal more to young people, Millenials, and Gen-Xers.

It’s basically a blend of minimalism and getting your affairs in order prior to death, as a way to make things easier on your surviving loved ones, so they can focus on grieving you, rather than having to guess what your final wishes are and dealing with the guilt of throwing away your things.

The concept is simple. Between ages 50-65, begin preparing your space for your death by keeping only items that you truly love and that you know your survivors will want. Everything else should be given away or thrown away.

Like minimalism, the sooner you do your Swedish Death Cleaning, the sooner you get to enjoy the benefits.

You also need to prepare your will, a list of accounts and passwords, and share the location with someone you trust. (I recommend a hidden lockable firebox or a firesafe.) Ms. Magnusson also recommends keeping items that matter only to you in a box marked “Okay to throw away”.

Even Dave Ramsey, preaches that everyone should have a will and read the will out loud to their gathered loves ones at the same time, so upon your death your wishes are known. It will save everyone a lot of heartbreak and stress.

Beyond the trending of minimalism, the book’s success is also, in part, due to a rise in interest in all things Scandanavian, from Hygge (read my post here), to Lykke (post coming soon), to Ikea furniture, to Lagom.

Like minimalism, the sooner you do your Swedish Death Cleaning, the sooner you get to enjoy the benefits of a decluttered living space and the reassurance that your life (and death) are in order.

What are your thoughts on Swedish Death Cleaning? Have you tried it or do you think it’s just another rebranding of minimalism?


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