What Is Swedish Death Cleaning?

Posted: 26/02/2018

Have you heard about the new craze spreading across Europe? No, not hygge that’s been and gone, but Swedish death cleaning? On the face of it, it sounds pretty morbid and depressing, but actually, it could be an approach to life that could help you become more positive in the long run. We take a look at just what exactly Swedish death cleaning involves.

What is Swedish Death Cleaning?

Swedish death cleaning has garnered a lot of attention this past couple of months due to a new book by Swede Margareta Magnusson that was released in January this year called The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. It is all to do with the Swedish notion of döstädning, which in Swedish, is more or less a hybrid of the two words death and cleaning. It is ritual Swedish people tend to carry out a few times each year. Magnusson believes that it can be quite an upbeat experience, once you get into the habit of doing it regularly. It can almost become a form of mindfulness, helping to relieve anxieties over clutter, as well as provide simple reflection on our lives and how far we have come.

Death cleaning focuses on looking at objects in and around your house and decide if it is a burden to keep it, based on what will happen to that possession when you die.  If the item is something that will become a meaningful keepsake to a close relative or friend, it is probably worth keeping. However, it is thought that it could potentially end up revealing a secret about you after you have died, or it will upset, annoy or just not serve any purposes whatsoever, it may be best to get rid of the item, or donate to a charity shop.

The idea of death cleaning is that is supposed to be an acknowledgement that you should continually reassess valuables you have and get rid of items you do not need so that your loved ones will not have to deal with sifting through them when you have departed the world. it is also about trying to deal with your own mortality but in a healthy, honest and unsentimental way.

In essence, an item should represent one of the following when you are in the process of decluttering:

  • A happy memory of you
  • Something that represents the journey of your life
  • Something that will be too important to others to get rid of
  • Something that represents your very best self

A big part of Swedish death cleaning is trying to carry out the decluttering process with your loved ones. For example, you might find out that an item that you deemed to have very little value and you were going to bin, to have significant meaning to a close friend or relative.

Where do you start with Swedish Death Cleaning?

If you feel like giving the Swedish tradition a go, where should you start? Magnusson recommends not starting with photographs, as she believes that these tend to be the hardest to sift through and decide which ones to keep.

Instead, Magnusson recommends you dividing all your belongings by certain categories and then going for the option that seems the easiest to quickly go through, and the least emotionally draining. For Magnusson, this tends to be clothing which she divides into two piles, one to keep, and one for clothes you would like to get rid of.

However, Magnusson highlights that even if you are getting rid of an object as you believe it will not make anyone happier upon your death to keep it, it doesn’t mean that you are getting rid of all the associated memories you have of it. Magnusson encourages people to reflect on the items they get rid of, and the role it has played in their life up until now.

Advantages of Swedish Death Cleaning

As we have previously mentioned, Swedish death cleaning might seem at first at an extremely morbid and depressing idea, but in fact, there are actually many benefits.

  • It can help you organise your life in an efficient way
  • It is a way of practising mindfulness
  • It can lead to an open and honest discussion about death with loved ones
  • You can get rid of things that take up a lot of space but do not have that much value to others (and you thought that it would)
  • It can help to get rid of emotional baggage by getting rid of items you no longer care about or have negative associations with.