How to Swedish Death Clean in 8 Easy Steps

Have the words “death cleaning” been buzzing in your ears lately? Döstädning, as it’s called in Sweden, is the practice of radically decluttering your home to make things easier for loved ones when you croak. (Yup.) And it’s taking Scandinavia and the world by storm.

Erm, sad and depressing much? Not so, insists Margareta Magnusson, author of The Gentle Art Of Swedish Death Cleaning (Scribner, January 1). On the flipside, she thinks living with less by gifting away your belongings will help you live a happier life. Want to try it out? Here, eight of Magnusson’s straightforward death cleaning tips, and three that might challenge your way of thinking (but are so worth it).

What the Heck Is ‘Swedish Death Cleaning’ and Why Is It Sweeping Scandinavia?

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The Easy Ones:

Edit Large Items First, Small Items Last 
“Don’t start with photographs—or letter or personal papers, for that matter...In general, when death cleaning, size really matters. Start with the large items in your home, and finish with the small.”

Declutter Regularly...While Wearing an Apron 
“Bring a bag with you as you clean the house, or wear an apron with a huge pocket. Whenever you see something that is not where it should be, put it in the apron pocket or in the bag.”

Let Your Network Know You're Cleaning 
“Tell your loved ones and friends what you are up to. They might want to help you and even take things you don’t need and also help you to move things that you cannot move alone. You will see a steady stream of people you like (or even dislike) will come to take things such as books, clothes and utensils.”

Make a Hard Copy of All Your Computer Passwords 
“Over time, the number of passwords you have swells and swells. There are too many to remember, even for young people. I have a small black this little book I keep all my passwords...When the day family can easily find what they need.”   

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Gift Your Belongings Away Gradually
“My mother-in-law was really a very capable and gifted the last years of her life, every time we visited her, she would give us beautiful china plates, a pretty tablecloth or nicely colored napkins to take home, pressing them into our hands as we left...It was her method of death cleaning.”

And More Importantly, Gift Them Thoughtfully
“Thinking of the new home in which your object will find itself is very important as you do your job. Don’t offer things that don’t fit the recipient’s taste or space...careful thought in deciding on a new perfect home for it will satisfy both you and the recipient. To know something will be well used and have a new home is a joy.”

Keep One Box of Mementos Just for Yourself
“There are a few things that I would like to save for myself only...Old love letters, programs, memories from traveling. I have gathered all these personal items in a box that I have marked 'throw away'...Once I am gone, the box can be destroyed.”

Donate and Sell the Rest 
“If you cannot find anyone to give your possessions to, sell them and make a donation to charity. If you don’t death clean and show people what’s valuable, once you die there will be a big truck that takes all the wonderful things you have to an auction (at best) or a dump.”

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If You’re Feeling Extra Ambitious:

Remember: Hand-me-downs Make Great Hostess Gifts 
“If you are invited to a lunch, don’t buy the host flowers or a new present—give her one of your things.”

When It Comes to Photos, Toss Any of Folks You Don't Recognize
“I have also always liked to be able to name everyone in a picture. Now that I am the oldest person in my family, if I don’t know the names of the people in the photos, nobody else in the family is likely too.”

Teach Yourself to Appreciate Things Without Actually Buying Them 
“It took me awhile to understand this, but you can enjoy all these things without owning them. Even though this may sometimes seem quite hard to do, training yourself to enjoy only looking at things instead of buying them is very nice and also a good practice.”

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Home Editor

From 2014-2019 Grace Beuley Hunt held the role of Home Editor covering interior design, styling, trends and more.