How to ‘Swedish Death Clean’ Your Closet: 7 Tips to Get You Started

We’re no novice at organization. But as for editing our closet? #sendhelp. Which is why we’re turning to Margareta Magnusson, author of the international best seller The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. This radical Scandinavian decluttering practice tackles one mission: Making your "estate" easy to deal with when you die. Hard-core? Perhaps—but desperate closets call for desperate measures. Here are seven tips to get you started.

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

white clothes on rack

1. Purge Clothes By Category, From Biggest To Smallest 

Start editing down your bulky pieces first (like your coats) so that you become inspired by seeing the extra space you’ve created right from the get-go. “In general when death cleaning, size really matters. Start with the large items and finish with the small...I do not want you to give up immediately.”

2. Adopt A Uniform—it Makes Things Easier

Magnusson’s secret to an attractive, minimalist closet? Slowly giving away your random garments and, in turn, paring down your personal style. (Always find yourself in jeans and a gray sweater? Embrace it.) “In my opinion, all garments should look good together, and you should be able to mix and exchange them with one another,” she says.

sorting clothing on bed

3. Bribe Friends Into Helping You Closet-cleanse 

“You may want to talk to someone who isn’t family and doesn’t have a sentimental connection to the items you want to get rid of. Preferably they will think differently from you, and that is good. That will help you look at your work—or even other dilemmas—from fresh angles,” says Magnusson. In other words, why not pull a Carrie Bradshaw and invite the girls over for a Champagne and vetoing party?

folded clothing on chair

4. Donate The ‘impulse Buys’ You'll Never Wear Again 

Remember that lil’ romper you bought for Cindy’s bachelorette? It’s only taking up space and looking like a sore thumb in your closet, insists Magnusson: “There are certainly impulse purchases and other things that do not really go with any other garments—when you look at your wardrobe as a whole these are often easy to spot.”

5. Above All, Make Sure You Have A Solid Organization System In Place

Everything should be easy access and at the ready—even and especially if this means installing a closet organization system. “Mess is an unnecessary source of irritation,” says Magnusson. “Give everything a place and you won’t feel angry, irritated or desperate when leaving the house. And for a change—and as an added bonus—you may also arrive on time.”

clean pretty closet 728

6. Think About The Aftermath Of Your Death 

The idea behind death cleaning, in a nutshell: It just ain’t fair to leave a mess behind for your loved ones to sort through: “If you don’t clean...once you die there will be a big truck that takes all the wonderful things you have to...the dump. No one will be happy about that.” Real talk from a wise old Swedish granny.

7. If An Item Has No ‘worth’ To You, Toss It

If you pick up a pair of wedges you haven’t worn in six months—and have zero clue when or why you bought them, you can pretty much guarantee you won’t miss them down the road: “It is a delight to go through things and remember their worth,” says Magnusson, “and if you don’t remember why a thing has meaning or why you keep will be easier to part with.”


Home Editor

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