How Döstädning or Swedish Death Cleaning Can Work For You

Recently, I have worked with two clients who, due to a death of a parent, have had to deal with the aftermath of de-cluttering and organizing the family home. This involves decisions about what to keep, what to let go of, how to decide, who to involve in the decision-making, how to sell valuable items, etc. These tasks are challenging to complete at the best of times, so when emotions are running high and grieving may be taking place, these tasks can be completely overwhelming. As I was helping to support this process with our clients, I couldn’t help but think that there might be a less stressful way to handle this?

Then I learned about Swedish death cleaning, or “Döstädning”, an approach whereby you remove unnecessary things and get your home in order. Before you die.

This may sound a bit morbid, but you do this so that your loved ones don’t have to once you pass on. You get to be the architect of your own legacy, making it easier for your loved ones to deal with your life’s belongings, when you no longer can. It’s a de-cluttering approach that asks you to make decisions about your belongings in the present so that your loved ones don’t have to do it for you once you pass on.

According to Margareta Magnusson, author of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, “Döstädning can also be applied whenever you do a thorough cleaning, to make your life easier and more pleasant. It does not necessarily have to do with age or death. If you can hardly close your drawers or shut your closet doors, it is time to do something about your stuff.”

As Magnusson says, you won’t be taking any of it with you, so why hold onto it now?

Not unlike Marie Kondo and her KonMari method of editing every category in your home, Magnusson implores us to keep only what we love, and what makes us happy in the moment. There is a life timeline in place. She goes on to suggest many ways in which to discard, donate or pass on unwanted items and suggests that you carefully consider which items you might want to keep (ie: photographs, love letters, a few of your children’s art projects, etc.). A few is the key word here.

If you are picking out what YOU feel is important to keep, your loved ones will be relieved that you made the decision and they do not have to!

If anyone has dealt with the process of “cleaning house” after a loved one has passed on, you know that often many things are left behind. Things you do not always know what to do with. Of course organizers can help (you can always contact us at Ease Up Organizing for this), but it is often family members who must decide the best course of action. The less deciding there is to do, the smoother the process goes, and the easier it is to manage expectations and potential resentments, as decisions have already been made.

Understandably, the concept of death cleaning may be hard for some of us to talk about. Who wants to consider their death prematurely?

Magnusson has this to say on the topic. Death cleaning isn’t the story of death, but rather the story of life, your life, the good memories and the bad. Happy memories will become happy memories for others. “The good ones you keep, the bad you expunge.”

I’d like to leave you with one more suggestion. After each successful “death cleaning” episode, big or small, treat yourself to something you love, because this process is about living life with more ease in the present. And if you need support, please reach out to us at Ease Up Organizing – we’re always here to help!

About the Author

Having caught the organizational bug early on trying to “balance” things out as an elite gymnast, Jessica Tudos brings a diverse set of skills and experiences to her role as a professional organizer.  Drawing from her global work as an experiential educator, author, and motivational speaker, Jessica is on a mission to empower people to lead healthy, creative and organized lives.