Swedish Death Cleaning might sound strange, harsh, or miserable, but it can be an energizing and life giving process. While it can be a benefit to those you will leave behind, it can also be a great gift to give to yourself as well. Margareta Magnusson might have wrote the book ‘The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning’, but we will simplify and summarize it for you. Let’s get started today!
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So What is Swedish Death Cleaning?
Swedish Death Cleaning literally comes from a single word in Sweden that translates to Death Cleaning. Margareta Magnusson explains in the first chapter of her book, ‘The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning‘, that “-it is a term that means that you remove unnecessary things and make your home nice and orderly when you think the time is coming closer for you to leave the planet”.
But then she also explains many times that it can be done earlier. She also says it should be done not only for the benefit of the loved ones we leave behind, but also for ourselves.
First we will go over how it benefits those you leave behind, then how it can benefit you now. Then we will go over some of the basic ideas of Death Cleaning.
For Your Loved Ones
“If you care for your loved ones then it’s only fair to spare them the emotional and physical burden of cleaning up your stuff.” -Margareta Magnusson
Death Cleaning can greatly benefit those you leave behind. Margareta explains when she says, “Do not imagine that anyone will wish, or be able to, schedule time off to take care of what we you did not bother to take care of yourself”. And she also states, “It is your duty to sort out your life”.
Another thing she said in the forward of her book that really connected was, “Let me help you make your loved ones memories of you nice instead of awful”. This quote instantly made me think of an episode of the TV show FRIENDS.
In the episode the downstairs neighbor of Monica and Rachel (named Mr. Heckles) dies. This neighbor often complained to the girls that they were noisy, and when he dies his lawyer revels that in his Will, he wants all his possessions left to, “the noisy girls upstairs”.
At first the Monica and Rachel are so flattered. They decide that Mr. Heckles must have really liked them after all. That is until they enter his apartment absolutely full of stuff. Then the following is said:
Monica- “Would you look at this dump! He hated us! This was his final revenge!
Rachel- “Have you ever seen so much crap?”
Chandler- “Actually, I think this apartment sullies the name of crap.”
As funny as all of that is on a television show, we wouldn’t want our loved ones to think we were punishing them by leaving them with all our earthly possessions. We would want them to have the few things they wanted, and then just lots of good memories.
This is how we do that. We get rid of the excess in our lives and homes so our loved ones aren’t burdened with it later.
“The only thing we know for sure is that one day we will die. But before that, we can do anything.” -Margareta Magnusson
We are surrounded by abundance, so it is so easy to gather more than we need, this often manifests as clutter. Clutter often gives most of us anxiety. So clearing the extra can have a calming effect on our lives and our spaces. We are literally making space for a better life.
With all the craziness of today and our weekly calendars filled to the brim with obligations, we want our homes to be peaceful sanctuaries, not just another burden or thing on our list.
We need to give ourselves permission to get rid of the excess, to be happy with what we have, to not feel the need to keep up with others, and we need to learn to not fill emotional needs in our lives with things. And Death Cleaning helps with those steps.
How to Swedish Death Clean, the Basics
“What are you going to do with all your things when you do not have the strength for or the interest in taking care of them anymore?” -Margareta Magnusson
Margareta says that 65 is a great age to start, but she also says you can start anytime, just that for it to be Swedish Death Cleaning, that you should be old enough to understand death. She does suggest not waiting to long, just because mobility becomes more difficult the older you are.
She also says death cleaning is not over until you are. It goes on and on, because life happens,and new items will continue to come into our lives. Make sure once you have death cleaned, that you do some maintenance cleaning from time to time.
7 Tips For Swedish Death Cleaning
- Remove excess. What do you use or really love? Everything else con be considered excess. But you have to decide where that line is, but once you do, get the excess out.
- Go Digital. Where you can, turn your stacks of paperwork into digital files that will take up much less physical space.
- Discard with intention, and without guilt. Once you have made your parameters, if you decide you don’t want something, it goes without guilt. Even most gift givers would not want you to keep something that made you unhappy. It is okay to let that excess go.
- Buy less. You don’t want to put in all the time and intention of death cleaning only to fill up your space with more junk. Really think about something before you bring it into your space. No mindless shopping.
- Be gentle and considerate of others. If you are helping a loved one death clean, remember it is a process, and that while you are willing to help, it is NOT your process. Everyone has different needs and parameters. Maybe they might not get rid of as many things as you would, but maybe eventually they will. Be honest if they ask for your opinion, but don’t expect your opinion to be the end all and be all.
- Take care of yourself. This is a process that can be long, emotional, hard, freeing, and a whole lot more. Remember to be gentle with yourself, to take breaks when needed, and give yourself rewards when you make strides.
- Allow yourself to feel and reflect. This process will of course bring back memories, good and bad. Allow yourself these feelings, and give yourself time to celebrate the good and grieve the bad.
Words of Wisdom
While following these tips, Margareta gives lots of other thoughts to make the process easier.
- It is okay to ask friends or family if they will want something of yours, just be okay with whatever they answer.
- Don’t ask someone if they want something that you already know they probably don’t (this just puts a burden on them).
- Don’t live in a cluttered place now, just to dwell on the past.
- When you first start, start with items you have been storing for awhile, and realize you haven’t touched the things in a long while. You probably won’t miss them now, and can part with a lot of them.
- Tell family and friends what you are doing. This not only keeps you accountable to keep going, but gives the chance for conversations to open up about items they may want.
- Keeping your space kept up after death cleaning will be much easier if everything you keep has a specific place in your home.
- Think about getting rid of an old item BEFORE bringing a new one in.
- Do really sentimental items last since this part of the process will probably be the slowest.
As You Finish Swedish Death Cleaning
Make a “Throw Away Box” and “A Little Black Book”
The throw away box is a box of things you will keep that you know others won’t want, but you want to keep them just for you. Maybe a dried flower from a special date, a seashell from a vacation, a letter or photo that is meaningful to you.
If it brings you joy and good memories, keep them. Then instruct your family that when you go, it can be thrown away without any time or guilt needed from them.
The Little Black Book is what Margareta calls the place where she keeps important information that her loved ones might need after she is gone. Things like important documents and computer passwords would go here.
“Our planet is very small; it floats in a never ending universe. It may perish under the weight of our consumerism-and eventually I fear that it will. – Margareta Magnusson
You are done, you have done it!
Now what? Remember to keep everything in its designated space. If something doesn’t have a space, it either needs one, or it needs to go.
Try to live with intent and not consume just to consume.
Now teach others what you have learned. Maybe you can share the ideas of Swedish Death Cleaning with your parents, and help them through the process? Share with them the difference it has made in your day to day life.
And if you want a visual look at someone Swedish Death Cleaning check out this YouTube video from But First Coffee. She breaks down how she went about decluttering her house using the method.