What is Swedish Death Cleaning? Embracing Scandi Minimalism

At first, Swedish death cleaning sounds like a relatively morbid concept. Otherwise known as Döstädning, “death cleaning” conjures images of tidying away clutter after a loved one passes away. However, it’s not as grim as it appears. For most people, including native Swedes, this process is a way to embrace the power of “Scandinavian minimalism” to help declutter your life. 

The concept revolves around sorting through your belongings with intent, removing anything unnecessary that would likely be boxed up and thrown away if you weren’t around. 

Most people view Döstädning as the Scandinavian version of the “Konmari” method of decluttering- popularized by Marie Kondo. Used correctly, it could be the ideal way to minimize the mess in your home, and prevent yourself from hoarding too many unnecessary items. 

Swedish Death Cleaning
Swedish Death Cleaning

What is Swedish Death Cleaning? The basics

Swedish Death Cleaning is a form of decluttering tactic, originally introduced by Margareta Magnusson, in her book, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning”. 

The author asks readers to think of their home from the perspective of a loved one having to comb through clutter after you’ve passed away. The goal is finding ways to remove as many physical items from your home as possible, to make life easier on the people left behind. 

It might sound like a grim way to spend a weekend, but Swedish Death Cleaning actually introduces people to a new perspective when it comes to determining how they organize their belongings. 

You don’t have to wait until you’re on death’s door to get started. Sifting through your belongings and removing anything you don’t need now can be an excellent way to embrace a more minimalistic mindset. Reducing the clutter in your life can also have a number of benefits you might not be aware of. For instance, the more objects you have in your home, the more likely you are to suffer from allergies and respiratory conductions caused by a build-up of dust and dirt. 

Excess clutter can also have an impact on your mindset. Many psychologists believe a “tidy home” really does lead to a “tidy mind” by reducing the number of things vying for your attention at any given time. You mind find throwing some things away makes you more focused and productive. 


Swedish Death Cleaning checklist: How to get started

This popular Swedish decluttering technique is much easier to practice than most people think, but you will need to dedicate some time to it. Ideally, you’ll want a few days in your schedule allocated to sorting through your house, and deciding what you don’t want anymore. 

Here are some tips to get you started:

Know when and where to begin

As mentioned above, you don’t need to wait until you’re knocking on the door of Valhalla to start investing in Swedish death cleaning. While Magnusson suggests 65 is the ideal time to get started, you can dive in whenever you feel like the clutter in your home is getting on top of you. 

If you can’t close a drawer or cupboard, or you’re struggling to fit another item in your closet, it’s time to start cleaning. It’s also worth knowing where to begin. Starting with your closets and clothing is usually a good idea. It’s often relatively easy to sort through garments and decide what doesn’t fit you, or what you’re unlikely to wear in the future. While you’re at it, start organizing the items in your closet so they’re easier to find in future. 

Magnusson suggests starting with things that aren’t going to have an emotional connection to you, such as furniture, and finishing with smaller, more nostalgic items. 

Decide what to discard

The most important goal of Swedish death cleaning, is to throw as many items as possible, without getting rid of anything you actually need. A few ways to help yourself identify what you should be throwing away include:

  • Assessing each items value: Ask yourself how useful or beneficial a product actually is. If you’re constantly overlooking it, or you forget you have it, the chances are you don’t really need it. Don’t think about whether the item “sparks joy”, but whether it’s something you actually use and enjoy on a regular basis. 
  • Evaluate abundance: Sometimes, we can end up hoarding items which seem practical on the surface, but aren’t really necessary in abundance. If it’s just you and your partner living together, you don’t need five different cutlery sets, each with their own selection of forks, knives and spoons. Ask yourself whether you can “cut down” anywhere. 
  • Ask how the absence will affect you: If you’re thinking of throwing something away, ask yourself how you’ll feel when it’s gone. If you think you’re going to wish you had it back every day, it might be worth puzzling over it for a little longer. 

Take a holistic approach

While it’s best to start small with Swedish death cleaning, the overall goal is to go through all of your belongings, no matter whether it’s clothing or furniture. Generally, it’s best to start with large items that take up the most space, and will make the biggest impact, like items of furniture. 

During this time, it’s worth getting some help from someone you trust. They’ll be able to not only sort through your items with you, but also give you an outside perspective on what you really need. Magnusson reminds readers to be conscious of the time other people have to offer, however. 

Don’t forget to assess your digital belongings too. If you have endless email accounts, files, and digital photos online, it might be worth decluttering those too. If you’re the kind of person who spends a lot of time on your PC or phone, less clutter will lead to increased productivity. 

Declutter with a conscience

Remember, getting rid of the things you no longer want doesn’t have to mean throwing them in a trash can. If you think something is still in relatively good condition, you might consider expanding its lifespan by giving it to someone else. Gifting items can feel a lot better than simply throwing them away. However, it’s worth doing your research if you’re going to be donating to any charities. 

According to Magnusson, her mother-in-law decluttered by giving treasured gifts to the family over time. This gave her a fantastic way to get rid of sentimental items, without simply throwing them in the trash. Just don’t try to pawn something off on a loved one if you know they won’t want or need it.

Save the things that really matter

Sometimes, decluttering means being brutal with your decisions on what to keep, and what to throw away. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should get rid of everything immediately. You’re allowed to decide for yourself which of your belongings are important, and which you want to keep. 

If you’re going to cry over throwing away your album of family photos, keep them. There’s nothing wrong with holding onto the things that have value in your life. The key is to get rid of the items you don’t really want or need anymore, without hesitation or guilt. 

Even if it means you end up not throwing a great deal away, you should still be proud of the effort you make to simplify and declutter your space. 

Exploring Swedish Death Cleaning

The Swedish approach to decluttering might seem a little unusual, and even morbid at first, but it’s actually an excellent way to cut down on your unnecessary belongings. After all, there’s a reason why Scandinavians are the masters of minimalism. 

Remember, there’s no right way to practice Swedish death cleaning either. As long as you’re reducing the mess, and making sure you’re surrounding yourself with only the most meaningful, and practical possessions, you’re on the right track. 

Scandification: Discovering Scandinavia.

Scandification explores and celebrates the magic of Scandinavia. Stay tuned and we’ll bring the essence of Scandinavia to you.

Advertising enquiries

Scandification explores and celebrates the magic of Scandinavia. To advertise your brand to a global audience, contact our advertising team below.

[email protected]