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Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Purge your House with Intention & Love + PDF Downsizing Worksheet

Updated: Aug 17, 2023

Why Do I Want to Know About Swedish Death Cleaning?

Death cleaning sounds like a dark and morbid form of tidying up after an assassination or something, but it’s actually something far less scary. A form of decluttering that originated in Sweden, death cleaning (translated from döstädning) is an intentional expression of self-care and love for your family that involves a slow drip of decluttering as you age. Death cleaning has been trending since about 2017 and is slowly making its way to the States by way of downsizing, or “right-sizing,” as I like to say.

You know all those shelves in your mother’s home, packed to the gills with trinkets she’s picked up since before you were born? Or all the boxes in your in-law’s attic or basement, filled to the brim with your partner’s childhood memorabilia?

Clutter outlasts us– we pass on our cluttered houses to loved ones eventually. One day, our parents will pass away, and we will be the ones responsible for going through each room, struggling to wade through their treasures and our grief before the house has to go on the market. That’s a lot to ask of us and a lot to ask of our children.

wall of sentimental children's drawings

Mindset Shifts and Habits to Practice Death Cleaning

Folks in their 50s and older are choosing to let go of their collections, decorations, and even heirlooms, little by little, one room at a time, so their children won’t have to do it when they are gone. However, anyone can benefit from the intention and logic behind death cleaning, no matter their age.

Margareta Magnusson, the author of the book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning which popularized death cleaning in the US, emphasizes the value of death cleaning for the present moment, not just out of compassion for the futures of our loved ones:

“One’s own pleasure, and the chance to find meaning and memory, is the most important thing... It is a delight to go through things and remember their worth. And if you don’t remember why a thing has meaning or why you kept it, it has no worth, and it will be easier for you to part with.”

The reason we keep items in the first place is because they contain special meaning. Objects are symbols of our life’s story. By being selective about what we keep, we can allow truly meaningful objects to take up the space they deserve.

Death cleaning isn’t so much about death; it’s about prioritizing and honoring what’s most important to you about life. And part of the beauty of life is found in its eventual passing.

woman in hanging up cardigan in clean laundry room

You may have the urge to start searching “how to declutter your house in one day,” which may be necessary at times, but death cleaning is more of a lifestyle shift that takes place over many years. If you do a little bit of decluttering at a time while being intentional about what you buy, there is no rush.

Tangible Tips for How to Purge Your House the Swedish-Death-Cleaning Way

#1 Use Decluttering as an Opportunity to Connect with Loved Ones

Swedish death cleaning presents the perfect opportunity to pass on special pieces to nieces or grandsons while you can still share the stories behind them. Allow any emotions to come up as you sort through your items and embrace this vulnerability with others after you’ve had the chance to reflect.

woman in living room folding towels on a sofa

If you are the keeper of sentimental items for others (your children’s old school papers, or your partner’s photos from their college days, for example), you can ask them about what they remember about each item. Get curious about the memories attached, and then work together to decide what is most meaningful and gets to stay.

#2 Choose Experiences Over “Things”

A cluttered house may represent an opportunity to create healthier boundaries around what you choose to bring into and keep in your home.

Swedish death cleaning, while honoring the importance of objects, also advocates for embracing experiences over “things.” If objects are what represent memories, then we should seek to be creating those memories in the first place.

Plan a time to go through your old memory box simply for the joy of reliving your memories. As you flip through old photos or creative pieces, what do you notice being the items that bring you the most joy or gratitude?

We may choose a “thing” over an experience if we want a quick way to feel better about ourselves. The next time you feel an impulse to buy something you don’t really need (or even want), get out your phone and text a loved one instead. Share something you’re grateful for or schedule a time to hang out. How does it make you feel?

woman in white dress standing on cliff edge with arms outstretched

#3 Use Guided Prompts to Help Downsize Your Home

To help relieve some anxiety as you purge and declutter your house, it may be helpful to take the time to reflect and understand your feelings about it first.

We’ve created a free worksheet PDF about Swedish death cleaning and right-sizing that will hold your hand through the process. Death cleaning may sound scary, but it is liberating, exciting, and well worth the time and effort as you move through and enjoy the rest of your life.

Let me know your thoughts on the Swedish trend on IG @morespace_organizing!

I’d love to hear about your experience with it or learn what is holding you back from trying it out!

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