If You Love Marie Kondo, Swedish Death Cleaning May Be for You

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)

My husband and I are avid antique shoppers and like to joke that when we die (hopefully many, many decades from now!), we’re setting our neighbors up for one of the best estate sales of all time. Who wouldn’t want a primitive jelly cabinet with a slightly busted corner? Or a six-pack of canned, expired emergency water?

Of course, we say that in the same breath we take to complain about eventually having to clean our parents’ houses when they pass. It’s a little morbid, we know, but we’re not so much focused on their deaths as we are talking about just how much stuff they have managed to stuff into their suburban New Jersey homes.

Why am I telling you this? Because I just stumbled upon an upcoming book that gave me pause: The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter.

(Image credit: Amazon)

What Is Swedish Death Cleaning?

In Swedish there is a word for it: döstädning. “Dö” means “death” and “städning” means “cleaning.” The idea is to remove unnecessary things and get your home in order as you get older. To minimize the amount of stuff (junk, clutter, things you don’t need, etc.) that you will end up leaving behind for others to deal with.

This feels especially relevant these days, on the heels of a report from The Christian Science Monitor that found that baby boomers are realizing their kids don’t want their stuff.

But death cleaning is not just for old folks — the word can be applied whenever you do a thorough cleaning. The idea of death cleaning is to simply organize your everyday life to make it run more smoothly. People of any age can benefit from that!

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

How Does It Work?

In the book, author Margareta Magnusson deals with the passing of her parents, her in-laws, and her husband before downsizing from a five-bedroom house to a two-room apartment — death cleaning along the way, of course. (Don’t worry, it’s funnier and less overwhelming than it sounds!)

“My motto is, if you don’t love it, lose it. If you don’t use it, lose it,” Magnusson tells book reviewer Hannah-Rose Yee. Easy enough, right? There are just a few more rules of death cleaning:

1. Talk about death cleaning. Talk about it with your parents (who you may end up death cleaning for) and your friends. It adds a sense of accountability to what you’re doing.

2. Don’t be afraid of death cleaning. Death cleaning isn’t about death. It’s about the story of your life and all its memories.

3. Reward yourself. Go to the movies, spend time on your garden, or eat a delicious meal. You are working hard and you deserve a reward. Just don’t buy yourself more stuff you don’t need.

What do you think? Is death cleaning something you’re down to try?