“Swedish Death Cleaning, YES!”


The first time I saw this in my social media feed I smiled somewhat puzzledly.  I’m a professional organizer and I consider myself well versed on anything organizing-oriented.  I also lived in Stockholm for 20+ years (yes, that’s me in the photo, many years ago!), so this new term had me quite intrigued.  A quick Google search revealed the source of this new phenomenon: the book Döstädning – Ingen Sorlig Historia, by Margareta Magnusson.  The English version, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, is not yet available in the US market, but fear not!  I have now read it in its original language and will share the highlights.


What exactly is Swedish Death Cleaning?


First of all, the concept is really more universal than Nordic.  People have been downsizing for various reasons for ages.  However, as Magnusson’s book promoting this purposeful act specifically in preparation for death was written and published in Swedish, the translation became “Swedish Death Cleaning”. The Swedish word döstädning, or dostadning for those without an international keyboard, combines an adjective-like form of death with the noun form of cleaning. Swedes love to do this, combine words to make new words.  Chocolate cake?  Chokladtårta.  Favorite book?  Favoritbok.  Professional organizer?  Ordningskonsult. Death cleaning?  Döstädning.  My Swedish spell check did not recognize “döstädning” when I started typing this blog, but I guarantee you it will be one of the top new Swedish words from 2017 highlighted by the National Language Council (Språkrådet) at the end of the year.


Swedish Death Cleaning is primarily the routine of slowly and steadily getting rid of your possessions, by whatever methods suit you, in preparation for your own eventual departure from this world. This gradual process reminds me of the quote “People spend the first 40 years of their life enthusiastically accumulating and the next 40 years trying to get rid of the excess.” (Marj Decker & Judi Culbertson, Scaling Down:  Living Large in a smaller Space).  Look around your home, Magnusson suggests, and notice how much of what you have has probably been yours for so long that you no longer see, use or value it.  Swedish Death Cleaning is removing these items you no longer need or want from your home while you can, to spare someone else the task of dealing with them when you’re gone.


It is also the mindset of taking responsibility for what you chose to keep (or not) by making wise decisions.  Whatever you leave behind is going to have to be dealt with by someone, so what and how much do you actually want to leave behind?  Magnusson discusses reframing your relationship to what you own and embracing a more minimalistic mentality over time, something I am very much on board with!  This will free up time spent tending to your stuff to enjoy relationships and activities instead.  Plus, you know, it’s probably a good idea to dispose of your secret stash of old love letters you wouldn’t want your kids to see.


One can actually begin death cleaning at any age, though Magnusson points out that it’s never too late to start, until it is.


Are you ready to begin your journey of de-owning what you no longer love or use and don’t want to bother someone else with some day?  Contact me.  I am an expert downsizer and can guide you through the process.
Content provided by Women Belong member Kelly Brask