Swedish death cleaning helps you declutter like there's no tomorrow

It's hard to hear the term "Swedish death cleaning" without making an outlandish guess at what it refers to. Perhaps a Scandinavian heavy metal band that offers housekeeping services?

In reality, Swedish death cleaning is a decluttering method which invites people to take a hard look at their belongings. A typical home cleanup can help get your home in order, but is unlikely to purge too many items. Swedish death cleaning, by contrast, asks you to consider whether something will be meaningful or burdensome to those who have to go through your belongings after you pass away.

The buzz about this cleaning strategy is a result of a newly released book by Margareta Magnusson entitled "The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning." Magnusson imparted her advice about reducing clutter after the deaths of her parents, in-laws, and husband left her with the taxing and emotionally charged process of going through everything they had left behind.

Swedish death cleaning aims to reduce this burden, which can be time-consuming and costly. The magazine Family Handyman says younger generations are increasingly unlikely to want to accept furniture or other items offered by their aging parents. After a parent dies, their adult children may be left with the expenses of continuing to make rent or mortgage payments while sorting through a parent's belongings or hiring a liquidator to disperse the items through an estate sale.

Magnusson recommends that people start the process of Swedish death cleaning at age 65. However, younger people can also give it a try to see if it can help them with decluttering.

The easiest way to start your own Swedish death cleaning is to focus on items with less emotional weight. Margaret Heidenry, writing for the National Association of Realtors, says this means avoiding photo albums, old letters, and similar nostalgic knickknacks at first. You might instead start by tackling the stacks of long-ignored boxes in the basement, attic, or garage. If you don't pare these down now, after all, that task will fall to someone else after your death.

Another recent cleaning trend, the KonMari method championed by Japanese author Marie Kondo, urged people to throw out anything that didn't bring joy to their life. Jill Nystul, author of the home design blog One Good Thing by Jillee, says Swedish death cleaning uses a similar guiding question: Will the items you leave behind make anyone else happier?

Your wardrobe is a good place to start. Keep the clothes you wear regularly, and set aside the rest to be donated. You might be surprised to find how many outfits in your closet no longer fit, are outdated, or haven't even had their tags removed.

The kitchen can also be pared down rather dramatically. Take a critical look at your plates, glasses, and utensils to see if this collection can be reduced. If two dozen plates are stacked up in a cabinet, you can easily get rid of the majority of them.

Heidenry says it can be difficult to part with items, but it is helpful to consider the last time you actually used them when deciding whether to get rid of them. Family Handyman says that while certain items may have been purchased to remind you of a place or experience, you'll still have your own memories to rely on. You don't need a souvenir mug to remind you of that family vacation to Niagara Falls.

Don't take on the process of Swedish death cleaning alone. Chris Wadsworth, writing for AARP, says you should talk with your family to let them know about your decluttering goals. This not only lets you know firsthand what they might like to take for their own home, but also which items they have no interest in.

Some items can be given away as gifts. Nystul says some of your belongings might have special meaning to a friend or family member. You might even consider throwing a party to invite people over and see what they are willing to take off your hands.

You can take your time with the cleaning process. Heidenry says it can take several months to go through your items, and you might make it more manageable by focusing on an individual room before moving on to another part of the home. Nystul says you should get into the habit of regularly going through your things to make additional purges.

Consider whether you should keep sentimental items, or whether you can make them more manageable. For example, you might digitize old photos and videotapes to keep bulky albums and collections from taking up too much space. Wadsworth says you may even want to destroy old diaries or other personal items if they could potentially upset family members after your death.

One compromise in this area is to keep a box or two of things that are of particular importance to you, but which are unlikely to hold any value for your loved ones. You can then leave instructions that the items can be destroyed once you are no longer around.


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