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Death Cleaning: The Swedish Practice of Decluttering Before You Die

by | Dec 14, 2017 | For Families


The Swedish have an interesting practice known as döstädning. It roughly translates to death cleaning — a practice of decluttering your life as you age.

Margareta Magnusson, the author of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, believes that Americans can benefit from this practice. In an interview with NBC News, she said “Death cleaning is not about dusting or mopping up; it is about a permanent form of organization that makes your everyday life run more smoothly…It is a delight to go through things and remember their worth.”

While the term “death cleaning” might sound morbid, it’s actually quite practical. The video below shows Margareta Magnusson explaining her process.

Benefits of Decluttering & Downsizing

The basic idea behind death cleaning is that, once you’re reaching the end of middle age, you start to clear out some of the stuff you’ve accumulated (especially stuff that you don’t really use or need anymore). The primary benefit is that our loved ones won’t have to worry about it when we’re gone — as it can be a difficult process for them. As Margareta Magnusson notes, downsizing helped her because she was worried her husband would want to keep everything, and that her kids would have disagreed on what to keep and what to throw out.

There are other benefits of downsizing, too:

  • Decluttering can make us happier. The practice revolves around minimalism. Psychologists believe living a minimalist lifestyle means we focus less on things and more on relationships and experiences. By decluttering our lives, we can put more value and meaning into the people closest to us, which ultimately leads to a more fulfilling life.
  • Downsizing leaves you less stressed. Studies have also found that living a decluttered life leaves a person more focused, more productive, and less stressed. As for the opposite, a cluttered home leads to higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
  • Swedish death cleaning is a modern memento mori — it reminds us of our mortality. Getting rid of, or donating, the things we don’t use anymore helps remind us we aren’t here forever. In addition, going through our old things is a lot like going through an old photo album. We can recollect on our past and be reminded of certain memories. Amy Morin, author of “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do,” told NBC news that decluttering can “serve as a reminder of who you are, how you see yourself and how you want others to see you after your death.”

Tips for Downsizing

For those interested in the idea of Swedish death cleaning, here are some tips:

  • Start early in life. Studies found that the older you get, the less likely you’ll get around to it.
  • Don’t start with photos. It can be easy to get tied up in the nostalgia early on and leave you distracted. Save the photos and other nostalgic stuff for last.
  • Use the 6-month rule. If you haven’t used something in more than 6 months, ask yourself if you really need it. If not, consider putting it on the list of things to get rid of.
  • Donate items to local charities or re-gift them to family and friends.

Ways to Donate

Local charities are your best bet when looking to donate. Charity Navigator is a nonprofit that helps people locate local charities. Use their advanced search tool to find a donation center near you.

Below are some other charities worth considering:

  • Goodwill
  • Salvation Army
  • Career Gear — a charity that’s focused on helping men enter the workforce. They accept business professional attire donations.
  • Dress for Success — a charity similar to Career Gear, but with a focus on young women entering the workforce.
  • Onesight — an organization that collects and repurposes eyeglasses for those less fortunate.


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