What in the world is Swedish Death Cleaning?

One of the big home trends being predicted for 2018 is Swedish Death Cleaning. It is the latest in a series of decluttering philosophies, but different in that it is geared more towards the end-of-life stage. The idea comes from Swedish author Margareta Magnusson.

Her book, called The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, makes the case that people should start thinking about death cleaning as soon as they are old enough to start thinking about their own mortality. “Don’t collect things you don’t want,” she says. “One day when you’re not around anymore, your family will have to take care of all that stuff, and I don’t think that’s fair.”

“Dostadning” is the Swedish term used in the book to describe the premise; it comes from the Swedish words for death and cleaning. This particular downsizing process may sound a little ghoulish to Americans because of its end-of-life timing, but Swedens have long been known for their minimalist tendencies.

How does it work?

The concept of Swedish Death Cleaning is to begin decluttering, minimizing, and/or cleaning before you become too ill or infirmed to do it yourself. Beginning in one’s 60’s and beyond, ridding oneself of excess possessions will hopefully encourage that person to live out his/her life more simply instead of accumulating additional stuff. There’s something very scary, but freeing, that comes after a certain age when you realize the majority of your years of career-focus and desire to conform to society’s materialism are now in the past.

I’ve been decluttering for over a year (before I ever heard of this book) because of my desire to live with less possessions. I made a resolution last January to rid my house of 500 things, and got pretty close to that number. I “re-upped” that resolution for 2018, and got off to a good start when I put away my holiday decorations.

Letting go

One of the greatest gifts you can give your kids in your lifetime is to not be consumed by material goods—the acquiring, the having, the “time suck” maintaining a lot of things consumes. The pain of sorting through mountains of stuff after death is hard, and many times it has to happen when the grieving stage is at its peak. You wonder for months and years later if you made the right decisions over what to keep, what to give away, what to sell, and what to pass on.

Bottom line

Want to get started, but with baby steps? If you have children or grandchildren who would enjoy the possessions you no longer use or want, start with them first. Put items on display at family gatherings (holidays, family reunions, etc), and tell your family to take what they like. The top three most common New Year’s resolutions are to (1) lose weight, (2) organize your home, and (3) spend less and save more. Swedish Death Cleaning can help you achieve all three (to some degree) with a few cleaning purges.


By Donna Green

Family and Consumer Sciences Educator

Ohio State University Extension, Erie County

Reviewed by Candace J. Heer, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Morrow County.