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Swedish “Death Cleaning” – not as macabre as it sounds!

This is a favorite blog post from our archives. We originally posted this in 2018 but have recently heard from many clients who were home so much during Covid and started to take a closer look at their belongings. We hope this post helps!

Death cleaning, you say? A technique originating in Sweden (“Dostadning”), death cleaning is a way to decrease your possessions over time so that your next of kin has much less to deal with (e.g. “get rid of”) after you pass away. According to an article in the New York Post, “In Sweden, people start the process as early as their 50s, slowly but steadily decluttering as the years roll by.”

Margareta Magnusson is the author of the new book, "The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Make Your Loved Ones’ Lives Easier and Your Own Life More Pleasant," which is described on Amazon as “A charming, practical, and unsentimental approach to putting a home in order while reflecting on the tiny joys that make up a long life.”

As a Professional Organizer, I am certainly a big fan of decluttering, and the more clients I work with, the more I want to declutter my own things so my two kids don’t have to decide what to do with them once I am no longer here. I see clients struggling with making decisions about their parent’s estates, aunts, uncles, grandparents. So much stuff that they don’t need; the emotional weight can be debilitating, and the sheer amount of time to make good decisions about things can last for months or even years.

I like to think that I am more on the “minimalist” side, but I still have a lot of stuff. I’ve pared down my wardrobe, my music and book collection (mostly digital for the music, and I love the library!), my papers. I’ve even gotten the piles of my kids’ schoolwork/artwork/report cards down to a large bin each, which was no easy task. I’m working on the family printed pictures (and digital too, although that doesn’t seem as daunting). Thankfully we have a resident photo organizing expert on staff! Gabriela Burgman But I still have plenty of material possessions that won’t mean much to my offspring. How do I narrow them down to something that’s manageable?

Part of my plan is to continue to pare down my things and buy less new things. As time passes, those notes from my high school friends lose more and more of their meaning, and I’m pretty sure my kids don’t want to read my old love letters from people they don’t even know. I will keep what has significance for me, and perhaps clearly label the bin (I’m trying to limit it to one!) so that they will have no guilt in tossing it once I’m gone.

I know that most of us don’t like to think about dying, that our time here on earth truly is limited. But it’s inevitable, and why torment our loved ones in trying to decide if they should keep those coffee mugs, that china that their great-great-grandparents passed down, the dozens of earrings (one of my vices)? I plan to share with my kids what has sentimental value for me but emphasize that they should not feel guilty about getting rid of whatever they don’t want.

In Part II (coming soon), I will talk about the Death Cleaning process with my parents…definitely a delicate and awkward topic but necessary.

Blog update: Melissa is happy to report that she has since finished her print photo organizing project! You can learn more about Gabby and her photo organizing services here:

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