How ‘Swedish death cleaning’ could be the key to a brighter, tidier space this spring

Written by Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

“Swedish death cleaning” may sound morbid, but it’s strangely uplifting. Here’s how to try it in time for spring.

Admit it: we say ‘decluttering’ and you think ‘Marie Kondo’ and her famous KonMari folding methods – and that’s fair enough. Even if Kondo did admit earlier this year that she’s “kind of given up” on extreme tidiness, her tenets of minimalism and sparking joy will stay with us for seasons to come. However, it’s not the only direction we should be looking for much-needed organisation inspiration. 

We’re already fans of the major lifestyle trends like hygge and lagom that have come from Scandi shores, but allow us to introduce you to döstädning. Or, to call it by its infinitely more clickable name: Swedish death cleaning.

So, what’s döstädning?

To put it simply, döstädning is designed as an easy way for folks to purge their homes and organise their possessions in hopes that their families won’t be overburdened by their belongings once they pass away.

Wait, what? Isn’t that super morbid?

Apparently not. Margareta Magnusson, who coined the term in her book the Gentle Art Of Swedish Death Cleaning, has said that the process isn’t intended to draw attention to death, but to celebrate life.

“Death cleaning isn’t the story of death and its slow, ungainly inevitability,” she writes. “But rather the story of life, your life, the good memories and the bad. The good ones you keep. The bad you expunge.” 

Margareta concludes: “A loved one wishes to inherit nice things from you. Not all things from you.”

So how does it work?

If you’re keen to give döstädning a go, Magnusson advises that you work top to bottom. Which means that, if you have boxes in the loft, you start there first, and work your way slowly through your home to the bottom-most floor.

Much like the KonMari Method, the aim is to keep only those things that speak joy to the heart. However, Swedish death cleaning is primarily about being kind to others and making sure that people aren’t hurt by what they may find among your things after you’re gone.

With this in mind, here’s just a handful of our favourite döstädning tips…

1) Begin with things that are out of sight

If you’ve stashed items away in boxes because you don’t want to deal with them, chances are your loved ones will feel the same. Gift them, donate them, or recycle them.

2) Ditch anything that may prove hurtful or embarrassing to your family

If you don’t want them to find something and can’t get rid of it, store it in a way that will spare them later (or, to quote the ever-pragmatic Magnusson, “Save your favourite dildo, but throw away the other 15!”).

3) Streamline your wardrobe

Try sorting your clothes and shoes into four piles: those you love and wear frequently, those you want to keep but don’t necessarily know why, those that don’t fit your body or lifestyle (donate), and those that are in poor condition (trash).

4) Gift your belongings gradually and thoughtfully

When you drop by a friend’s house, skip the flowers or food, and bring them a few books you no longer want, or a dress you know will suit them, or a vase they’ve complimented in the past.

5) Leave photographs, letters and diaries ‘til last

The emotional content in these items can make them the hardest to sort through. When it comes to photographs, throw out any duplicates or images of people you can’t name. Then, give away what you can.

6) Keep one box of memories for yourself

“There are a few things that I would like to save for myself only,” writes Magnusson. “Old love letters, programs, memories from traveling. I have gathered all these personal items in a box that I have marked ‘throw away’…

“Once I am gone, the box can be destroyed.”

Spring cleaning: Decluttering your life can help declutter your mind, too.

How long will it take?

Well, it’s not a quick-fix by any means. In fact, it’s a process that can go on for weeks or months, or even longer if you need it to. The aim isn’t to embark on a short burst of decluttering, but to change the way you live and organise your life (Magnusson says you must keep on decluttering as you go forward, and be mindful when purchasing new items). Because, contrary to popular belief, we don’t need to keep things to preserve a memory: memories exist independently of material things.

And remember…

“Living smaller is a relief,” Magnusson writes. “I know many people who can sit in a messy home and look as if they are happy and in harmony. To me they seem almost comical. I don’t understand them.”

Keen to learn more? Buy Dostadning: The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.

Images: Getty

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