What on Earth Is Swedish Death Cleaning—and Should You Be Doing It?

Dec, 08, 2017

I must admit that hearing the term “death cleaning” gives chills because it sounds as if someone is cleaning until they drop. Now, you if add “Swedish” to it, then as a Swede, I understand what they are talking about.
In Sweden, it is common for people in their eighties to purge their homes of items they have accumulated over the years but no longer needed or that no longer has sentimental value for them in order to make it easy for relatives once they die. The idea is that if your family does not want your things when you’re alive, they surely don’t want them once you’re dead. Objects you should keep are special letters, cards and photos with a special meaning.
Swedish death cleaning now is a new fad: it is a guide to home organization where, by middle age (or sooner), you simply organize your home and get rid of any belongings not essential or sentimental: extra plates, glasses, clothes, shoes, table cloths, drapes and much, much more — keeping a very few special things. You’re simply decluttering your home and, in the process, freeing yourself.

Bea Johnson, author of Zero Waste Home, talks about decluttering her home in her book and how they downsized by getting rid of so many unnecessary belongings. Today, Bea is an inspiration because of her zero waste lifestyle as well as very minimal living, and she has shown that you can be very chic and have a beautiful home with way less.
The truth is that most people are addicted to collecting and some even have storage units to contain it all. That was my husband and me. A few years ago we went through a “death cleaning”: we just did not know there was a name for it. Our decluttering began with my husband’s taking time off to be with our children and taking a huge pay cut. Then we suddenly needed to cut our costs. One big cut was that darned storage unit: we needed it gone. We knew that, before we could bring all this stuff home, we first had to clean up our house by reducing the number of our belongings. It took us a week. I was amazed at how many unnecessary items we had lying around.

Once we had donated, recycled and thrown away A LOT, we emptied our storage unit.

Oh, boy, did that take many carloads! We opened every box and took out everything. It was fascinating to see how many things we were holding on to. Some was just garbage and some we had kept for emotional reasons. I had things that belonged to my mom, who had passed away 10 years prior; and my husband had a coat that was 20 years old (that he never used) from his grandparents. We found old books, papers, china, knickknacks, old clothes, DVDs, and some very strange articles like a million cables and loads of plastic wrap. And we never use plastic wrap these days. Again, we sorted objects to keep, to donate, to recycle, and to send to a landfill.
We also decided to take the time to sell items on EBay. We had old IPhones that sold well, lots of old Levis jeans that are too big, DVDs, old kids’ clothes and toys and furniture. We even sold all those cables and the plastic wrap. We ended up making some very good money. The more we cleaned out, the freer we felt. We realized that all the old stuff had weighed us down.
Downsizing feels very good. Never ever again will we clutter our home. We think twice before adding anything more to our belongings. I’m happy I did my “death cleaning” in my 40s and did not wait to until my 80s before unburdening myself of too many belongings.
For more ideas and how-to of decluttering your home, go here:

Fredrika Syren

Fredrika Syren is an environmental activist and writer. In 2016, she founded the website Green-Mom.com where she shared her family’s journey of living zero waste. She lives in San Diego, California with her husband James and their children Bella, Noah, and Liam. Fredrika and her family were recently featured in the documentary Zero Time to Waste. Fredrika is also the author of Zero Waste for Families - A Practical Guidebook (which you can buy on this site)

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