Swedish Death Cleaning: It's Not as Grim as You Might Think

Okay, a little less grim. But a lot less grime.

Dostadning, otherwise known as, “Swedish Death Cleaning,” is the latest, somewhat morbid, Swedish trend that’s sweeping the masses. Pun intended.

Spooky though it may sound, SDC is anything but. The idea is drawing attention thanks to Swedish writer, Margareta Magnusson’s book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, which inspired the new television show by the same name. All you organizing freaks out there, keep reading. You’re going to eat this up.

A white, minimalist living room with vaulted ceilings and fireplace

A White, Airy Living Room Benefits from Minimalist Design

When you walk in through the front door, you see the family room, living room and kitchen in a large, open area delineated by a fireplace. Vaulted ceilings in the family room add “I did want some separation instead of having one big cavernous room,” Dino says. “It’s inviting, with the fireplace.” To the left, you can see a peek of the hallway leading to the bedrooms, where Dino created a sense of privacy by separating them from the open living space.

Photo by: Sam Wadieh

Sam Wadieh

What is Swedish Death Cleaning?

Simply stated, Swedish Death Cleaning encourages those in their early-to-mid 60s to begin the process of slowly and systematically decluttering their homes. The decluttering process should be maintained throughout the remaining years of one’s life. The idea is that, by doing so, you can free your friends and family from the responsibility and/or burden of managing a lifetime of accrued material items (read: clutter) after you're gone.

If you think this all still sounds a bit daunting, you’re not alone. But stress not, friend. We come bearing Swedish Death Cleaning tips to help you get started.

It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint

A bed with white linens and blue accent blanket

Built-in White Oak Wardrobe in Sunny Guest Bedroom

The built-in cabinets in this bedroom share seamless design with those in the kitchen and other wardrobes in the home’s additional bedrooms. Dino says he added a quarter inch of rubber on the walls of each bedroom to dampen sound.

Photo by: Sam Wadieh

Sam Wadieh

Our first piece of advice before throwing yourself into the SDC method is to remind yourself that this is a gradual process. Unlike seasonal cleaning that you can tackle over a long weekend, Swedish Death Cleaning asks you to take stock of all your possessions and determine what items will benefit those you leave behind. Emotion is a natural part of the undertaking, and it may be easier to execute your SDC journey by breaking down your cleanse over an extended period and working room by room.

Start With Your Clothes

A chair is piled high with dirty clothes.

Clothes Piled Up on a Bedroom Chair

You’re not imagining it: That pile of clutter on your kitchen table is actually causing you stress, according to the Mayo Clinic. By investing time to tidy up your living area and get rid of things you don’t need, you’ll make yourself more comfortable in your space and reduce stress, improving your mood. Not sure where to start? Try exercises like spending just 10 or 15 minutes organizing a corner or desk drawer, or challenging yourself to find something to donate every day. You can start small, with getting rid of just one thing, then work up to letting go of progressively more items.

Photo by: Shutterstock/Damian Lugowski

Shutterstock/Damian Lugowski

One of the best places to jumpstart your cleaning is your closet. You can start the closet cleanout at any point in the year, but it’s helpful to tackle this portion of the process when transitioning your wardrobe from spring and summer to fall and winter. Use that time to purge items that will no longer serve you or your loved ones in the following years. Toss any items that are beyond repair and throw any garments that no longer fit your body or style or are duplicated in your collection into a donate pile.

Declutter by Size

Concrete Fireplace With Wood-Framed Chairs and Windows on Either Side

Sparse Space

The fireplace clad in cement is flanked by two low-slung, whitewashed wood Scandinavian-style chairs with woven leather straps in this purposely sparse space.

Photo by: Robert Peterson, Rustic White Photography

Robert Peterson, Rustic White Photography

Decluttering small items can feel less rewarding because you see less visual impact on the space. Gain momentum in the SDC process by removing bulky items taking up space in your home that no longer serve you. Damaged or dated furniture pieces, appliances and outdoor gear you haven’t touched in years are a great place to start. If these large items are defective, go ahead and haul them to the dump. By contrast, if these functional pieces are simply taking up unnecessary space in your home, consult your loved ones about whether they want to inherit them, list them online for a profit or donate them to a local thrift store.

Exile Excess

Stacking plates too high inside cabinets can result in a tumbling disaster. Put the dead space at the top of each interior cabinet to good use with plate shelving. These simply slide on to the shelf above each interior unit, turning empty space into valuable storage.

Plate Shelving

Stacking plates too high inside cabinets can result in a tumbling disaster. Put the dead space at the top of each interior cabinet to good use with plate shelving. These simply slide on to the shelf above each interior unit, turning empty space into valuable storage.

Photo by: Flynnside Out

Flynnside Out

Pull back the cupboard doors and cabinet drawers and take stock of duplicates or any obvious excess in your collections. Do you need a 12-person dinnerware set at this time of your life? Will your family benefit from the 12-person set now or later down the road? Do you require three different pasta pots? Can you use five Christmas tree skirts? Take the time to decide what items bring value to your life now, what items may be meaningful or helpful for your loved ones’ lives at present or in the future, and what to give away to those less fortunate.

Involve Your Loved Ones

Keep a donation basket nearby to reduce clutter.

A Donation Basket Kept in a Closet or Nearby

Keep a donation basket in a bedroom or a closet to help reduce clutter and improve organization.

Photo by: Derek Trimble

Derek Trimble

No one wants to spend their weekend rummaging through closets deciding what items to keep when their parent, grandparent or favorite aunt passes away. That said, involving your beneficiaries in the Swedish Death Cleaning process is one of the best ways to streamline the process and determine which of your belongings are meaningful to them and what to toss into the donation pile. And, let’s face it, cleaning out a house is overwhelming by default, so having a few extra hands is always helpful. Our advice? Pour some coffee (or wine!), throw on some music and serve some sweet treats to soften the slightly morbid undertones.

Implement Storage for Sentimental Items

It's amazing how many unnecessary things you can stockpile without even realizing it.  The next tip to creating a newly refreshed office is decluttering your space and sorting your items into three piles : toss, keep and donate.

Declutter and Sort Into Piles

It's amazing how many unnecessary things you can stockpile without even realizing it. The next tip to creating a newly refreshed office is decluttering your space and sorting your items into three piles : toss, keep and donate.

Photo by: Amy Weir

Amy Weir

Once you edit your belongings, it’s important to implement a storage system for what remains. Invest in streamlined, easy-to-navigate storage for your sentimental photos, love letters, family recipes, heirlooms and trinkets. Share any keys or passcode combinations with one or two trusted loved ones to ensure they can access these items in the future.

Bring Shopping to a Halt

White and Walnut Wood Wardrobe Cabinet With Doors Open

Multifunctional Cabinet

With the doors to the wardrobe cabinet open, you can see the sturdy crossbar for hanging bags and jackets, an upper shelf for smaller items, and the cabinet’s lower shelf with a basket for extra pillows or a throw blanket for chilly days and nights.

Don’t let the temptation of new things negate all your hard work. Once you complete your decluttering, it’s time to bring your shopping for new items to the bare minimum. It can be tempting to fill blank corners and open spaces with new things, but don’t give in to temptation! Remember why you started this process in the first place and find contentment with everything you have on hand.

So what do you think? Would you give Swedish Death Cleaning a go, or no?

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