Swedish Death Cleaning During the Holidays

Have you heard of the recent trend in the organizing industry known as Swedish Death Cleaning?

The holidays are a time for telling stories. The Night Before Christmas (Santa Claus), Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, The Little Drummer Boy, and the list goes on. Have you heard of the recent trend in the organizing industry known as Swedish Death Cleaning? The Swedish term for this extended, gentle practice is “döstädning.” The Scandinavian practice of death cleaning is a way to tell the story of your life. You can preserve the memories you want to keep alive, and wipe out the bad ones along with the things that serve as negative reminders.

The topic of death isn’t typically focused on during the holidays, but this method is more about a practical approach to deal with all of your belongings while you’re still very much alive. This technique is practiced widely in Scandinavia, and the process was traditionally started when a person or couple reached their 50s. Americans statistically accumulate more things a a faster pace than most other cultures (especially Scandinavians), so it makes sense that we start this process at a much earlier stage of life if possible.

The ultimate purpose of Swedish Death Cleaning is to simplify one’s life by steadily decreasing the amount of possessions in the home. In time, the practitioners are surrounded by the things that mean the most to them, and the unsubstantial stuff is eventually discarded. Participants slowly and regularly de-clutter their homes until the day they are gone. When one passes, all of the belongings left behind have to be dealt with by people in their family and inner circle. So why not start discussing long term intentions for you belongings with those who are close to you?

Apply the tips below to plan out your own Swedish Death Cleaning.

  • First, create a chart with all of the rooms in your home. Focus on de-cluttering one room a month, slowly and methodically processing the contents in that single room during that period.
  • Begin your journey in storage areas like basements, attics, crawl spaces, or garages. If you don’t have any of these spaces (especially those of you in New York City), then start with closets. Things in these areas are hidden away and the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ proverb especially applies to items in storage areas.
  • There is no urgency with Swedish Death Cleaning, so it doesn’t have to be done all at once  like the hardcore KonMari method (popularized in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up). You can just do a little de-cluttering each week, and the best time to start is now. As you pull out holiday decorations, part with all the stuff that is damaged, outdated or that you you haven’t used in recent years.
  • A good way to effectively death clean your home is to speak about it with those around you. Once you speak it into existence, you can be held accountable for it. This will encourage family and friends to claim things, and it will reveal which items no one really wants as well.
  • Get rid of anything that could be disturbing, embarrassing or hurtful for your family or next of kin to find. It’s difficult to imagine now, but one undisclosed day they will have to rummage through your things and sort them out to be distributed. What do you have hidden just out of sight that you wouldn’t want them to find?
  • Make sure to record what you want to be done with specific belongings. Let the hiers know what they should expect to receive, and list it all in your legal paperwork. As you are sorting through things, you can also create notes for the intended recipients, explaining the provenance, special stories related to items, etc.
  • You can reward yourself for your persistent work with healthy activities and indulgences like eating an enjoyable meal, taking yourself (and your other half) to a movie, taking a walk through Central Park on a crisp Fall day, etc. If you sell things as you de-clutter your home, the money can fund fun life experiences (travel!), or be placed in savings for your heirs to inherit in place of the stuff they don’t want.
  • Finally, leave your photographs, scrapbooks, journals, and letters to be sorted through at the end. These types of materials can get you stuck in a time warp as you experience the nostalgia and end up procrastinating with the larger scale sorting.

The concept of Swedish Death Cleaning resonates with us because it counteracts the fast-paced and chaotic world we live in. De-cluttering and downsizing can help us cope with our own mortality, even during the festive holiday season. Paring down reminds us that things don’t last forever, and the we don’t live forever. If you’re dedicated to creating your own legacy, start your process of döstädning to fully express how you see yourself, and how you desire people to remember you.

Happy Holidays,


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