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Swedish Death Cleaning – What You Need To Know

Move over KonMari Method, there’s a new decluttering craze in town. But does Swedish death cleaning signal the end of ‘sparks joy’? Let’s discuss!


(Please note: links in this post to the book I'm discussing are affiliate links, meaning I'll make a tiny commission from Amazon if you click through and make a purchase. Thanks so much for your support!)

Swedish Death Cleaning: What It Is & How It Compares To The KonMari Method

First off, what in the name of feck is Swedish death cleaning?

It’s from the Swedish word “döstädning”, with “dö” meaning “death” and “städning” meaning “cleaning.” A pretty straightforward translation, I think you’ll agree.

Yeah yeah, but what does it mean?

Simply put, it’s death-prep decluttering.

According to Margareta Magnusson, author of “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” (umm… excellent title), you should minimise your belongings so they don’t become a burden after you leave this mortal realm.

After our passing, our loved ones are left to pick up the pieces, often literally. They’re the ones tasked with clearing out our homes and dumping our junk.

Anyone I know who’s been through this process has described it as extremely taxing and exhausting, both physically and mentally. The aim of Swedish death cleaning, then, is to make it as easy as possible on your nearest and dearest.

Instead of holding each item and asking, “Does this spark joy?”, you’re examining each item by asking, “Will my loved ones consider this crap?”

(Her actual question is, "Will anyone I know be happier if I save this?”, but I’m paraphrasing for funsies.)

I’m being facetious but you get the idea — you’re supposed to be sparing the next generation from having to deal with your junk. Putting your affairs in order so your poor children don’t have to.

So how does Swedish death cleaning differ from the KonMari Method?

Well, for a start, there are no hard and fast rules. In fact, there aren’t any rules at all, really. Your only guiding principle in the decision of what to declutter is whether you think people will want it after you’re gone. That’s not entirely helpful.

On the flip side, there are no rules saying, for example, you have to fold your clothes a certain way.

Magnusson does pepper the book with practical advice though, such as keeping a log of passwords so your accounts can be accessed posthumously. (The security conscious side of me suggests leaving it in the hands of a trusted lawyer or in a safe or similar.)

She also, interestingly, suggests keeping a few beloved items in a box, with a note that they can be tossed after your death. After all, things that spark joy for you may just bring stress to someone else. The note will alleviate a lot of the anguish relatives may feel about letting go of your stuff.

The truth is, the two processes could work in perfect harmony. You could perform your Swedish death cleaning by incorporating a lot of the elements of the KonMari Method— working in categories and asking if things spark joy for you, while adding in the extra layer of whether you think they’ll spark joy for your loved ones.

Though Magnusson says that 65 is a good age to start, she also suggests that it’s never too soon. After all, you don’t know when you’re going to die. (Exactly the sort of sentiment you wanted to hear right now, I’m sure.)

Which do I prefer – Swedish death cleaning or the KonMari Method?

Personally, I need the solid structure of the KonMari Method. I want to keep things that spark joy for me in the here and now, and not have the added stress of wondering whether Scout will want it all after I’m gone.

Still, like I said, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. And it’s true that facing up to our own mortality and the happiness of our family can mean a complete shift in our priorities. Things that once were important suddenly seem trivial.

It’s also true that you can’t take anything with you, and you shouldn’t expect someone else to clean up after you. So Magnusson’s method certainly isn’t without its merits.

And let’s face it, Swedish death cleaning sounds so much cooler. And will sell more books.

In a world where we’re desperately trying to accumulate “excess”, I think it’s refreshing to take responsibility for our stuff so that we’re not leaving a big ol’ Swedish death mess for someone else to mop up.

What say you? Yay or nay to Swedish death cleaning?


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