How To Begin The Art Of Swedish Death Cleaning

the art of swedish death cleaning


The term “Swedish death cleaning” may raise some eyebrows considering these three words aren’t commonly used in the same sentence.

However, if you’re in search of a way to declutter the stuff your loved ones have left behind or looking to make the decluttering process easier on your loved ones when you pass, Swedish death cleaning may be just the thing to help.

ryans tiny house

Hi, I’m Ryan

Minimizing and decluttering became a pretty huge part of my life when I moved into my tiny house 10 years ago. I started to think more consciously about what items were essential and what I could live without.

ryan mitchell simple living expert

Swedish death cleaning seems a bit grim at first, but after helping so many people declutter throughout the years, I’ve seen this practice change lives for the better.

What Is Swedish Death Cleaning?

What Is Swedish Death Cleaning

Swedish death cleaning is a decluttering process that is geared toward the legacy you’ll leave after you die. Put simply, its about cleaning for death, except it isn’t meant to be morbid!

The practice is intended as a way to leave our belongings in the best order we can for those who will deal with our things after we pass. On the flip side, it’s also a helpful method to use as a guide for cleaning and decluttering the belongings of loved ones who have passed on.

However, the method is not just about our lives after death. A huge aspect of Swedish death cleaning is also about creating a more peaceful, minimal existence while we’re alive.

Death cleaning has been around for a while in Sweden, but has only recently found its way to the U.S. as The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, a self-help book by Margareta Magnusson, gained popularity. Margareta has moved 17 times throughout her adult life. Throughout that process, she has learned to analyze the purpose that her stuff actually serves.

the gentle art of swedish death cleaning

Is Swedish Death Cleaning For Everyone?

Is Swedish Death Cleaning For Everyone

In short, yes. One huge lesson I learned from Swedish death cleaning is that decluttering is not about depletion. Oftentimes, when you think about decluttering, you think about what to get rid of.

But Swedish death cleaning is less about what you will lose from the decluttering process and more about what you gain from having conversations with loved ones, looking through sentimental memorabilia, and creating a stress-free life.

This is what makes Swedish death cleaning approachable for anyone. Sure, you might think the demographic is typically someone preparing for their own death or that of a loved one, but those aren’t the only people the practice can help.

Starting the practice of Swedish death cleaning while you’re young is a wise way to think about death early on and normalize interacting with the idea, especially in a society that fosters a lot of anxiety around the topic. It also can help you create a peaceful, decluttered, calm space in your daily experience that will improve your mental health and quality of life.

Five Tips For Getting Started With Swedish Death Cleaning

Tips For Getting Started With Swedish Death Cleaning

Getting started with the process of Swedish death cleaning does not have to be a giant undertaking, and there are many different ways you can approach the practice in your own life. It’s also a slow process that won’t all happen in one day.

Margareta’s book moves through eight basic steps that each touch on a different element of life. Those values include community, peace, collaboration, asking for help, being wise with time, self-care, and endless others that can be gleaned from Swedish death cleaning.

I was able to sit down with Kristen Meinzer from By The Book podcast to talk about her and her best friend Jolenta’s experience trying out Swedish death cleaning for the first time.

Kristen Meinzer

“The hope with Swedish death cleaning is that what’s in our homes isn’t just taking up space. It makes our lives better, speaks to our values, and speaks to our legacy.”

– Kristen Meinzer, By The Book

What I love about Kristen’s perspective is the way she views Swedish death cleaning as much more than a decluttering process. For her, it was really about the way it affected her personhood.

I think that’s what’s so cool about the practice. It isn’t just about the things you’re actually doing, it’s about the way those physical actions can help you and your loved ones on a deeper, psychological level.

While we’re not going to cover everything from the book in this post, I did want to highlight some major takeaways that can help you kickstart your Swedish death cleaning journey.

Tip One: Talk To Your Loved Ones

Talk To Your Loved Ones

One major objective of Swedish death cleaning is to be a positive and peaceful experience. There is value in analyzing the possessions that are important to you and letting that inform conversations you have with your loved ones about what to do with those things after you’re gone.

Kristen Meinzer

“My grandma’s wedding ring, now my wedding ring, has been in the family for close to 100 years. When Swedish death cleaning, I reached out to my sister and asked if I could give the ring to my niece when I passed.”

– Kristen Meinzer, By The Book

The process is not meant to feel morbid, scary, or shameful. You should feel peace while letting go. I’ve talked to a lot of people who try to declutter after their loved ones have passed, and many of them have intense guilt about getting rid of items that belonged to their loved ones.

family discussing optionsWhen people are grief stricken, it’s harder to focus on the details. They might cling to an entire house of the person’s items they can’t get rid of because it feels disrespectful, or because they can’t deal with the trauma of losing that person.

That’s one reason it’s important to have these conversations while we’re still alive. A will often covers large assets, but it won’t necessarily cover sentimental items or valuable memorabilia that you want to ensure falls into the right hands.

By talking to those we love beforehand, we can identify what items are actually important and what aren’t so that we can feel peace about letting those things go after they’re gone.

Another element of this conversation that we often forget to address with our loved ones is their digital footprint. Ask your loved ones important questions like where they keep all of their passwords and login information, and how to access those things if they pass. This simple tip can save a lot of trouble down the line!

Tip Two: Start By Decluttering Storage Spaces

Start By Decluttering Storage Spaces

As you’ve likely realized, decluttering is a huge element of the Swedish death cleaning process. The value of decluttering is honestly much more mental than it is physical.

Yes, going through all of your stuff piece by piece can free up a lot of physical space in your house, but undergoing this purge will also free your brain space far more than you can imagine.

Decluttering Rooms and Storage SpacesThe decluttering process doesn’t have to be treated like a daunting, monotonous task, but it is challenging, so don’t do it all alone. The art of Swedish death cleaning really emphasizes the value of community.

Typically, you want to start the process with big storage spaces, then move into areas of the house that are actually on display. After that, you can tackle more difficult areas like your wardrobe.

This way, you’re beginning with high-traffic areas that are filled with junk and things that are easier to part with. This can make the early stages of the decluttering process feel more successful and motivate you to keep going.

I’ve heard other decluttering experts suggest starting with the areas you can see, because clearing out the spaces that are in the public eye might bring you a greater sense of control.

You can declutter room by room, start with storage spaces, or work from the outermost part of the house inwards. Find what works for you — it might end up going a lot faster than you think!

Kristen Meinzer

“Declutter with someone you love — have somebody join you. If you’re alone, put on a podcast or call someone while you sort so you don’t have to be by yourself.”

– Kristen Meinzer, By The Book

Tip Three: Save The Personal Items For Last

Save The Personal Items For Last

It’s hard to let go of the things that feel sentimental and remind us of memories and people we love. Try going through your personal items much later in the decluttering process. This way, you already feel accomplished and motivated by the time you have to tackle the most difficult category: memorabilia.

On the one hand, the momentum you’ve built will allow you to more easily sort through these emotionally charged items. But also, because you’ve already tackled other categories and trimmed a lot of the fat, you won’t feel the need to force yourself to part with things you aren’t ready to let go.

keepsake boxOne way to justify holding onto those valuable keepsakes is to give them a new life by putting them to use. Your memories don’t have to sit in a box in the attic and gather dust. If you’re going to keep a sentimental item, honor it by putting it in a place where you’ll look at it each day or interact with it often.

Maybe you take the letters in your grandmother’s handwriting and frame them for your living room walls. Or maybe you get out your mom’s double fudge brownie recipe and bake them with friends for your next birthday party.

Bringing your memories to life in new ways is a valuable practice that plays right in to one of the core themes of the art Swedish death cleaning: celebrating our legacy instead of fearing our death.

It’s also okay to have a special box of stuff that you don’t necessarily use, but also don’t feel comfortable parting with. That box probably shouldn’t be a giant bin the size of your couch, but there is no harm in keeping a small stash of keepsakes that are meaningful to you.

Tip Four: Get Help From Your Community

Get Help From Your Community

The art of Swedish death cleaning teaches us that we aren’t meant to do everything alone. I am a huge proponent of this message and I think, especially as Americans, we underestimate the value of asking for help when we need it.

ask your community for helpThere are many ways you can enlist help. One is to look around your neighborhood or community resource pages for places to donate your stuff after decluttering. Maybe there is a local used bookstore, clothing donation site, or recycling center where you can bring some of your belongings that are in good shape to help those in need.

Another idea is to invite friends and family over while you declutter to take things home with them. You might have a sweater you never wear that is exactly your sister’s style, or a set of dishes that you never use but will go perfectly in your cousin’s new studio apartment.

Getting help from others as you go isn’t just about the efficiency of the task and expediting the process, though. It’s also about using the art of Swedish death cleaning to build connections, establish a deeper sense of community, and create fun memories in the midst of a task that might initially seem morbid or daunting.

Kristen Meinzer

“We live in a culture in the U.S. where we overstate the value of doing it all on your own. No person is an island. Having people help us is an extension of love for our fellow person, so let’s just enjoy that.”

– Kristen Meinzer, By The Book

Tip Five: Take Care Of Yourself

Take Care Of Yourself

Swedish death cleaning can be an intense and overwhelming experience if you don’t take the time throughout the process to check in with yourself and participate in forms of self-care.

Everyone is different — for some people, the idea of cleaning for death feels terrifying, while others may not be as phased. All feelings and reactions are valid.

take care of yourself tooHowever deeply you react to the process of purging your belongings and memories, and consciously analyzing your legacy, it is still important to take the time to care for yourself before, after, and during the process. After all, this is your life.

As you go through what you own, talk to loved ones about where your possessions will go postmortem, find keepsakes from your favorite memories, look through things from your ancestors, and think about the legacy you want to leave. Keep checking in with yourself and your feelings throughout.

Ask yourself how these tasks are making you feel and why? Talk to trusted friends and family members about those feelings. Again, we aren’t meant to be alone. Take breaks while you’re working to do things you love. Go for a walk, go out to dinner, read a book, or watch a movie.

Also keep in mind that Swedish death cleaning is not meant to happen in a week. It’s a long process that can take months, even years to feel close to completion. The process is, in many ways, its own lifestyle.

Swedish Death Cleaning Beginner’s Checklist

Swedish Death Cleaning Beginners Checklist

Overall, I think Swedish death cleaning is a cathartic but also practical process. Going through these motions really helped me to purge my belongings, help others by donating, and do some much-needed self-reflection.

There is a lot that goes into cleaning a house after death, so I’ve put together a basic checklist of ways to get started with the Swedish death cleaning method. Use this list to help you navigate the Swedish death cleaning method for yourself and stay on track:

swedish death cleaning checklist


  • Clear your headspace
  • Take inventory
  • Identify your valuables
  • Call your loved ones
  • Tell them about your valuables
  • Ask them to write them down
  • Identify their valuables (with them)
  • Write down what they say

Storage Spaces

  • Take inventory
  • Throw away trash
  • Discard what’s broken
  • Put things in categories
  • Go through smaller boxes
  • Make a donation pile
  • Make a keep pile
  • Organize what’s left

Display Areas

  • Remove what doesn’t belong
  • Organize clutter in to categories
  • Make a donation pile
  • Make a keep pile
  • Sort papers like letters, receipts, and cards
  • Sort books and toys


  • Take out every item
  • Sort into sell, keep, and maybe piles
  • Put sell items in donation box
  • Hang items to keep back up
  • Sort your maybes in to sell and keep piles
  • Try a minimalist wardrobe


  • Consider award/trophies
  • Sort greeting cards
  • Go through photographs
  • Sort keepsakes
  • Choose a home for each
  • Repurpose cards and photos
  • Donate or recycle what’s left

Get Help And Give Help

  • Declutter with friends
  • Give things away as gifts
  • Find community donation site
  • Donate or sell clothes
  • Give books to used bookstore
  • Compost what you can
  • Donate to local charities
Your Turn!

  • Does Swedish death cleaning sound attainable to you?
  • What will you declutter as part of Swedish death cleaning?
  • What loved ones will you talk to this week?

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