If you are of a certain age and you haven’t yet tried Swedish Death Cleaning, it’s time you did.
“I have worked with so many relatives of people who never streamlined their belongings through Swedish Death Cleaning, only to leave a massive amount of stuff to the unfortunate next generation,” said The Clutter Queen in a new story at How Stuff Works.
Here is an excerpt from the story:
Cleaning out the home of a loved one who has recently died or entered a nursing home is something most people dread, especially if they have no idea what to do with the all the items their loved one has accumulated.
Enter the Swedish death clean. It may sound morbid, but it can actually lighten the burden of grieving loved ones. Popularized in the book “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning,” by 80-something artist Margareta Magnusson, Swedish death cleaning is basically decluttering in your later years so that someone else doesn’t have to do it for you.
Magnusson herself is Swedish, but has lived all over the world. Her book was an immediate sensation in Sweden, and garnered serious interest in the U.S. once it was published there in 2018. In the book, Magnusson explains that the Swedes call it döstädning (a combination of the word “dö,” which means death and “städning,” which means cleaning).
So is this another integral part of Swedish culture that Americans could do well to emulate?
Ann-Charlotte Gavel Adams, professor emerita of Swedish studies at the University of Washington, emails that döstädning is not listed in any Swedish Academy dictionaries. She first heard of the concept 10 years ago from a man in his 70s, who was clearing out his artworks and books so that his sons wouldn’t have to do it when he passed away. “He is still alive though. He used the word in a humorous tone,” she says, adding, “I think the Swedes are as uncomfortable discussing death as Americans.”
Even so, the concept has clearly struck a nerve in both countries. Boston-based professional organizer Rhea Becker, aka, “The Clutter Queen,” added Swedish death cleaning to her list of services after reading Magnusson’s book. “I have worked with so many relatives of people who never streamlined their belongings through Swedish Death Cleaning, only to leave a massive amount of stuff to the unfortunate next generation,” she says in an email.
Discussing the Swedish Death Clean With Loved Ones
Although it may seem like an awkward conversation to have, the irony is that streamlining personal belongings during those golden years actually improves the quality of life. “Some people feel squeamish about the idea that they are essentially preparing their personal environment for their eventual death. But it makes so much sense. And once completed, the person who chooses to do Swedish Death Cleaning can enjoy a simpler life, surrounded only by the things they truly need or love,” Becker says.
Still, it can be a difficult topic to broach with a loved one, as no one wants to imply that Grandma or Mom has one foot in the grave. So if you think the person in question might be (somewhat rightfully) put off by the phrase “death cleaning,” take a different approach.
Once your loved ones are on board with a full-house declutter you can offer to lend a hand on a gradual basis, or use the services of a professional organizer. Then, start slowly. “My client chooses the room that is bugging them the most. We handle every item, while the client makes decisions, and then we move on to the next room,” Becker says. “This process may sound time consuming, but we can often complete an entire room in 2-4 hours.”