A few weeks ago, I stumbled across an article about a topic I had never heard of before: döstädning (a Swedish word meaning “death cleaning.”) I was immediately interested in learning about what this practice involved, and I ended up reading several different articles to find out what it was all about. Essentially, Swedish death cleaning is the practice of paring down and organizing all of your belongings before you die.
It felt very timely that I learned about Swedish death cleaning when I did, because my own father passed away early last month. After he passed, my siblings and I helped our mother go through a lot of my dad’s possessions. Deciding what to keep and what to throw out was an emotionally draining process for all of us. But one of the purposes of Swedish death cleaning is to make that decision process easier for your family after you pass away, so I knew this was something I wanted to do for the sake of my own kids.
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I know it’s a rather somber topic, but the fact of the matter is that we’re all going to die someday. But the practice of Swedish death cleaning can help you feel more prepared for that eventuality. It can also give you a sense of peace knowing that your family will have an easier time dealing with your possessions after you go. Here are a few basic tips for getting started with Swedish death cleaning.
11 Things To Know About Swedish Death Cleaning
1. The Guiding Question
According to Margareta Magnusson, the author of the book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning (publication date is Jan. 2, 2018 – pre-order here), there’s one simple question that should guide you as you sort through your things: “Will anyone be happier if I save this?” It will help you stay on track as you start to make decisions on what is worth keeping and what you could toss out.
2. Don’t Start With Photos
As you start sorting through your possessions and keepsakes, it’s best to steer clear of your photo albums. Photos are a minefield of emotions and memories, and you’re likely to get sidetracked. Stick to less emotional territory at first.
3. Tackle Your Closet
Instead of veering down Memory Lane with photos, start by clearing out your closet. Sort through all of your clothes and set aside anything you don’t wear regularly. Then when you’re done, bag those clothes up and donate them, if possible. Make sure to repeat this process on a semi-regular basis so unworn clothes don’t pile up again.
4. Consider Re-Gifting
A lot of us have plenty of books, knick-knacks, and other items we don’t necessarily need. Giving those things away can be an easy way to cut back on clutter! For example, giving a cherished book to a friend can make a really meaningful gift, and help you downsize at the same time.
5. Make Memories Manageable
When you’re ready to tackle photos, journals, and other items, find ways to downsize. There are plenty of services that can help you digitize old photos and videos! As far as keeping material keepsakes, try to limit yourself to one box or container.
6. Make It A Party
Another way to quickly downsize on your possessions is to throw a party of sorts! Invite your friends and family over to go through your unwanted stuff to see if there’s anything they’d like to have before you donate or toss it. (This is generally nicer than forcing your unwanted items on uninterested family members.) :-)
7. Involve Others
An important part of Swedish death cleaning is communicating your wishes to your friends or family. It’s a good idea to let at least one person know where you want your treasured items to go. It’s also a good idea to inform someone of your login details for banks and utilities, which can be notoriously hard to find after someone has passed away.
8. Start Early
Margareta Magnusson suggests that 65 is a good time to start death cleaning, but you can start thinking about it earlier than that. If you have any hoarder-type tendencies, you may want to get those in check well before you start the actual death cleaning process. In any case, it’s a good idea to get started sooner rather than later, because the older you get the less likely you are to do it. It’s demanding work, after all!
9. Keep At It
Swedish death cleaning should be seen as a process, not a “one and done” purge. You’ll need to continually keep tabs on yourself to make sure you’re not accumulating more stuff as time goes on.
10. Treat Yourself
Death cleaning can be hard, emotional work, so make sure to reward yourself for doing it! Take yourself out to dinner or go get a massage. (Try not to reward yourself with a physical item, since the purpose of Swedish death cleaning is to get rid of unnecessary items.)
11. Keep A Box For Yourself
Some items are going to be important to you, and only you. And that’s okay! Keep those personal items in a box with instructions to toss it out after you’ve passed. This is a good place for things like stuffed animals, travel keepsakes, and other items your children might not want to keep.