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The Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: Tidying Up for a Meaningful Life

Updated: Sep 17, 2023

I recently stumbled upon a show called The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning which is based on a book by the same name penned by Margareta Magnussen. I felt drawn to it because I have been feeling very cluttered lately and want to simplify my life and my stuff. It is probably why I’ve been contemplating a drastic dream of going RVing full-time. Mind you, I have not given up on this dream – I have just put it on the backburner as a retirement plan.

Smaller space = less stuff = only keeping the essentials.

Over our lifetimes we seem to amass a lot of “stuff” that moves from pile to pile, box to box, house to house as we move on this journey called life. We buy bigger and bigger houses to keep our larger and larger piles of stuff. We shove things into closets, “junk drawers”, garages, and attics. Boxes and boxes of stuff that we don’t even use but hold onto for “someday I might need that” or “my aunt gave me that” or “I can give it to my child when he/she is old enough.”

The premise behind Swedish Death Cleaning is to imagine the burden you have left your loved ones to comb through all this stuff and decide what to do with it after you are gone. It seems a little morbid, I know. The reality is that we all will die at some point. We don’t even know when. So, it makes sense to perform a Swedish death cleaning when you receive a terminal diagnosis, but it also makes sense if you are a perfectly healthy 30- or 40-something, because we honestly don’t know when that fateful day will occur.

Do you really want to burden your family and friends with figuring out where all your stuff will go? They will (hopefully) be emotional about your parting – it is really the time for them to figure out what was important to you?

So, how does this decluttering process work? Is it about sparking joy? No. It’s about practicality.

It’s a good idea to start with your clothing first. Are you holding onto clothes that don’t even fit anymore? I have a couple of dresses that I would love to be able to fit into again, but why am I using up valuable closet real estate for something I can’t even wear? AND I don’t even wear dresses anymore. Are you keeping clothes that are out of style (hoping they will be trendy again)? News flash – shoulder pads should be permanently banned. Are there clothes you forgot you even had? Are there clothes that are significantly damaged and beyond repair?

Create piles:

  • Keep

  • Toss

  • Donate/Rehome.

Take an honest assessment of what you wear and put the rest into the appropriate pile. Maybe a family member really wants that cozy sweater you only wear once a year – give it as a gift.

After your closets have been pared down to just the essentials, take a deep breath and note how it makes you feel. Yes, a little sad perhaps…but don’t you feel a weight off your shoulders as well?

Next, move onto larger items. Keep the same categories (Keep, Toss, Donate/Rehome). Using little stickers can help make this a faster process.

Red for Toss, Yellow for Donate/Rehome, and Green for Keep.

Look at the pieces that take up a lot of room in your house. Go room by room and make some decisions about the larger pieces of furniture in your space. Maybe some of these pieces were gifted to you and you feel it is disrespectful to get rid of them. Maybe you felt obligated to take them and use them, but they really aren’t your style. Maybe you absolutely love an heirloom and the thought of getting rid of it breaks your heart. The questions to ask are: Do they serve a purpose in your life right now? Are they just taking up space? Could someone else benefit from using them? Can you not bear to part with them? These are questions only you can answer.

Ok…how about the kitchen? Do you really need all those Bundt pans? How about those appliances that only serve one function? When was the last time you used that pot in the way back of your cabinets or your bread maker or that fondue set? Are there certain things that you only use once a year? Can you get by without them or borrow them from a family member or friend?

Next, move onto the smaller things. The mementos. The letters, cards, and knickknacks. These are the objects that can hold deep meaning or an emotional connection to you and your past. Is there a sweet blanket that your great-grandmother made that has been passed down for generations (but is just crammed into a closet)? Is there a better way to display it? Are there items that hold great meaning to you? Is there a better way to display them?

It is also important to remember your digital clutter. Is there someone close to you who can access your passwords and login information? Are there things on your computer that can be organized in a better way?

Keep in mind that this is a process. It is not meant to purge all your stuff in a day or a week or a month. This process can take time but think of how liberating this can be when you declutter your life. This is an ongoing process as well. You may have to purge a few more times in your lifetime because that stuff just keeps on accumulating.

Take breaks if you need to. Cry if you need to. Laugh if you want to. Life is stressful enough. Your domicile should be a place of solace and respite. Declutter your life and find peace with a minimal lifestyle.

Are you ready to PIVOT to health and wellness?

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