What is Swedish death cleaning, and should you be doing it?

We all reach a point in life when we have to declutter or downsize, but why do so many people think it has to be a swift and often painful process? Artist Margareta Magnusson is the author of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning and believes ‘death cleaning’, or dostadning in Swedish, is a pleasant way to have a clear-out, providing us with an opportunity to reminisce and say goodbye to precious memories.

It is not something to delay until you are very ill, but a process to start years or even decades before you get to the point where you are not physically up to the task. After clearing out the homes of several elderly relatives, Margareta – who describes her age as “somewhere between 80 and 100” – has concluded that most of us have too much stuff. She believes it is good to get rid of what we do not need, use or love, particularly as we near the end of life.

Failure to ‘death clean’, she says, means that your family will have to take care of your stuff. “And that’s not fair. Your family wants to inherit nice things from you, not all your things.” Here is Margareta’s advice on how to get started.

How long should it take?

The aim isn’t to get the process done in a week or even a month. It can continue for as long as you need it to, but you must keep decluttering as you go and be mindful when purchasing new items.

The process recognises that it is rewarding to spend time with, and say goodbye to, items before disposing of them, and to recall what they meant to you. Take photographs and post them on social media or just keep the photos on your computer with a little story, if that helps you let go.

Should I involve my children in ‘Swedish death cleaning’?

It is an excellent idea to broach the subject with your children. This need not be the story of your death, rather, it is the story of your life. If there are any items you think they may fight over, now is the time to resolve that. If claims cannot be resolved, consider selling items to save your family arguments later on.

What about my personal items?

Establish a ‘throwaway box’ to store all the precious letters, photographs and mementos you can’t bear to bin. If there is anything really personal, put a note on it ordering that it be destroyed when you pass.

Sentimental values

According to research by Australian Seniors:

  • 76% of seniors surveyed plan to leave sentimental items for their loved ones.
  • 80% plan to pass down non-financial legacies (such as sentimental items and life learnings).
  • 60% of those planning to pass down a non-financial legacy say it is so their loved one has something to remember them by.
  • 52% of those who do not plan to leave a non-financial legacy say it is because they are not sure they have anything appropriate to pass down.

Decluttering is just one thing you can do to help your family. Seniors Funeral Insurance can protect them from your funeral costs and offers up to $15,000 cover should you pass away.