Why You Should Start Swedish Death Cleaning in Your Twenties

By Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza
Photo by Manki Kim

I am not ill, I’m not planning on dying any time soon, but I’ve grown rather interested in the idea of Swedish death cleaning. Death cleaning, or döstädning, is the process of removing unnecessary belongings from your home so that it’s nice and orderly when you leave this earth. The idea made popular by Margareta Magnusson’s The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is that you don’t burden your family with unnecessary belongings to sort through after you die. In her book, Magnusson makes it clear that Swedish death cleaning isn’t morbid or sad, it’s a process of liberation for yourself and your family.

Though in Sweden the practice is associated with the aging, liberating yourself from clutter and unnecessary belongings is healthy at any age and life stage. And while I’m still on this earth, the belongings I accumulate don’t affect just me, they affect my partner, they affect any guests in our home. If you’re young, the death cleaning mentality forces you to consider others when deciding what to put into your home.

The problem with clutter

Dr. Kristen Fuller, M.D., of the Center for Discovery notes that clutter can create anxiety and stress in an individual’s life: “The World Health Organization has just diagnosed hoarding disorder as a mental health disorder, and although hoarding is on the extreme side of the spectrum, individuals with clutter may have too many emotional attachments to “things” in their home, which can be unhealthy.”

And clearing your home of clutter can have benefits beyond simply having a neater home. “Organization increases productivity,” says Dr. Fuller. “Clutter makes it difficult to navigate through that life world and to get done what you need to in order to live comfortably within your life and home. A rule of thumb I personally follow is, for every new item I purchase, I must donate an old item in my home.”

Swedish death cleaning is primarily practiced by the elderly, but according to Dr. Fuller, “decluttering at any age is important as studies have shown that decluttering, being organized, and living with less materialistic things can help prevent anxiety and stress as well as increase productivity for individuals.”

The process of death cleaning

Fuller recommends slowly working into the process of death cleaning.Sorting through clothes that have not been worn in a year, dishes and kitchen supplies that have not been used and old furniture and tools that are taking up space in the garage can be great ways to ease into the Swedish death cleaning process.”

Save nostalgic items for late in the process to avoid getting distracted, and preserve the most important pieces in a safe place where they can be undamaged by temperature changes and sunlight or pass them on to family members. Be sure to organize whatever you decide to keep and document for your family members (and yourself) the significance and history of each piece, whether it’s a piece of furniture, a painting, or a photograph.

“An important piece to Swedish death cleaning is involving others. This, says Dr. Fuller, “will help keep you accountable if you tell others of your plan.” It’s also a valuable time to connect with family and friends around important belongings and memories, regardless of your age.

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