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In this blog post, I want to talk to you about something that has had a big impact on my life over the last 12 months. It’s called Swedish Death Cleaning. It’s more than just decluttering, spring cleaning, or organising your home. It’s about a new outlook on life, valuing what’s important, and understanding that we don’t really need much to be happy. Let me explain.
What is Swedish Death Cleaning?
Swedish death cleaning, also known as "döstädning" in Swedish, refers to a cultural phenomenon and a method of decluttering and organizing possessions to ease the burden on loved ones after one's death. The concept was popularized by Margareta Magnusson, a Swedish artist and author, in her book "The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter."
You can get the book here: The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning
It's a great read that I highly recommend!
The idea behind Swedish death cleaning is for individuals to take responsibility for their belongings and to simplify their lives by gradually decluttering and downsizing. The process involves going through personal items, such as clothing, books, and sentimental possessions, and deciding what to keep, what to donate, and what to discard. The goal is to leave behind a more organized and curated set of belongings, making it easier for family members to handle the estate after one's passing.
While the term might sound morbid (and a little dramatic!), the concept is rooted in practicality and consideration for others. It encourages individuals to reflect on their possessions and the impact they may have on their loved ones, emphasizing the importance of not burdening others with the responsibility of sorting through a lifetime of accumulated belongings.
The way I like to look at it, is you spend the first 40-50 years of your life accumulating things. You move out of home, maybe get married, maybe have kids, and all along you are acquiring objects to facilitate your new adult life. Things like: furniture, appliances, toys, travel souvenirs, gifts, and many items that naturally come to you along your journey. After this period (perhaps when you turn 50), the kids have moved on, your life looks a lot different than it did when you were younger, and you just don’t need so much stuff. Now you know what you really need and what has value for you.
What started the process for me?
It was around this time last year, just at the beginning of 2023 when I had a bit of time off and was doing a regular deep clean of my home. I began to sort through some items I no longer needed and was sorting them into piles to donate/sell/recycle. As I moved items from the house into the storage shed, I noticed that the shed itself was already full. In fact, we had four sheds (yes four!!) that were pretty much full to the brim. Full with what exactly? What did we have in there that we were going to such effort to store? Why were we building more sheds to accommodate all this “stuff”? My husband was spending time cataloguing, protecting, and storing all these things, but why? It was getting ridiculous!
We started to really look at what we had. As we went through our sheds, we discovered items we didn’t even know we owned. There were things we had no use for, things that were broken or unsuitable for us, things that had passed their time, things that we only kept out of nostalgia, and things we had bought and not used but felt too guilty to get rid of. I’d never thought of us as “hoarders”, but it was certainly getting to that point.
I started to look at each and every item with fresh eyes. Do I really need this? Can I use it? Would I miss it if I didn’t have it? Would I buy it again? Could somebody else get better use out of this? It immediately became clear which items had to go…..and there were a lot!
I began in our house, going through each room, all the cupboards and drawers. I even looked at all the furniture we owned and realised we didn’t need so much, especially in a small house like ours. Over the weeks, we took car-loads and trailer-loads from the house. I listed items on Facebook Marketplace and ebay. By the end of summer, we had cleared about 25% of what we had. It was a great start.
One thing I noticed was the multiples I had. Do I really need five spatulas, four same-sized saucepans, twenty five towels, twelve sets of sheets, and twenty t-shirts? No. No I don’t.
I also noticed that I’d kept things just out of habit. I had never really looked at them objectively and they were just “there” in my house. They were mostly decorative items without any real function and I would just end up having to clean them all the time. All that extra work for no real value. Those things were boxed up and donated.
Once I got the hang of it, the process actually became enjoyable and I felt a sense of accomplishment and even relief as items left our home for good.
Swedish Death Cleaning has been a more difficult process for my husband than it has been for me. He is a very sentimental person and attaches memories and emotions to inanimate objects very easily. He’s also very frugal, and hates the thought that we spent money on something and now we’re going to get rid of it. I explain to him that we’ve already spent that money and it’s gone. If we hang on to the item, it actually keeps costing us money to store and look after it. The money is not wasted if somebody else gets value from it, and in some cases we can sell items to get a small amount of money back (although I have a rule that we don’t sell things unless they are worth over $50).
Another strategy I find helpful is to put the item into a bag/box or into a separate area for a few months. Go back to it after that time and see if you missed it, or even thought about it at all. If you didn’t, then it’s time to let it go.
I’ve noticed that he’s gotten much better at it over the past year, and is becoming more comfortable with seeing objects as they really are.
The results so far
At the time of writing, it’s been roughly a year since our Death Cleaning journey. One thing that is immediately obvious to anybody visiting us is how much emptier our house looks. We have less furniture, some blank walls, and more open space. We are so much more comfortable in our house now.
As for our sheds? Well two of them are practically empty and the other two are much more consolidated and orderly. We still have a way to go and the goal is just have one shed for storage, and one as a workshop. The other two will be empty. I think we can do it and the task is no longer daunting, given the progress we have made this year.
Intentionally focussing on the essential elements in my life, while eliminating the excess has led me to the discovery of Minimalism.
Swedish Death Cleaning goes beyond just decluttering physical possessions and extends to simplifying various aspects of my life, including relationships, activities, and commitments. The core idea of a minimalist philosophy is to prioritize what truly adds value and purpose, letting go of unnecessary distractions and clutter.
I’ve really embraced this philosophy and have discovered some great YouTube channels that have really inspired me along the way. My favourites are: Benita Larsson, Roaming Wild Rosie, and Simple Happy Zen.
(*with a new Audible membership trial)
I’ve learned about the key principles of a minimalist lifestyle and I want to share them with you here:
- Simplicity: Simplifying life by reducing the number of possessions, commitments, and distractions. This allows for a clearer focus on what truly matters.
- Intentionality: Being intentional about choices and actions. Minimalists aim to make deliberate decisions about how they spend their time, energy, and resources.
- Mindfulness: Practicing mindfulness and being present in the moment. Minimalists often seek to appreciate and enjoy the current experiences rather than being preoccupied with material possessions or future concerns.
- Quality over quantity: Preferring quality items and experiences over a large quantity of possessions or activities. This mindset encourages individuals to invest in things that have lasting value.
- Decluttering: Eliminating unnecessary possessions and organizing living spaces to create a more serene and uncluttered environment (hello Swedish Death Cleaning!)
- Financial freedom: Embracing a frugal lifestyle and avoiding unnecessary expenses. Minimalists often focus on saving money, paying off debt, and achieving financial freedom to have more control over their lives.
- Environmental awareness: Considering the environmental impact of consumption. Minimalists may choose to live a more sustainable lifestyle by reducing waste and opting for eco-friendly alternatives.
Many of these have always been my way of thinking, and in particular #7 is a big influence on my business.
It's important to note that minimalism is a personal journey, and individuals may interpret and apply its principles in different ways. Some may embrace a more extreme form of minimalism, while others may adopt a more moderate approach based on their own values and circumstances. Ultimately, the goal is to create a life that is more meaningful, intentional, and aligned with one's values.
The benefits of less
Life is much easier with less. It is actually very relaxing to look around your house and just see bare surfaces, empty cupboards, and space. Who knew the joy that an empty drawer can bring? It’s OK to not have your storage areas full. Emptiness is beautiful.
Cleaning my house is a much quicker job. Tidying up takes no time at all because everything is already where it belongs. It’s easy to find items you need and nothing gets lost. I can clearly see how much I have in my home and every item has been mindfully selected for its aesthetic or its functionality (often both!).
There’s no more decision fatigue either. When you only have six t-shirts (not twenty), it becomes much easier to choose what to wear.
Not only do items continue to leave our house but, most importantly, new items do not come in. We have not been buying nearly as many new things, or if we do we know it will be something we really need and not just something we want. We have asked people not to give us gifts, or if they feel they want to, then just items like plants or food. The gifts we give each other are just experiences like zip-lining, a short holiday, or a nice dinner out.
And of course there’s that “death” aspect. We still probably have a few more years of this cleaning process and it will continue on in a maintenance mode after that. Hopefully we will have a few more decades to live too, so by the time we finally leave this world, there will be very little for our children to deal with. We would have already given them heirlooms and mementos, and all that will be left is what we need to live with and a few curated pieces to inspire.
I want our children to know that we lived a life full of love, laughter, beauty, and adventures. We had everything we needed and we were happy.
Because in the end, what more could you possibly want?