In a world where we’re all so busy and feel like there’s not enough time in the day, it can be hard to find time to stay organised. Not just your usual let’s-clean-up-this-messy-house kind of organisation, but a holistic way of staying on top of your belongings and life at home. Often touted as a decluttering trend, Swedish Death Cleaning is more of a lifestyle that has some major advantages for both your home and peace of mind. Here are some death cleaning benefits you can gain when you start practising this unique decluttering method.
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What the Heck Is Döstädning?
Death cleaning, or Döstädning in Swedish, was made popular by author Margareta Magnusson and describes a successive form of decluttering and tidying aimed at reducing your loved ones’ burden after you pass away. In essence, it’s a slow-and-steady organising method to downsize your household in the second half of your life. The gist is that if you do so, your loved ones won’t have to contend with your stuff when you’re gone.
Getting rid of unnecessary things as you get older has personal advantages, too, though. You won’t have to deal with the stress of having a lot of clutter in your house as you grow older, and that makes it easier for you to clean. Decluttering things that you don’t need now means you don’t have to deal with them later in life. This might include things such as getting rid of clothes you don’t wear anymore, books you don’t plan on ever reading again, or bric-a-brac that just collects dust.
If you’re curious about learning more details of the death cleaning method, check out my book notes and review of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.
How To Do Swedish Death Cleaning
One of the main points of critique by readers was that the slim volume by Mrs Magnusson was more anecdotal and less of a how-to guide to death cleaning. There really is no right or wrong way to do death cleaning, although the author does suggest going in for some easy wins like clearing out the shed before you tackle hard stuff such as sentimental items.
Also, the entire process could take years, perhaps even a decade or longer. It’s entirely up to you. I discussed the time factor in my Simple Swedish Death Cleaning Checklist. In that article, I also condensed what I gleaned from the book in terms of how one can get started with the process, and what order you can work in. Have a look if you missed that post and are wondering how the heck to implement the death cleaning method in your own home.
Swedish Death Cleaning Benefits
There are a number of death cleaning benefits, and unlike other decluttering methods which might not stick, they’re long-lasting. This can be attributed primarily to the fact that Swedish Death Cleaning is a super slow process. And that means that you gradually build new habits and acclimate to less clutter over time in parallel to your downsizing efforts.
One of the most obvious Swedish death cleaning benefits is that it helps reduce the stress of having too much clutter in your home. When you have a lot of stuff around you, it can cause you to feel overwhelmed—even subconsciously—and make it harder to relax. Cleaning can also be challenging when you have a lot of belongings. Slowly trimming back your household inventory is liberating in a way, as you have less to maintain and look after. Less to get stressed about.
Greater Life Organisation
When you have a place for everything, you’re less likely to lose track of things. This also equates to less distraction by the clutter around you. And that in turn means more time to do the things you love, the things that matter more to you than dusting and organising. Indeed, death cleaning can help you attain a better quality of life in your later years. By starting in middle age, you’ll have less to deal with when you’re older.
Death Cleaning Is a Way to Assert Your Last Will
When you embark on your Swedish death cleaning journey, it’s common to start reserving certain items for family members. Perhaps your nephew wants your vintage mid-century shelving unit, or your best friend’s daughter has always envied your organised luxury handbag collection. These are things you plan on keeping, but you can start making a note of who gets what later on. Doing this in a household inventory spreadsheet is a great way to get started if you’re not ready to pen an actual testament yet.
You can let your people know which items you want to be donated and which should be discarded, so they have a clear idea of what to do with your stuff.
You Can Keep Your Sentimental Items
Some might worry that if they start decluttering with the Swedish death cleaning method and get rid of all the things they don’t love or use, they’ll need to declutter all their sentimental items, too. Not so! When you’re death cleaning, you can keep the things that are truly special to you and matter the most.
Items in this category often hold no value to others and sometimes may even be secret. The author of Döstädning has a great workaround for things of this nature: keep them in a box labelled something to the effect of “throw away – do not open.”
Designating a special box or bin like this where you can keep old love letters, clippings or other nostalgic items allows you to access them anytime you feel like it without having them in the way. Plus, culling your sentimental items so they fit in this box means you truly cherish what you’re keeping. This brings me to one of our next death cleaning benefits:
You Keep What You Love and Love (Using) What You Have
Much like other decluttering methods, when you’re in the process of death cleaning and wondering if you should get rid of something, you need to think about whether you love it and use it. If you don’t, it probably doesn’t need to be taking up space in your home.
If you find that you love something but don’t use it, you can consider donating or passing it on to a friend or neighbour. You might find that you adore something, but just don’t have the space for it. Or that you don’t use something you love because you don’t want to ruin it or don’t know how to take care of it.
Swedish death cleaning gives you the opportunity to consider such belongings and examine your own behaviour. Personally, I say wear your Chanel jacket to the supermarket, eat from that fine bone china you inherited, and drink the vintage wine you’ve been saving in the cupboard. Life is short and if you’re attached to certain belongings, you shouldn’t be afraid to use them with pleasure in your day-to-day life.
Death Cleaning Eases the Transition to Downsizing
One of the biggest death cleaning benefits is that it slowly eases your household into downsizing. If you know that you’re going to move into a smaller home or apartment in the middle to long term, Swedish death cleaning is the decluttering method for you.
Slowly decluttering the shed, attic, basement, garage and larger items like furniture is the best way to start. By the time you get to the smaller stuff like books and clothing, you’ve already won half the battle. When the time comes to start looking for a smaller home or think about moving into a flat where you won’t need to fuss about any more yard and roof maintenance, your household inventory will already be much more manageable and you’ll have a better idea of just how small you can downsize.
It Makes Life Easier for Your Loved Ones
When you start the process of decluttering your home and belongings before you reach old age, it will make life easier for your loved ones later on down the road. No one enjoys thinking of the end of their life but it’s true: when you pass away, your people are going to want to grieve. Not worry about who the heck declutters your household.
If you have a lot of clutter in your home, it will make it harder for your family to sort your things. Slowly downsizing your inventory and maybe even your square footage will make it easier for your loved ones to handle your affairs when you depart from this world. In such, decluttering can be so much more than organising and downsizing. It can be your final thoughtful act of kindness you do for your family and friends out of love and respect.
Death cleaning is a fantastic concept to keep in mind as you get into middle age and start thinking about the next stage in your life. It’s a great way to slowly start decluttering your home, organise your things, prepare for downsizing or just make life easier for yourself—and your family and friends later on. By starting in midlife, you’ll reap a range of death cleaning benefits, so that you ultimately have far less stress dealing with excess clutter in your home when you’re old.