The Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

Have you heard of Swedish death cleaning?

Three houses are up for sale – my moms (she’s been there for almost 50 years), my mother in laws and her sisters (they live in their childhood homes (my husbands grandfather built them) across the street from each other.

The amount of stuff that they have accumulated over a lifetime is overwhelming.

post contains affiliate links

In the book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter, the author Margareta Magnusson says, “Death cleaning isn’t the story of death and its slow, ungainly inevitability. But rather the story of life, your life, the good memories and the bad. ‘The good ones you keep, the bad you expunge.”

house where I grew up

The Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

Dostadning is the Swedish term that refers to the act of decluttering little by little over the years. The ultimate goal of death cleaning is to minimize the amount of meaningless stuff that you leave behind for others to deal with.

Magnusson says, “And so the number of possessions grows and collects quickly over the years. Suddenly the situation is out of control and the weight of all those things can begin to seem tiring. Your exhaustion with all of this stuff may appear out of the blue one day. When someone cancels a weekend visit, or a dinner, you feel grateful – instead of disappointed – because you may be too tired to clean up for their visit. The problem is you have too much stuff to deal with. It is time to change your way of living. It is never to late to start!”

I’ve come to realize that what is important to me probably isn’t important to my kids and I don’t want to leave behind a pile of stuff for my girls to deal with one day. I also don’t want to live a cluttered existence anymore (and would love room to actually put my car in the garage)!

Instead of more shopping, the author encourages us to reward ourselves with experiences (watch a movie, take a walk with a friend, spend time in the garden).

“A loved one wishes to inherit nice things from you, not all things from you,” says Magnusson.

My dad collected everything under the sun (from duck decoys and prints to $2 bills to pipes and so much more). Now my mom is left wondering what to do with all of it (I’ve taken lots already but can’t possibly keep it all).

My husbands aunt told him, “tell Kelly it’s good stuff, it’s not junk.” I already have enough of my own stuff that is overwhelming me (if you saw my basement and garage, you would have me committed). I think she feels like all of her belongings gathered over a lifetime are going to be tossed aside. She actually wants to take EVERYTHING with her and cram it into the basement of the house she shares with her sister.

Behind a calendar from 1964, this air raid sign hangs in my husbands aunt’s basement!

Vintage air raid signal instructions

My mother in law has no problem paring down!

The Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

I definitely inherited some hoarding tendencies as can be seen from my overflowing garage and basement and while I did manage to get rid of tons of stuff with my Decluttering Tips, I’ve got a long way to go (the struggle is real).

So I’m going to look at my stuff with a more critical eye and finally clear the clutter and live with only things I love.

Got valuables? Read …

How to make money in Facebook buy and sell groups and

How to throw a killer yard sale

What do you think about Swedish death cleaning?

P.S. My mom is happy to be moving to a 55+ community and my mother in law and her sister will be living together in a house near my husband’s sister.

Share this Post!


  1. That is hands down the best blog title EVER! I admit, I’ve never heard it called that, but “death cleaning” in any nationality is a blessing for the ones you leave behind! Being brutally practical is the only thing that works, otherwise EVERYTHING winds up staying because of the emotion attached to it. Good Luck my friend.

    1. Thanks Karen! Seeing the piles of stuff in my husband’s aunts house made me not want to become like that! Hoarders called and they want me to star in their next show!!!

  2. I love that kitchen! I remember that Armstrong linoleum from my own kitchen redo shopping in 1982. If only my counters looked like that. I am in the same boat of feeling overwhelmed with stuff. I think we all could write a book about WHY we are in this situation. Inheritance, the culture of shopping that didn’t exist even 16 years (when I couldn’t find sandals anywhere in August for my four old who wore hers out! Not even old navy flip flops we can access anytime now. Can you imagine that dilemma now?), Pinterest, following bloggers we love who introduce new stuff, magazines, kids coming home from college with their stuff, fast fashion, young adults not leaving home like we did at age 23 and adding to the clutter, I could go on. I am trying to grapple with this situation while working full time and dealing with a lot of life passage stress and a college kid at home. Keep writing. The struggle is real.

    1. Disposable fashion – ugh! My girls go off to college in a few months – I think that will be my time to clear the clutter (and more of the things that lurk at the back of their closets)!

  3. It’s real. My folks moved to a 55+ community last fall. My mother is not a clutterer. It still took her months to go through all their paperwork and files to clear out as they had severe downsizing to do. Not all her lamps could go, not all her furniture, her sofa that she had reupholstered several times since the 70’s and her beloved dining room suite would not fit in her new place. The dining room table we had birthday celebrations around, Holiday dinners with family that had since passed, the elaborate business dinner parties they TOLD to throw…..yes, the bosses did that in the 60’s. Point at you at work and tell you it was your turn to host and what day it would be, whether you could afford to do that or not.
    I lost my job, of 22 years, in January. As a woman of retirement age, but not quite financially prepared for a few more years for retirement, I had time to look around my small Cape Cod. A single woman of many years, I realized I had stuff that, should I have to downsize, would take time. The photos alone were daunting, the number of photo albums, the CDs, the record albums, the books…….suddenly I was relieved that my parents were not leaving me with a ton of things to go through when their time came and made the determination that we all have too much STUFF. It makes us happy while we have it and then you become an age where you realize you will not be able to take any of it with you and who in the hell will want it? My 2 adult boys? NO….they won’t want much of any of it. The process has started.

    1. I’m so sorry you lost your job Lesley. My mom isn’t taking much furniture with her either. It’s actually been fun helping her find stuff that fits her new place – helps make it less sad and more of a new adventure!

  4. I think Swedish death cleaning is a wonderful idea! I mentioned to my husband that we need to start the process, and he told me that he’s not finished accumulating stuff yet! He’s also very sentimental and doesn’t want to get rid of anything. Our closets are stuffed full of things we don’t need. It’s very frustrating!!

  5. This is not an easy chore but I’m working on it daily. I’m trying to get rid of my husband’s things plus my mother, father, father in law, and aunts. I remember it took months to clean out my in-laws home. A year ago I leased and opened a booth in a Marketplace. It’s amazing what people actually purchase.
    I also found a store in a small town close by that takes good donations and the give everything but their rent to charity. Everyone that works there is an unpaid volunteer and the markdowns are so low, (or is that high?) that I end up buying something and dragging it home.but where can you go wrong when you find a treasure that’s only 25 cents and it’s worth $40.00?
    What a crazy circle but I have actually made a dent.

  6. Kelly,
    I had never heard of Swedish Death Cleaning but love the idea! I have experienced first hand how difficult it is on families when a loved one passes away or gets sick and has to go to a care facility and has a house full of years of accumulation and clutter. My husband and I experienced this with both of our grandparents as well as his Mother.

    This was enough to make us start to declutter and purge! We realize our children don’t want most of our household stuff so we have been selling, consigning or donating things we no longer use or want in our attic, closets and garage. I want no one to go through the stress of having to deal with this when I die.

  7. Had to comment just because of those kitchen cupboards! Love that hardware! Just discovered “death cleaning” on Pinterest today:)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *