Swedish Death Cleaning: It’s Really a Thing

I must confess, when I first heard about Swedish death cleaning I was a little startled, but more intrigued.  I was viewing a television news program a few weeks ago in which this concept was featured, and I borrowed from the library the book that the news piece was based upon entitled, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson.  The author defines this concept as “…removing unnecessary things and making your home nice and orderly when you think your time is coming closer for you to leave the planet,” and further explains, “…when you or someone else does a good, thorough cleaning and gets rid of things to make life easier and less crowded.  It does not necessarily have to do with your age or death, but often does.”confusedI like the concept in theory, but bringing it to completion in my home?  Hmmm… doubtful.  There are days it feels like my possessions are starting to own me.  I’d love to declutter and have only what I want in my possession, but I get trapped in the need to hold onto to things for a later time, or for one of the grandkids, or I decide my things seem too nice to get rid of… and the list goes on.

The shear magnitude of cleaning and addressing what to do with all of my possessions seems quite daunting, with or without a ‘priority list’.  Having previously skimmed through the The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo and in attempting to embrace the concept of only keeping things that bring me joy, I did have a very brief foray into getting uber-organized.  A lot of thinking went on about the things that give me joy and not a lot of getting rid of stuff.  I think the big take away I had from that book was the reason clutter happens is because everything we own needs a proper place.  If there are no clearly dedicated places for our stuff our space becomes cluttered.  trueAnd unless things are returned to those places when used, the clutter accumulates.  After reading about this and witnessing it in my own home, I knew this theory definitely had legs to stand on.

Trying to overcome my own clutter tendencies is a challenge.  I don’t like clutter, but I’m not a militant minimalist either.  I like my home to look cozy and comfortable, rather than stark and unfriendly.  My husband, however, says that clutter just means a home is lived in – that people are going about the business of actually living in their homes.  Clearly, we are not on the same page.  Early in our marriage there would be more than one disagreement about why the house became such a mess after I returned home while he cared for the kids.  legoThe children always had friends over and pulled out ALL the toys and games in the mere hour or two I was gone, and when I walked back through the door the mess I saw did not speak to me words like, “Real kids live here who are having a ton of fun,” but rather, “Who let the dogs out?”  I would feel my temper rising because I just wanted to come home to my house at least the way I had left it.

Also during the early years of our marriage, I often noticed our garage would grow in the amount of stuff it had, and I wondered where it came from with a sneaky suspicion that my guy was perusing the neighborhood in the evening on the days that all the trash and recycle bins were put to the curb, grabbing some items to reuse rather than see them carted off to some landfill.  clutterI would often see in the garage broken hockey sticks to be used for garden stakes, aluminum and metal to be taken to the scrap yard for a few bucks, branches of trees to be cut for fire kindling, parts from a neighbor’s broken grill to fix our own broken grill, etc.  I once asked my husband why we had so many portable charcoal grills on the shelf in the garage.  There had to be three or four of those charcoal Weber grills and his reply was, “Well, there’s one thing wrong with each of them and if I use the unbroken pieces from each one I can make one perfectly usable one.”  Over time all that stuff added up, and we could no longer park in our two-car garage.  My husband stopped bringing the reusable items home when that happened, and we had to ultimately negotiate that my side of the garage was to be used to park my car, and he could use his side for stuff or to park (He chose stuff.  Big surprise).  But if you asked me today where my car is parked – it’s not in the garage again.  Our recent home improvement project caused a need for a spot with all our leftover supplies, plus a dead dishwasher. Hoping to get back to parking there soon.

On the flip-side, though, I always knew my husband was a committed recycler and over time he educated our family about what could and could not be put in the trash.  recycleIn the early days of our marriage, though, the hubby would come home from work and filter through the trash picking out recycling with a disappointed shake of his head.  Feeling chastened like a child I would get upset and yell, “I am a grown woman and you are not the trash police!  Stop doing your garbage inspection and I promise to try harder with recycling.”  I suppose I needed to learn more about what could be recycled and needed to take the time and effort to remember.  Old habits die hard, but the hubster definitely stopped the inspections, at least in my presence, and as the years went on we became the home with the most recycled items in our bin at the curb on trash day. Our little family became quite proficient at reducing waste, but still not great with all the clutter.

Let me digress for a moment.  It’s no small feat to recycle properly.  In order to have all that recycling processed correctly, we needed three bins set up in the kitchen (plus a paper shredder to eliminate personal information from the trash.  And, oh, and I almost forgot, the compost bin next to the sink).  When guests try to throw out something in our home we need to instruct them about which bin is for actual trash versus recycling versus scrap or returnables.  Oh, the looks we get.headache

So when all is said and done we have lots of stuff just in case we need anything (thanks to hubby) AND I contribute to the surplus of stuff by shopping for additional things that I probably don’t need or I could just make do with what I have.  But at some point, as my daughter pointed out recently, we will need to do a Swedish death cleaning.  No one is going to want all our stuff (or have to sort through all our stuff), as I was candidly told by said daughter.  I think I’ll pick one room at a time (probably the smallest – heh, heh) and set out on the journey of Swedish death cleaning.  Don’t expect a follow-up blog anytime soon, but I’m definitely going to look on the sunny side of this situation and get cleaning.  Maybe after vacation.

How do you handle the clutter in your space?

5 thoughts on “Swedish Death Cleaning: It’s Really a Thing

  1. Sue

    We recently had to completely do a major haul out at my Aunt’s house because she passed away. I would say that she was an “organized hoarder”. She had saved telephone books for years, likely because they made the recycling bin too heavy to carry to the curb. She was also fond of church bulletins and 40 year old phone bills as well as dollar store seasonal plates, napkins and chachkies. Oh ya, and stuffed animals. While I was helping her clean one day, removing the thick layer of dust from the stuffed animals I asked her if she wanted to get rid of any of them. Her reply was that they were to be donated to the children’s wing of the local hospital when she died. Now these animals had been sitting on her couch for about 30 years already collecting dust :/ When the major haul out occurred that the family was left responsible for, they went to the curb. You can imagine what allergies and potential illness thoae stuffed animals would bring to a hospital environment! I watched my 87 year old Uncle carry end tables to the curb among so many other things. Sigh. She never wanted to do a “swedish death cleaning”. To each their own, but it was quite a burden on her 2 siblings to travel up to clean out. As well, there was no where for them to stay in the house. So there was the added expense of a hotel.
    It inspires me to really think before I decide if something is worth keeping. We also recently downsized from 2400 sq. Ft home with a basement and 2 car garage to a 1400 sq.ft. apartment and 1 car garage. Oh ya, and we also rented a very small storage unit. Talk about decisions!! Many items I have hold memories and I just can’t let them go. Many items were also a lifetime of memories for my husband but held no value to me or our family. But when you have a dumpster at your convenience and have an eye for space, you might be surprised at your prioritization.
    I fully intend to do swedish death cleaning as often as possible!
    Loved your article!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comments. The situation you described reminded me of a recent purge and cleaning we did for our aunt as well. She had all the stuff from other relatives when they passed on in addition to her own stuff. 😲 I often think about the reasons I save things and then remember that once I’m gone who will want them? I appreciate your taking the time to comment.


  2. Sue Wilson

    Sue love this…. I would love to de clutter and organize! But I often find myself enjoying a good book instead. I’ve often thought oh the kids will like this or I’ll save for this project . In reality i need to through out or give to st Luke’s and I also agree I need to stop buying and just make do!
    My personal current goal is simplify. For me this is difficult- if one is good – 2 is better and 5 well might as well make it a dozen – today I went on my amazon reorder and canceled through October!
    I have enough tide detergent to last the remaining year and come over and grab a box of paper towels if you need any!
    I guess my house is lived in …
    But in truthful honest terms I am really trying to simplify.

    Liked by 2 people

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