Swedish Death Cleaning: Taking Minimalism to the Next Level

Swedish Death Cleaning: Taking Minimalism to the Next Level

Being that half my genetic stock traces back to the Vikings and my best childhood memories arise from my time visiting family there, the term “Swedish Death Cleaning” stopped me in my tracks. What was this sorcery and what did it all mean? I had to find out.

Swedish Death Cleaning Book CoverSwedish author Margareta Magnusson’s book “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter” is making quite a ripple across the US. She describes herself as being “aged between 80 and 100” and is passionate about explaining the mindset of “döstädning”:  “dö” meaning death and “städning” meaning cleaning.

The purpose of Swedish death cleaning is to foster a mindset focused on minimalism as one goes through the aging process; partly for the benefit of oneself but just as equally, for that of loved ones that will be left behind. We’re pretty thrilled that someone is tackling this often uncomfortable topic because the message is needed (and timely!). In the US, each household contains 300,000 items on average. Our appetite for material possessions has become glutenous and the burden of all this stuff often falls into the hands of our loved ones.


Margareta explains in “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” that the döstädning process should begin when someone is beginning to consider their own mortality. Sounds like a pretty vague timeframe, but I figure it’s never too early to downsize or become a mindful owner of possessions. The invitation is to look at our belongings through the eyes of our successors; will they gain benefit from our pieces or is it just meaningless and useless?

tiny house palapa

Our happiest home ever, $8 per night sea side palapa in Baja, Mexico. In living with the least, we were the freest.

She explains, “Death cleaning is not about dusting or mopping up; it is about a permanent form of organization that makes your everyday life run more smoothly.” I love that! Through our experiences of downsizing a few times now, we completely agree that once you go down that path, it pleasantly transforms into a mindset through which to view the world. Who we are as consumers, “thing” owners, and stewards of the planet has changed pretty dramatically as a consequence. There’s not a thing we would change on our path towards a simpler and less materialistic life.

One good guide post to aim for in downsizing and Swedish death cleaning is joy. We have now heard from literally thousands of people who have downsized and the collective experience is consistent: there is an emotional lightening which creates space for a lot more happiness and sense of freedom. Margareta encourages people to have fun in the process and to take those trips down memory lane, “It is a delight to go through things and remember their worth”.

Magnusson advocates that people hang onto true keepsakes (letters, photos, etc.). Swedish death cleaning shouldn’t be about total annihilation of material possessions, but rather, a stripping away of all things that invite clutter and distraction. Creating a legacy during our time on Earth is a vital part of experiencing purpose (which has been shown to dramatically increase longevity); keepsakes are a powerful medium for keeping those legacies alive, long after we’ve passed.

[blockquote author=”” link=”” target=”_blank”]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,’ Magnusson says. ‘The bad you expunge.[/blockquote]

kayaking sea of cortez

Simple pleasures in life are often the best

Margareta recommends that you efforts be rewarded by fun activities, whatever that looks like for you. Perhaps you’re a movie buff, or you love going out to eat, or lovely walks. The rewards shouldn’t involve a ton of effort, time, or money but rather, simple things you love to do (but don’t necessarily take the time for in your day-to-day). And if shopping has been your emotional reward for good deeds, it may be time to come up with a new carrot at the end of the stick! 😉


Amongst most circles, the topic of death remains “sensitive” and sometimes even taboo. I would describe myself as pretty at ease with the prospect of death now which seems incredible considering how many years I was plagued with acute panic attacks and an intense fear of my own mortality. Yet even I don’t quite know how to raise the topic with generations older than myself.

One of the aspects that really struck me about “Swedish Death Cleaning” is how many people have thanked the author for creating a dialogue bridge into a very complex topic. “We must all talk about death. If it’s too hard to address, then death cleaning can be a way to start the conversation,” Magnusson writes. I always think it’s best to be honest and openly communicate, especially when it feels uncomfortable so my heart is warmed knowing that a lot of families are coming closer as a result.

[blockquote author=”” link=”” target=”_blank”]Some people can’t wrap their heads around death. And these people leave a mess after them. Did they think they were immortal?[/blockquote]

I’m guessing most of us have heard horror stories about people left with massive estates to take care of. After all, most of us aren’t prepared to take on the burden of an extra 300,000 items into our lives…sometimes we can barely take care of our own stuff! In considering this book, I do now feel that I have a moral obligation to leave my estate in as good order as possible. My death will cause enough of an effect on those who love me and I don’t want to add anything else to their plate, let alone any useless crap.


Swedish flagWe have heard from hundreds of people over the years who want to start their downsizing process but haven’t found the motivation yet. Perhaps the Swedish death cleaning approach will inspire any that have been dragging their feet; sometimes the best motivator for change is knowing how our actions will affect others. Seeing our belongings through the filter of those we love could be very powerful and the perspective that creates much wanted change.

In closing, the principles of Swedish death cleaning feel meaningful and important, not only for ourselves but for those that live with us. As the level of consumerism increased globally, these conversations will become increasingly important. It’s wonderful that “Swedish Death Cleaning” has gained popularity and we’re appreciating our own personal insight in considering this practice.

How about you? Do you have any tips/suggestions for how to deal with your belongings through your aging process? Have you heard of anyone having unique and effective experiences while wading through this complex topic? We would love to hear!

Here’s a short and quirky video/interpretation of Swedish Death Cleaning by a couple of Swedes (don’t watch if you don’t appreciate some light swearing):

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4 Responses to Swedish Death Cleaning: Taking Minimalism to the Next Level

  1. hasina zuberi December 11, 2017 at 2:38 pm #

    I have started this process because I have become more conscious of the effect the stuff have on myself and my family NOW and how difficult it will become AFTER my Life is no more.
    So at great expense to myself, which I can ill afford, have been packing barrels/drums/boxes and shipping them to a designated community in Ghana.
    I suggest more people who are conscious of the fact they have so much whilst some in the world have not enough, should put their money where their mouth is and follow my example. It is easy to do and gives great mutual satisfaction/pleasure and ultimately takes the weight off the Mind !
    In fact I have been a follower of Tiny Houses since its inception and would love to have one in Jamaica, where I was born or Ghana which I may choose to live after retirement, God willing, however through lack of funds, am finding it nigh on impossible to do so. I love the whole concept but to do so is more ecpensive in my two chosen places.
    Thank you for enlightenment!

    • Gabriella Morrison December 11, 2017 at 3:09 pm #

      That’s beautiful Hasina! Would you be willing to share any resources of places where people can ship their things to? I’m guessing many would love to know! Andrew and I were in Jamaica this spring to speak about tiny houses and we loved it. Beautiful place with beautiful people. Never been to Ghana though..perhaps someday!

  2. Ellen December 11, 2017 at 8:37 pm #

    Hi Gabriella

    I’ve been following Tiny House Plans for a few years now and at last have my own little dream taking shape thanks to my youngest son and daughter in law (both in their early thirties) who actually understand and support this lifestyle.

    We live in rural Western Australia on 100 acres we have deemed as an animal sanctuary. Together we are striving for a more informed, simplistic life of giving back rather than always consuming.

    Our only real challenge is the local Council who just can’t see the benefits of people “living off the grid” and choosing sustainable, renewable energies. We put in applications for approvals such as eco friendly toilets but alas at this stage of their bylaws and understanding nothing gets approved. We go through the process to show our willingness to co-operate with Local Government but clearly they are a long way behind modern concepts.

    Our tiny house is a 40ft sea container which is cladded outside and beautifully done on the inside but we can’t even share it on Face Book for fear of the local authority seeing it and looking to stop us from sharing in case others follow. We believe it’s only a matter of time and Council’s world wide will not only be approving tiny houses, they will actually be promoting them rather than seeing people living homeless which breaks our hearts knowing it just doesn’t have to be this way. There are millions of sea containers around the world and equally the same amount of clever, creative folk who can make them viable tiny housing for others.

    I just wanted to share with you personally and say thank you for your inspiring motivation and work. Others are watching and following worldwide.

    • Gabriella Morrison December 17, 2017 at 8:17 am #

      Thank you Ellen for sharing your beautiful vision with us!! You guys are about where we were here in Oregon 5 years ago. Keep the faith…the changes will come because housing is at a breaking point world wide. So is our dependency on power hungry systems. The way of the future is small and self sufficient. I love that you guys keep showing up and asking to cooperate. That creates such a powerful message to local officials. Keep us posted on the journey!

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