The Art of Death Cleaning

The Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

I read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up years ago. It got me on a decluttering spree – I’ve been thinking about minimalism ever since. The idea of having only what you need to be content is something that I’ve been working towards; unfortunately, I have amassed quite a lot over my lifetime and therefore have much to sort through. So when the concept of Swedish death cleaning hit the States, I was intrigued.

The hoarder gene runs through my veins; my grandmother lived through many civil wars, and my mother was raised by my grandmother. I didn’t notice how much my mother and grandmother held onto, not until after my grandmother passed. (Not that I had to help clear out her belongings.)

As a child, your gaze sort of skims over things once you’ve seen it a few times. You start focusing on the open spaces and don’t notice the edges being encroached upon by ever growing piles of items. And you definitely don’t notice all the cabinets and closets crammed full of things, because when do you ever have reason to open cabinets?

Feeling overwhelmed at the realization and the reality of what my mother still has, I was determined to get rid of as much stuff as I could before I die. Because if I’m being honest, it could be tomorrow. My motivation is partly not leaving it to my sister or mother to clear things out; my mother would probably keep everything, my sister toss everything. The other reason is, what if I have some embarrassing secrets hidden away in my mess I want to take to the grave? This will not do at all.

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is more of a reflection on life than a system for cleaning for death. Margareta Magnusson gives a very soft set of guidelines to walk through someone who has not yet tried to get rid of stuff. (How very Swedish of her.)

Some of her tips:

  • A good thorough cleaning will make life easier and less crowded.
  • Moving to a smaller place will force you to figure out what you truly want to keep.
  • Ask family and friends if they want certain things.
  • Every time someone comes to visit, give them a little something when they leave.
  • Giving things to people who will love them makes it easier to relinquish items you hold dear.
  • Start with things that don’t hold as many memories.
  • Do it both for yourself, and for the people you will leave behind.

She also had plushies! I’ve managed to reduce my collection down to five, one of which you met previously.


I thought death cleaning was going to be the most extreme form of minimalism. But I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t. The book is part memoir, part advice, which was not at all what I expected, but which I loved. This feels like a grandmother imparting wisdom to her grandchild who is still too young to fully comprehend the message. It made me miss my grandmother…

It also inspires me to live the fullest life I can. I want to one day sort through my remaining possessions and reminisce on happy memories. This book, more than any other minimalism and decluttering book I’ve read, has truly gotten me to understand that the power and meaning of things is in the memories we make with them. It’s ok to get rid of thing; we will always have the memories.

Get your copy here:


Have you read the book? What do you think about the concept of death cleaning?

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Comments (4)

  • Kerri Wigle 2 years ago Reply

    This looks super interesting! Thanks for sharing.

  • amandalikestotravel 2 years ago Reply

    I agree, it is smart planning to think about what you will leave behind once you are gone. I have heard horror stories of people inheriting so much clutter from their family members.

  • Cassandra Happe 2 years ago Reply

    This really puts minimalism in a new light for me. I always liked the concept because clutter stresses me out and I don’t want to live with it. But I never thought about how my family would be affected by my junk after I die. Interesting to think about!

    Lily 2 years ago Reply

    This definitely added more meaning to my own decluttering, it’s not only for me anymore

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