An Unusual Way to Declutter: Swedish Death Cleaning

Move over Marie Kondo. You don’t have the exclusive on the art of decluttering. Margareta Magnusson, a Swedish author, designer, and artist, wrote a book called The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter.

What exactly is Swedish Death Cleaning? Simon and Schuster describe the book as “a charming, practical, and unsentimental approach to putting a home in order while reflecting on the tiny joys that make up a long life.”  Death cleaning is not about dusting or scrubbing; it’s about preparing and organizing. It’s meant to help the next generation manage their grieving process.

It’s focused on the reality that when the elderly pass away, they frequently leave behind a mess for their loved ones to sort through. Tidying the home is a kindness to those left behind so that they don’t have the burden of disorder on top of their grief.  

This type of cleaning and decluttering should develop gradually. Magnusson’s book suggests that around age 65 is a good time to begin because one still hasn’t lost the mental capacity to determine how they want their possessions distributed. This type of cleaning eliminates the burden of having to contend with a mess when you’re trying to grieve.

There will be items that the elderly want to share with specific people, and you don’t want that knowledge to disappear with the mental confusion that can sometimes accompany aging. Another consideration is the arguments that may arise when valuable items are left with no instruction.

For example, if there is an expensive piece of jewelry that is intended for a specific family member and there are no instructions at the time of death, arguments will arise. Whereas, if this jewelry is gifted while the owner is still living, he or she can share the enjoyment and the memories that are linked to this piece.

Now that you have a better understanding of Swedish Death Cleaning, following are some tips to help you guide your elderly family members down this path.

The Self Storage Solution

Your first task is to find a secure, convenient self storage facility. If your parents are having difficulty with letting go of their belongings, a self storage unit can be your solution. The overflow can be stored, and everyone can take the time that they need when deciding what to keep, discard or donate. Additionally, this will give you time to consult other family members as to what they might want. Here at Universal Storage Group, our staff will help you find the perfect type and size storage unit for your needs.

Begin by Being “Indirect”

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that elderly family members will immediately think Swedish Death Cleaning is ideal. You may have to be “indirect” by approaching the subject from a safety perspective. Begin by discussing why throw rugs and small lightweight tables and ottomans can potentially cause dangerous falls. Suggest that piles of magazines, books, and newspapers are not only unsightly but can be a fire hazard. You can casually mention that you’re going to pack these items and place them in storage.

Request a Few Items that You Would Like Have Now

Elderly people love to give away their belongings, and they are flattered if a family member is interested enough in an object to want to own it. This may encourage them to give away even more items. If you request some things that you’re not yet ready to use, your storage unit will come in handy until you need them.

Enjoy Special Moments

If you have the time and want to make this a bit more personal, ask your parents or elderly family members to share their favorite memories of treasured objects. You may hear a story that you’ve never heard before and can share with your children. You can record these memories, or take photos of the objects and create a memory journal.  


Approaching the subject of Swedish death cleaning can be difficult, but also rewarding. Make it a positive experience that allows for reflection and sharing of memories and forgotten events. It can lead you down roads that you never knew existed and, maybe, to a new perception and appreciation of the people you’ve known and loved all your life.