Swedish Death Cleaning Is The Decluttering Method You Didn’t Know You Needed

Here’s why you need to start death cleaning right now, no matter your age.

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If there was ever a task that makes curling up in bed and throwing the comforter over your head sound like a good idea, Swedish death cleaning is right up there. What ever happened to hygge and lykke? Isn’t the new trend to adopt the comfiest Scandinavian habits so we can spend our days cuddling in front of a roaring fire in a pair of slippers? Well, yes. Danish hygge and its Norwegian cousin lykke are all about comfort. And in its way, Swedish death cleaning, or dostadning as it’s known in Sweden, is too—comfort for you now as you declutter your home…and comfort your family after you’re gone. The name Swedish death cleaning comes from The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter, a book released earlier this year. Author Margareta Magnusson is a Swedish artist and mother of five who describes herself as being somewhere between 80 and 100. Magnusson may be a first-time author, but her book has created a firestorm. In fact, it’s already been dubbed the new KonMari. KonMari, of course, refers to organizational consultant Marie Kondo’s “art of tidying up,” which has had us pawing through closets full of stuff over the last few years, determining what gives us joy and what should be hauled to the curb on trash day. But where Kondo has always suggested focusing inward—literally choosing to keep only what gives us personal pleasure—Magnusson’s death cleaning approach is focused outward, on those who you stand to leave behind if (when?) you die. As she explains in a video created with her daughters, the idea is to “get rid of the things you have collected and had in your home for a long time.” “One day, when you’re not around anymore, your family would have to take care of all that stuff,” she says, “and I don’t think that’s fair, really.” Morbid as it may seem to think about your eventual demise, the method has its merits, regardless of your age. Do you really want someone finding that old pair of undies with the elastic torn out that you just keep forgetting to toss? How about that photo of you from college that you’ve banned your roommates from posting on Facebook? (You know the one.) “I think I’ve always death cleaned,” Magnusson admits in her video, “because I want to have it nice around me.” Who can argue with that? Certainly not science. Studies have found that women who consider their homes cluttered and unfinished tend to have higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, than those who feel their home is restorative. The impetus for the Swedish death cleaning trend may be somber, but it can help anyone let go of their packrat tendencies. Consider these tricks to make it work for you:

1. Use the Beanie Baby rule.

You remember those tiny stuffed animals that we held onto for years, convinced they were going to make us a ton of cash? We all know how that turned out. If you’re hanging onto things because they may be worth something later, do some research. If there’s evidence out there that you’re on the right path, keep it. If there’s not, it may be time to re-home.

2. Erase the embarrassment.

If you don’t want someone else to see it, why are you hanging onto it? If it’s truly pleasurable (you know what we mean), keep it. If it’s still with you just because you haven’t had time to kick it to the curb, it’s time to step up.

3. Will you use it?

This is a tough one, especially for those of us who try to be savvy spenders. That ribbon from that gift you got six years ago may come in handy one day! If you throw it out now, you’ll end up spending money to buy a new one! If you’re nodding along right now, you’re not alone, but you’re probably up to your ears in stuff. To make it easier to throw things out or donate them, give yourself a time limit, for example, “I haven’t used this in five years, I can throw it out.”

Jeanne Sager
Jeanne Sager is a writer and photographer from upstate New York. She has strung words together for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and more.