Swedish Death Cleaning Brings Peace and Joy

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The Swedish have an extremely pragmatic term known as döstädning. Translated, the term means death cleaning, as means death and städning means cleaning. It is the common practice of leaving one’s physical possessions and personal effects in good order to make things easier for loved ones upon our death. From my own experience, the process actually brings great peace and joy.

I recently read The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson to help me face a houseful of things that belonged to my late father, mother, and grandmother. Although I generally have little attachment or sentimentality toward material objects, I found it painfully difficult to part with things that belonged to people I love.

When my father died six years ago, it fell to me to deal with his possessions. With the exception of his clothing, my mom wanted us to keep nearly everything else of my dad’s, including a wooden duck lamp he made in high school. Suffice it to say it’s an ugly duckling. That poor thing lived more than sixty years in a box that has moved from my grandmother’s house, to my parents’ house, to my mom’s condo, to my attic. It’s the poster child for Swedish death cleaning, yet no one could let it go.

After my mom passed away I knew I had to deal with her things, my dad’s things, and all of my grandmother’s things Mom had kept for more than twenty-five years. A few treasures found good homes, but a huge stash of furniture, books, knick-knacks, decor, and memorabilia weighed heavy on my mind and on our attic floor.

Not only did Swedish death cleaning help me sort through my family’s belongings, it gave me a reverent opportunity to revisit and honor them. I was finally able to keep the memories and say goodbye to the objects. It also made me more aware of my own limited time and space on this planet. I’ve whittled down my possessions to what I need and what truly sparks joy, as Marie Kondo advises. My affairs are now in order to make things easier for my survivors, giving me enormous peace of mind.

The process left me with an unexpected sense of serenity, happiness, and increased appreciation for what really matters in life. I’m grateful to be in good health, and I plan to live the rest of my days unburdened by excessive material objects. I do have a secret desire that my dad’s lamp is bringing joy to someone who finds it just ducky. §

“I never saw a U-Haul behind a hearse.”
~ Billy Graham, evangelist

7 thoughts on “Swedish Death Cleaning Brings Peace and Joy

  1. Okay, I know. I’m working on this for Cindy. Eliminate the clutter and excess I get, but it seems that I simply like the “old” items better than buying new things. There’s something to the patina, the colors and quality that speaks to me. I love the look of a designer home with fresh new colors and ideas, I really do but I still settle into my old look. Maybe it’s easier and just natural for me.

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    1. You have wonderful taste, and I love the comfy, cozy feeling of your home and those beautifully layered vignettes you create. I hope you keep your house just the way it is! I’ve had to move so many times, I think that’s why I’ve become more of a minimalist. I also enjoy exploring new (to me) ideas like Swedish death cleaning. Of course, if you’re ever ready to declutter some of your beautiful and sentimental things, you know who to call! ❤

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  2. Okay, I know. I’m working on this for Cindy. Eliminate the clutter and excess I get, but it seems that I simply like the “old” items better than buying new things. There’s something to the patina, the colors and quality that speaks to me. I love the look of a designer home with fresh new colors and ideas, I really do and I’ve even tried to style around that but I still settle into my old look. Maybe it’s just easier and natural for me. Back to your post, I love the safe the memories and not the material. ❤️

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  3. I took on the Swedish Death Cleanse several years ago although at the time I wasn’t aware that that was what it was called. The reason was because I had been involved in helping people move to smaller homes and helping clean out after a loved ones death.

    I can remember looking around at my home and realizing that my kids were faced with that task after my death. I wanted to make it easier for them so I started in with a definite goal in mind.

    I still have a lot of stuff but it’s all stuff I use and it all has a place. What went away was all the, ” I might use this someday or my kids might want it stuff.” All the things packed in closets and stacked in the basement waiting to be sorted got sorted and dealt with. All the stuff that someone could use now was sent off to be used.

    I certainly feel better just having made all those decisions .The very best feeling is that the things I was hanging on to are now being used, not just waiting to be used.
    Turns out a lot of people benefited from this in a lot of different ways.

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  4. Thank you for reading, Alma! You describe Swedish Death Cleansing (or whatever you want to call it) perfectly. I think the stored stuff that “the kids might want someday” is a big one. I agree all the stuff we love and use is important to our lives right now and should be kept. I appreciate your thoughtful comment. 🙂 Alicia

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