I recently learned of the term “Swedish Death Cleaning”. My kids are getting a little older and I am seriously sick of the house being cluttered. So after the holidays this year, I launched into my own Swedish Death Cleaning.
What is it?
Lisa over at the Kitchn, describes it well:
In Swedish there is a word for it: döstädning. “Dö” means “death” and “städning” means “cleaning.” The idea is to remove unnecessary things and get your home in order as you get older. To minimize the amount of stuff (junk, clutter, things you don’t need, etc.) that you will end up leaving behind for others to deal with.
There is a big reason that this method of cleaning really resonated with me. For one, I have a crazy busy schedule. And stuff accumulates. And accumulates. After holidays, stuff gets stashed in the basement. In the summer, camping stuff gets stashed in the garage after camping trips. And between all that, the clutter just builds up.
Not only that, but I have a bunch of other things that have accumulated since we moved to our home in 2005. My mom passed away over 10 years ago, and a lot of things from her house and my childhood were packed up in boxes and went right into storage, and then into my basement. I am feeling overwhelmed by all these boxes, and now that the grief is more manageable, it makes it easier to deal with going through things.
I read an article on Mother News Network that makes a lot of sense too, “Nobody Wants Family Heirlooms Any More“. It talks about how generations have changed, people are downsizing, and how people just aren’t valuing things like antiques any more. While I do value items with sentimental value, these are all things I am working to pare down.
Another reason I have hung on to things is to save money and to be eco-friendly. I’m not saying to throw away all your stuff. I try my best to find a new home for everything, so I am not just sending everything off to the landfill. I also do as much as I can to reuse and recycle things, but I also can’t keep every little thing with the intent of using it “some day”.
How I Got Started
This is not about being rash, and throwing away things you might regret. It is about reconsidering if you really need so much ‘stuff’.
One of the things that resonated with me is when I have cleaned out relative’s houses when they passed away. We ended up hiring a dumpster service and ended up throwing away so many things. I felt that if things had not accumulated over the years, we would not have had to throw away so much. We did not have time to sort through it all, have a garage sale, or even try to donate much of it, since we were on a short time frame and from out of town. If you or a family member need some support in terms of accumulation or hoarding, I would suggest reaching out to a company that provides Minneapolis hoarding cleanup services (or in your local area) to keep things in check.
After Christmas, I started cleaning – a lot. One challenge was finding a place for all the kid’s new things we had gotten for Christmas. I worked to make space and clean things out of their rooms, like books they were done with, games they had outgrown, and so on. We bagged up donations, took things to the consignment shop, and gave away items to friends and family.
I worked on putting away all the holiday decorations, wrapping supplies, etc. And at the same time got rid of a lot. I have been hoarding things like ribbons and tissue paper, and I did a quick once-over and got rid of ton of stuff. If I need a gift box? I’ll get one when I buy something. You can buy a hearty pack of tissue paper at Dollar Tree for $1.
Going through family and childhood things
I have a bunch of things from my family members, from my childhood, and from when my own kids were younger. It is much easier to go through this stuff after a few years go by. The grief of losing someone isn’t as intense, and you can be less emotional about deciding what to keep and what to get rid of. Yes, I am sentimental, but you have to pick and choose what you are going to keep.
As far as my own kids, I had bins of things I had saved from when they were younger – like all of their books and papers from preschool and kindergarten. There is simply no way to keep all of that, so I made decisions about which items were most important and pared things way down.
Some of the things I more recently started paring down on more than ever
Clothes are always a big one, as there always seem to be articles of clothing and accessories that don’t get worn. Even saving old shirts or shoes with the intent to wear them for some kind of muddy yardwork or painting – well, you don’t need a bunch of those. I said goodbye many shirts that were pilled, fabric was thinning, or even had pit stains (yes, I said it).
I have always been really thrifty, but it was time to throw out some linens that were completely shot. We are talking sandpaper linens, or ones that were wearing thin or lost their ability to hang on to the corners of the mattress very well. Towels that were getting ratty or washcloths that were stained got tossed or joined our rag bin (great for mopping up spills or even scrubbing floors!). We don’t need heaps of linens cascading out of the linen closet
I had years and years of paperwork in my basement. A lot of it was paperwork I had inherited (and was important), but it was finally time to get rid of it. Papers from taxes, old cell phone bills, house closings, legal documents, etc. Plus, now a lot of bills are online, so I sorted through years of papers and shredded stacks and stacks. Yes, these are my bags of shredded papers! These bags represented two file boxes worth of shredded papers!
A few that I was already ahead of getting rid of…
~ CDs & DVDs: We really don’t own a lot of these. Honestly, I would rather rent these from the library or Redbox, or stream online.
~ Books: While I love a good book, I don’t really re-read books other than cookbooks. The internet is an awesome thing, and if I feel the need to browse recipes, I can stop by the library. I have a few special cookbooks, but just a handful.
My goal is not to let stuff accumulate. I have a habit of saving things, like empty containers, old gift wrap supplies, etc. While it’s great to be frugal, those things can add up and create a lot of clutter.
It feels great to have purged so much from our household! I love seeing less clutter, stumbling around less in the garage and the basement. Not having to dig through so much when I go to find something. It really has made me feel a sense of relief!
I need to go through things and get rid of them. The garage is scary! It’s full of bins I’ll eventually go through. I’m glad you were able to get rid of a lot of stuff!
I know many older people who have done this as they have gotten older. My mother started giving as birthday and christmas gifts certain things she wanted us kids to have. We loved receiving these gifts and nobody could argue over who received what. Perfect solution for her to down size and not spend money she didn’t have on gifts.
I just heard of this swedish death cleaning for the first time recently. If someone finds it helpful why not. while I have no interest in going to the extreme I can admit that I’m overdue for a thinning out.
It’s a great way to de-clutter and say goodbye to the things that you no longer use at home. It’s a good practice to start, keeps the house clutter free and gives your more space for other things.
I have OCD about clutter, so we never have any. Of course then I always look for stuff that I’ve tossed out!
Last year my husband and I downsized and it was wonderful for us. We went through all of our belongings and donated, sold, or threw out a lot of unnecessary items. We did save a lot and have stuff in storage. This spring we are going through storage to minimize our clutter again!
I have never heard of swedish death cleaning. It sounds so drastic and final. But I can see how it really helps to get more organized.
Wow it must feel really great to have all that done! One thing I have read that one thing NOT to get rid of are old pay stubs – forever. You may need them to prove to social security, or for your company’s pension and/or 401k, etc. If your employer and government are missing any work history, the only thing you can do is show them pay records. Employers from a long time ago may not even be in business anymore or can lose your work history. It happens more often than you think. A former employer said I hadn’t worked there for several years that I did, luckily, the government record had the information, and it took two years for it to get rectified. If I was not able to prove it to the company, they would not the benefits for those years.
The name is macabre but the principle makes a lot of sense. We had to clean up my great grandmother’s house after her passing and although it wasn’t cluttered there was a lot of stuff. I know for some it’s hard to let go of some things but it’s important to get rid of items, repurpose them or donate them.
My schedual is very busy too. I never have time to clean everyday so I make sure to do something here and there then I make a deep clean on Saturdays.
I never heard of this term before but I am totally intrigued. I do love purging stuff we no longer need. Nothing makes me happier than a clean, tidy home.
Wow, that’s so much paper! That inspires me to actually go and clean out my files and stuff…soon.
This is always my goal in my home. We moved recently and you’d think we would have less stuff since we had to pile it al in one U-haul…nope I’m still finding that I can get rid of a lot more things. I try to sell them and if that doesn’t work, off to Goodwill they go.
This is a really helpful post to some people I know. I do not let my stuff clutter or get stacked up.
I might have to try this cleaning method. Lord knows I got my work ahead of me.
I tend to hold on to stuff. A learned behavior from my Mother. It was amazing the stuff we found after she passed. She wasn’t like an episode of Hoarders, but I don’t think she needed 32 pads of post it notes with different company logos. Neither do I. Maybe it’s time I did a bit of tossing too.
I try to do this every month, but it seems like there is always more and more to discard. This month, I will involve the entire family. They should decide which of their stuff needs to go.
I like the idea of clearing your home especially your closet of things that you no longer use. It doesn’t mean you don’t value these things it’s just that it’s better to let them go or donate them when you can so that people can make better use of them. I’d love to do this often.
I have been doing a lot of this lately. We had to much junk. We bring in new things but didn’t purge the old. I’m currently reorganizing and donating our linen closet.
Oh I so need to do the same! I am a real hoarder and the clutter in our house actually really depresses me!
That must have felt like a huge weight off your shoulders after getting rid of all of that stuff! It definitely is difficult, but its good to just knock it all out at one time if possible.
I just learned of this term. I’m interested in the difference between this method and the KonMari method. I’m currently hosting a decluttering challenge called NovemPurge and it’s going well so far.
I had never heard of this phrase before, so the title of your blog alone intrigued me:) I love it! Great article and something we all need to do, year after year. It’s such a refreshing and freeing feeling when you get rid of clutter and things you don’t need in your life. I always clean after the holidays. When I was taking down Christmas decorations and packing them up, it gave me a chance to reorganize and rearrange a little as I put stuff back out and I was able to get the closet where we store all the holiday deco in order as well. I weeded through that stuff and now have a bag to donate. As I was getting stuff back in order in kitchen, I was able to organize in there and weed out a few things … and so on and so on. The big project I handled was my office/craft room and I love how it looks now and it is so inviting, I want to be in there everyday and I feel like I am accomplishing more! Going to pin your article to share, thanks!
This is super nice and a must try!
Cleaning feels so good! It is weight lifting. I always try to do it once a year and one thing I do consistently is getting rid of paper, Wow there is so many, school homework, promotions etc etc it accumulates fast so I recycle or shred away! Thanks for sharing I had never heard of this concept!
I also have a ton of papers. That seems to be the thing that I save the most. I always feel like I can’t get rid of them because someday, down the line, I’ll need to prove a paid a bill or something. Your post has inspired me to go through those papers and shred them! Thank you!!
It is important to clean the “dead” energy and replace it with a fresh and new one. I do this every weekend, with papers, documents, and sometimes even clothing. It is also important to apply the “dodstadning” to your wallet in order to keep money flowing into it 🙂 So, at least once a week, remove old papers, tickets, and bills.