How "Swedish Death Cleaning" Can Help Overhaul Your Life

James Logie

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Overhaul your lifeImage credit: Polina Strelkova.

Don’t worry: It’s not as violent as it sounds.

If you need more control in your life, "Swedish Death Cleaning" may be the answer.

This practice goes much deeper than just cleaning. It’s about tapping into your emotions, your legacy, and discovering what’s truly important to you.

"Swedish Death Cleaning" is something that you can use at any point in your life — but sooner may be better than later.

The best way to think of "Swedish Death Cleaning" is like the ultimate spring cleaning.

In Sweden, they call this “döstädning,” and it’s a combination of the words “dö,” which means “death,” and “städning,” which means “cleaning.”

With "Death Cleaning," you want to get rid of as many unnecessary things from your life as possible.

The core idea is that when you get to a certain age—50 years is the usual example—you should reduce the clutter in your home so your heirs won’t have to deal with it when in the future.

This practice sounds morbid, but it’s actually about freedom and the chance to live a happier life.

Removing excess clutter from around you allows you to open up the surrounding space.

The things you don’t need could make a world of difference to someone else. Instead of objects just taking up room, pass them on to declutter your life — and to benefit someone else.

You can do this level of decluttering at any age to feel a sense of relief as if you have also decluttered your mind. It also reminds us that we are not immortal.

What Are the Benefits That Come From This?

The sooner you remove unnecessary items from your life, the better. You’ve probably heard about removing things that don’t bring you joy, and this is a similar approach.

"Swedish Death Cleaning" forces you to take a good hard look at what you don’t need. This practice helps you to reorganize your life, make it more optimal, and more enjoyable.

This is as much an exercise for the mind and emotions as it is for clearing out junk.

"Death Cleaning" helps you decide what is truly valuable to you. It also helps lower your stress as less stuff equals less stress.

One important part of "Death Cleaning" is the nostalgia factor. When you declutter your life, you get to remember why certain things are important to you.

It allows you to remember the past and appreciate what you have now.

Through this entire process, you get to realize that happiness comes from relationships, not material possessions.

Material things may make you feel good for a bit, but that feeling doesn’t last. You become consumed with attaining the next thing to feel good again, and this can get out of control.

The desire to accumulate more “stuff” only leaves you feeling anxious and unhappy.

These benefits may also improve your mental health. Even just the acknowledgment of death — as depressing as that might be — can give you a better sense of self.

This acknowledgment gives you more of an idea of how others may see you. This will help you realize how you want to be seen now and remembered later.

Where Do You Begin With All This?

"Swedish Death Cleaning" is more than just reorganizing your desk. It’s about going deep and making conscious decisions to get rid of an extensive amount of what you don’t need.

The secret here is don’t take everything on at once. If you try to do this all in one shot — and overhaul everything in your life right away — you’ll end up defeated and frustrated. Start small and build from there.

Key tip: You don’t want to start with personal mementos and photos. You have to build up your ability to handle the feelings of this process through other projects with a lower emotional load first.

A great place to start is your closet. The closet often contains a lot of unneeded things. This will get you warmed up to eventually tackle something bigger, like a basement

. From the closets, move on to bigger projects like the bedroom. Then go through the living room, and so on.

The important thing is to take your time and spread it out over the weeks. You don’t have to complete this all at once. The benefit of spreading it out is you are more likely to finish.

As you gradually progress to more difficult areas, the momentum of what you have already accomplished will help you do more.

There’s another important reason to save the biggest projects for last: You’ll be a pro at deciding what has value and what doesn’t.

You’ll have tapped into your emotions and taught yourself how to be better at letting things go.

A Simple Process to Follow

Start with your car. That might seem weird, but if you own a car, you realize how quickly they can become a storage locker on wheels.

If you're in your car multiple times a day, junk can build up.

Your bedroom

Give yourself two days for this but it can take nearly three.

This is where a majority of most sentimental things are — so it may be a long process. Start with your closet and get rid of clothes you don't need.

Donate those books and got rid of that desk you never use. It may horrify you how many garbage bags you throw out.

Keep in mind: You may need longer for your room than you estimate, but don’t let this discourage you. Don’t be afraid to take time to work through those emotions.

This is an important part of the process.

You can also get very off track and spend more time on things than you planned for. I spent a lot of time reading old letters and looking at photo albums (kids, ask your parents what a photo album is).

The "Death Cleaning" process really makes you remember the past.

The kitchen

You may think this could take the longest so give yourself four days, but I can be done quicker. After the bedroom, this may seem much easier. you can get into a groove pretty quickly as there aren’t as many sentimental items in a kitchen.

Take a lot of appliances, dinnerware, and random knick-knacks to Goodwill.

I’m not sure about your situation, but the accumulation of those knick-knack items had gotten out of control.

This can easily happen in the kitchen. You don't want your cupboards and pantry filled to the brim.

The living room

The "Death Cleaning" process should now be easier. The living room is often the quickest to do and may only take a day. This is about getting rid of the furniture you don't need.

Take those items to Goodwill.

It's more likely you will feel very little attachment to most things in there. Excess cushions, throw pillows, magazines, etc. can easily be tossed.

Excess is a good word to describe this entire process as we have too much of it in our lives.

If you decide to do this, you may want to go through the living room earlier on as it may be the easiest for you.

Bathrooms

This can take just another day as it becomes more about cleaning them.

This is the time to go through the medicine cabinets and clear out all those old items that have just been sitting there collecting dust.

Do you realize how many towels a person accumulates over their life?

The Basement

There’s no other way to put it: this can suck. But that's no surprise.

At this point in the "Death Cleaning process," It may feel like getting rid of trash — and you'll realize how much is really around you.

There were still be many important items, but it will be easier to identify what is meaningful. At this point, you may feel really energetic, and you should see the finish line.

How Can This Overhaul Your Life?

It's true: The first few days are the hardest as it takes longer to decide to keep or trash each item.

By the end, you learn to make a quick instinctive decision and can fly through the rest of the process.

you will hopefully find that a lot of physical items just don’t feel as important anymore — and it changes the way you view possessions.

As much as you may love electronics, you will start to see them as items that will just end up in a landfill someday.

This process helps you remember that experiences and moments are the most valuable things in our lives. They are what stay with us — and physical items don’t.

This process can truly feel cleansing and make you more appreciative of the people and memories in life compared to the possessions that once seemed so important.

You get to relive the past and appreciate what you have now. The things you keep will now seem more precious than ever.

This entire process may make you feel lighter. There is less stress over less junk.

You won't feel a burden of accumulation hanging over you anymore. You also feel better at making decisions as you have to make hundreds over the process.

You should also feel more motivated to accomplish other things (you honestly feel like you can take on anything after this).

Final Thoughts

If you’ve ever moved before, you may have gone through this entire process from that perspective.

The idea with "Swedish Death Cleaning" is to do it before any big life changes, such as a move.

When you’re moving, you’re already under a time crunch — and dealing with so much stress — that it’s hard to be in the right frame of mind to do it properly.

You can see that this practice is so much more than just “tidying up.”

"Swedish Death Cleaning is a real psychological practice to give you control of your life and prepare you for the future.

"Death Cleaning" gives you a better perspective, and it helps you take stock of your own life and decide what is truly meaningful to you.

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Personal trainer, podcaster, Amazon best-selling author. Writing about some health, a little marketing, and a whole lot of 1980s.

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