Swedish Death Cleaning

Lefty Graves

Approaching your later years can be nerve-wracking for many. However, there are many important details to consider, including the 'what if's' regarding that love letter from your long-lost mystery love to the most intimate details of your life.

Recently an elderly client of mine asked me to help her with Swedish Death Cleaning. I’d never heard of the concept before, so I had to ask her a few questions before I began the process. Here is what I learned regarding Swedish Death Cleaning. It’s not as macabre as you may think.

Death cleaning isn’t about cleaning your house from top to bottom; it’s simply a form of organization that will make your life easier and that of your friends and family upon your passing.

We’ve all been to a funeral or memorial service for someone that we loved that was a keeper of many things. Perhaps they were even a hoarder. Now picture that person’s family having to sort through all of their many belongings and find the proper home for them. Truthfully, no one wants to sort through all these items. It can be very stressful. Why not make it easier on your loved ones and declutter while you’re still alive?

Proper Swedish Death Cleaning eliminates the need for the family or loved ones to have to sort through all of these things. It’s an important step in accepting, if you will, the inevitable and focusing on life while you’re still here.

How to get started

There are a variety of opinions out there, but this checklist is the most common one that is used. It’s important to keep in mind that this process isn’t going to be done in a matter of hours, it took years to accumulate all of your belongings, and it’s going to take some time to sort through everything.

Set aside an hour or so each day or week to focus on the project. Take your time, and don'tit'sisn'tIt'syou'reIt'syou'reperson'sWe'veit'sisn'tIt'sI'dif's' try to do more than you can do in any one session. If you try to do too much at one time, it can quickly become overwhelming.

Most importantly, it's vital that you don't go out and purchase new items to replace any of the items that you're giving away or tossing out. That would be completely counterproductive to this entire project. Remind yourself that "Less is more" and stick with that motto.


Many of us love to collect clothes. Perhaps you had a favorite outfit that evokes strong, happy memories. Perhaps you simply love a certain style and frequently stumble on deals for that style. Regardless, you have a closet full of clothes that you seldom wear. In fact, you may have a small handful of 'go-to' outfits that you wear, and the rest of your clothes remain hanging on hangers or stuffed into a drawer seldom-if ever, being worn.

To make this easier, set up 3 bins. Label your bins as follows:

  • Keep: Keep the clothes that you love and wear often.
  • Donate: Donate the clothes that are in good condition but seldom, if ever, worn.
  • Discard: Worn out items and old underthings.

Since you’re only going to dedicate an hour or so each day to this task, you may wish to start section by section in your closet. If you have a dresser in your closet, perhaps drawer by drawer. The goal is to start small and make a small dent. The task may be too monumental if you try to do it all in one day.

As you fill your donation and discard bins or boxes, make sure to get them out of the house and to their respective new homes as soon as possible. Perhaps you have a niece or grandchild that absolutely loves something of yours. Maybe your best friend has long admired something that you no longer wear. Use this method to determine what to do with items and begin your chore of paring down.

You can set some items aside for holiday gift giving to your loved ones if you wish. That would be a great way to let them know how much you love them and still pare down your belongings. Plan to donate that item or those items to that person. Not everyone is accepting of gifts. So using the method of gift giving at a special holiday or event may be the key to giving that person something special to remember you by.

Other items may be donated to a local shelter, thrift store, or some other entity or person that can use them. Discard items can go directly into the trash if desired. It’s that simple. You’ve started on your project. Now reward yourself with a break. Take a nice walk, enjoy a favorite television program/movie or have some ice cream.

Household items

Pick a room in your house and plan to start in that room. The goal, again, is to pare down to the essentials. Keep what you love and get rid of what you'reYou'veIt'syou're' not using daily. If you're in the kitchen, get rid of the excess dishes, pots and pans that you're not using daily, and other items.

Grab a box and set up your donate and discard items accordingly. Perhaps you have a grandchild about to leave the nest, and you can help to furnish their household by giving them some of the items. Most grandchildren would love to have something from grandma or grandpa long as it’s useful to them.

If you haven't used it in a year, it's probably time to get rid of it and do without it. If it's something used annually, such as the fancy holiday platter on which the meal is served, plan ahead on who it will go to and continue using it. Just make sure that the person who will inherit that item knows about it and maybe label it on the bottom of the item with their name.


Those old love letters from the long-lost love, love letters from those who've gone before us and other personal items could be kept in a large plastic tote with the notation "destroy upon my death" on the lid or side. That way, you can continue looking at them as desired.

Important documents such as your will, personal accounts, etc., that will be needed upon your death should be labeled as such and stored accordingly. Make sure that someone knows where this particular box or bin is and that it is clearly labeled so that there is no mistake about what it is.

Shred old personal items that have personal details that aren't required. Throw out old magazines (or if they are craft or handyman magazines that someone may find useful, place them in a bin with that person's name on it). Get rid of the clutter.

Digital footprint

For those that use computers and cell phones, it's important to leave your passwords and important detailed information for your family so that they can take care of important details such as tending to your credit cards and bank accounts. Choose who you trust with this information and leave a small bin or notebook with the details for them to deal with upon your passing.


You could set up albums for various family members if you have duplicate pictures. Perhaps you enjoyed a special trip with some of your family and want to share your pictures from that trip with them.

Maybe you don't want to deal with the emotions that some of your pictures bring to the surface. If so, maybe have a family member help you sort through a few albums at a time to make it easier. This, too, will build memories, so treasure the memories and enjoy them.

Death cleaning is a process. You'll have to work on it daily to achieve your goal for the organization and make everyone else's life easier upon your passing. There is no right or wrong way to go about the process.

Set up your organizational method however you like; just stick to it, and in time you'll find that you have most of it done; all you have to do now is sit back and enjoy your more relaxed lifestyle. Many people have taken photos of their knickknacks and placed them into albums to help make their homes less cluttered. Organization is an amazing thing that makes many feel more relaxed and reduces stress and blood pressure.






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Lefty has been writing online since 2000 on various topics, including youth mentoring, addiction recovery, parenting, gardening, advocating for seniors, sustainability, farming, and an eclectic mix of other topics. She resides on a farm with her family in Northeastern Washington state.

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