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What It’s Like to Practice Swedish Death Cleaning

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It’s surprisingly relaxing.

woman looking outside

You’re likely already familiar with the Danish concept of hygge. Döstädning, aka “death cleaning,” is a Swedish tidying strategy. In 2018, a book brought the idea to the larger world. Although the name is admittedly morbid, the practice itself is rooted in pragmatism and thoughtfulness. The idea is that you cleanse your home of the things you no longer want or need so that when you pass away, your possessions are less of a burden to those you love. And while death is not high on the list of things we want to talk about, it is something we’ll all eventually have to deal with, and the more time we spend on things like cleaning the clutter out of our lives now, the more time we’ll have to spend with our friends and family at the end.

Although I don’t plan on dying anytime soon (knock on wood!), I recently realized it’s actually a good idea no matter how old you are, so I figured I’d get a head start on releasing the objects in my life that no longer serve me. After all, I’m both busy and disorganized, so it could be all-too-easy for my house to start looking like a storage unit.

I gathered all the supplies needed for death cleaning: garbage bags, Sharpie markers, and a few cute organizational totes. I started with my clothing—putting everything on my bed and then dividing it into “keep,” “donate,” or “trash” bags. If you’re familiar with Marie Kondo’s method where you hold each item and see if it sparks joy, this is similar, but I also concentrated on whether this was an item I saw myself using way into the future. Was it well made? Durable? Something that will be useful for years? Thinking about it in terms of death cleaning, I was able to more clearly understand what I wanted to keep with me in life.

After that, I tackled each room in my house with the idea to simplify, simplify, simplify. Looking at every item and deciding if I really, truly needed it put things into perspective. There were some items I realized that I loved but I never look at because they were hidden behind things that I didn’t love. When all was said and done, I donated or got rid of ten garbage bags of clothes, books, and bric-a-brac. I thought I’d have some anxiety about getting rid of things I thought I needed, but I felt nothing but relief. I had room to breathe and my house looked so much brighter and more beautiful.

Next, I put together a “death kit,” which, again, sounds super morbid, but is actually very practical! In it, I collected all the documents my family members would need upon my death—mortgage information, banking records, important passwords, and my will. Honestly, this is something I’d been putting off for a long time and it was a relief to complete the task. And it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be—I just had to make it a priority to get it done.

After the experience of death cleaning, it’s not hyperbole to say that my head feels more clear. Piles of junk that caused me anxiety are gone, and while I hope I live for a very long time, I no longer feel like cleaning up my life will cause my loved ones too much hardship. It felt like a real act of love for myself and the people I care about most in this world. Swedish death cleaning might sound super dark, but it’s made me feel a million pounds lighter.