For an Unconventional Spring Cleaning, Take a Cue from the Swedish

One Death Cleaning strategy could include digitizing photos to save space.
One Death Cleaning strategy could include digitizing photos to save space.

It may not feel like it yet, but spring is nearly here in Toronto. The long-term weather forecasts show a slow-but-sure uptick in temperatures. The first green buds of cherry trees are popping up in High Park. Toronto Blue Jays Spring Training is in full swing (pun intended). And, across the city, homeowners are gearing up for a much-needed spring clean.

Spring cleaning is an annual ritual that carries special significance – as nature prepares to turn over a new leaf, so do you. But for many, this year is different because of the pandemic. What if, instead of merely cleaning the house, you took a more philosophical approach to decluttering? What if you took a cue from the Swedish?

In this article, let’s explore the Swedish concept of Döstädning – or, Death Cleaning. While it may sound morbid at first, Swedish Death Cleaning is actually a practical, considerate form of self-organization that can help you start the spring fresh.

One Death Cleaning strategy could include digitizing photos to save space.
One Death Cleaning strategy could include digitizing photos to save space.

What Is Death Cleaning?

Death Cleaning is an approach to decluttering popularized by an 86-year-old Swedish woman named Margareta Magnusson. According to Magnusson, you should never leave a mess for your family to clean up after you die. At best, it’s an inconvenience for them to have to sort through your things and decide what needs to be sold or given away; at worst, it can be a traumatic experience, especially if there are several siblings involved who are arguing about what should be done with your belongings. Instead, you should take the time while you’re still alive to edit your belongings.

I remember sorting through stuff in my dad’s basement with my siblings after he passed. I would not call it a traumatic experience, but it did take us two full Saturdays to sort through things, decide which one of us would get certain items, and decide what needed to be thrown out – including a stack of old TV guides lol.

People accumulate many things in a lifetime that are neither useful nor enjoyable. Death Cleaning is the ongoing process of editing out these belongings. Think of it as a darker version of Marie Kondo’s philosophy. Like Kondo’s method, Death Cleaning can also be about “sparking joy” – living lighter and freer in the absence of unnecessary items.

Is Death Cleaning Only for Older Adults?

A common misconception about Death Cleaning is that it’s only for people in their 80s or 90s. It’s not. Anyone can – and arguably should – try it. Think of it less like a pre-dying ritual and more like a lifelong project.

If you’re downsizing homes, for instance, Death Cleaning offers the perfect opportunity to rethink your possessions. With the help of downsizing services in Toronto, you can sift through belongings to choose which ones bring you joy and which ones weigh you down. If you simply want a cleaner, clearer home, Death Cleaning may be the sober reality check you need to throw away certain items you’ve held onto.

And with the pandemic, many people are working from home and having to add home offices to bedrooms or living rooms. Participating in a Death Cleaning ritual may free up some space for that home office!

How to Work Döstädning into Your Spring Cleaning Routine

To start, read Magnusson’s book on the subject. It’s a brisk read, suffused with humour, hard truths and practical advice.

When it comes time to start spring cleaning, think about your possessions in terms of their staying power in your life. At every step, question whether you need a physical document or whether a digital version would be sufficient. For instance, instead of holding onto trinkets and memorabilia, take photos of them and digitize them in an album. You can do the same with those old boxes of photographs in the attic.

Most importantly, have fun with it. Treat Death Cleaning like a walk down memory lane. Magnusson is quick to point out that getting rid of an item doesn’t mean getting rid of the memories behind it. In an ironic twist, Death Cleaning may just help you live a better life.

You may be interested in reading, “What Is Driving Up Home Prices in Toronto 2021?


  1. I hadn’t heard of this before, but it does make sense. I might have to try it. I have been wanting to declutter.

  2. I have heard of Death Cleaning before but did not really give it a thought. Thank you for sharing information about it.

  3. I suppose there is a positive side in that relatives don’t need to sort through things after. I think many amass clutter but don’t often sort through it.

  4. This is the first time that I’ve heard of the term death cleaning. But my sister actually did it. My Mom died two years ago and my sister sorted her things and sold some of them.

  5. I really need to declutter and get rid of things, it is hard sometimes when you start thinking about the sentimental “value” but I do need to work on this

  6. This is the first time I’m hearing of this. It’s interesting to learn more about. I need to do some regular spring cleaning here soon.

  7. I haven’t heard of death cleaning but I know some friends who had to go through old stuff for weeks after the death of their loved ones. I need to do spring cleaning soon.

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