What is döstädning, or Swedish Death Cleaning, and why is it causing such a decluttering buzz?

Döstädning, or Swedish death cleaning is having a moment (Getty)
Döstädning, or Swedish death cleaning is having a moment (Getty)

Scooch over Marie Kondo there’s a new decluttering trend on the tidying block, but it’s a tad more morbid.

Where Marie Kondo told us to ditch anything in our houses that didn’t spark joy, the concept behind döstädning, or Swedish Death Cleaning, is a little less cheery.

Put simply, Swedish death cleaning is all about clearing our homes of the items which may burden our loved ones if we were to pass.

“Döstädning is a Swedish phenomenon by which the elderly and their families set their affairs in order,” explains Tracey Beesley professional declutterer and founder of The Lifestyle Concept.

“Setting affairs in order can include down-sizing and decluttering, allocating family heirlooms before death, putting plans in place to 'find things' easily and even making funeral arrangements ahead of time.”

Even Nigella Lawson is a fan of the decluttering concept, recently sharing her penchant for the new trend with The Times.

“I’m rather warming to the Swedish notion of döstädning, or “death cleaning”, in which you start sloughing off the piles of tat that you unthinkingly acquire over the years, so as not to be a burden to your children after you’ve keeled over,” she writes.

Read more: Simple ways to declutter your life

Move of Marie Kondo! (Getty)
Move of Marie Kondo! (Getty)

As morbid as the premise may sound, adopting the concept can actually serve as a great way of decluttering our lives and homes.

“Though it is not a nice thought, for many people it is a practicality which means we are able to relieve those closest to us of this huge task; clearing our homes and belongings,” explains professional organiser, Vicky Silverthorn.

“It is hard enough when a loved one passes, but to then add this to the gigantic task of rooting through their personal belongings and making arrangements to declutter them or even sell them can be an extremely overwhelming process.”

But it isn’t just older generations who can benefit from a little döstädning-ing.

Lizzie Grant founder of declutterondemand.com says the method can be used at any time in our lives to bring order and clarity.

“It has huge benefits,” she adds. “Including being enormously freeing to let go of unwanted items which are taking up space in our homes.

“More and more people are looking to create a more minimalist life, free from clutter that, more often than not, holds you back and keeps you stuck in the past.

“Clearing through belongings and letting go is a great way to create a calm space from which to make the right decisions for your life.”

Fancy giving death cleaning a go, the decluttering experts have put together some tips about the best ways to go about it...

Make time

Decluttering your entire home may seem overwhelming, so it’s important to carve out time in your diary each week to tackle a certain area. “It always takes longer than you think so tackle it in bite-size chunks!” recommends Grant.

Start with easier items first

By easier, we mean less sentimental. “It is easy to become blocked or stuck when it comes to making decisions about items with strong emotional attachments so leave photographs and sentimental items until last,” suggests Grant.

Should we all be practicing Döstädning? (Getty)
Should we all be practicing Döstädning? (Getty)

Read more: How to declutter your wardrobe the Marie Kondo way

Use the keep/throw rule

Ask yourself: what purpose is this item really serving in my life? Do I love or use it? Am I keeping it ‘just in case’? “Fear of needing something in the future or guilt about letting an item go usually hold us back from making prudent decisions so use this as an opportunity to really evaluate why items are in your life,” Grant explains.

Make a Throwaway Box

As you go through your things you will find papers, photos, objects which remind you of happy times but which hold no value for anyone else. Grant suggests creating a box for these items so that once you are gone, that box can be destroyed. “Your loved ones may look through it and keep items after your death but at least they have the certainty of knowing that you are happy for them to let go of the items in it,” she explains.

Let items go in the most sustainable way

When undertaking this task, Grant suggest having labelled bags and boxes ready to put unwanted items into. Examples include:

Charity – there are many charities which will collect for free. For example, the British Heart Foundation (including large furniture or electrical goods), so you don’t even have to leave the house to make a donation.

Friends and family

Selling (antiques can go into auctions and everyday household items can be sold via Shpock, Vinted, e-Bay and other selling websites)

Recycling (most charities also take textile recycling but put these items in a labelled separate bag so the charity does not have to sort through it)

Items to go to the tip / recycling centre. RecycleNow has a really useful website to check where to recycle locally to you.

General household rubbish

Decide now who will inherit your worldly goods

According to Grant, now is the time to decide whether there are particular items you would like to pass on to a friend or relative. “You can send them a photo of the object via email, text or WhatsApp or ask them in person whether they would like to inherit that particular item,” she says. “Remember to give them permission to say no by asking if they would rather it went to charity or someone else!”

Sort your storage

We’ve all got special items that we don’t use on a regular basis but still wish to pass on to relatives or friends. “If you are not passing these items to loved ones now, store these in spaces which you use less often such as lofts, basements or tops of cupboards,” Grant says. “However, make sure they are in water-tight and moth-proof containers. Plastic boxes for this purpose are useful. Label boxes with an inventory of items and the name of the person the items are intended for.”

Why we could all benefit from the döstädning method of decluttering (Getty)
Why we could all benefit from the döstädning method of decluttering (Getty)

Read more: This wardrobe dries your clothes for you and reduces ironing

Pass on family history

If certain items you want to keep have family history or stories associated with them, make sure you pass that information on. “You can even leave a label under the item or attached to it which sets out the background,” Grant suggests. “This way those precious memories can pass down to future generations. Just because you own an item, this does not automatically give it meaning to your family or friends. If you can, use such items now and tie it into current traditions or events so that new memories are created with your loved ones rather than these belongings just gathering dust.”

Take photos

Can’t keep, take photos instead! “You don’t necessarily have to keep objects (for example, if they are too big or have deteriorated over time) but you could photograph them so that you still have those memories,” says Grant. “You could even print the photos and write on the back the memories you associate with these items.”

Ensure remaining items are easy to locate

Once you know what you plan to let go of, you can much more easily re-organise your remaining possessions in your home. “Keep items as close as possible to where you use them and group similar items together,” suggests Grant. “Also remember if you have a digital footprint then make it easy for relatives to find your passwords. There are lots of password managers out there and think about your social media accounts, for example, you can add a legacy contact to your Facebook account. For your phone, if you use fingerprint or face recognition then you can add a loved one to your account but make sure they also know where to find your password.”