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It’s a buzzy (and slightly morbid) term, but Swedish death cleaning is about so much more than you might think.
It seems as if Swedish death cleaning, the mindful organization method, is here to stay. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning brought the book of the same name to life in a Peacock series this year, and everyone’s itching to bring the concept to their own home.
But what exactly is Swedish death cleaning, and why is it important? We spoke with the show’s three experts—pro organizer Katarina Blom, designer Johan Svenson, and psychologist Ella Engström—to shed some light on the often misunderstood decluttering method.
What is Swedish death cleaning?
The term “Swedish death cleaning” originally comes from Margareta Magnusson’s bestselling book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, which came out in 2017 and quickly gained popularity. In 2023’s TV adaptation on Peacock, narrated by Amy Poehler, three experts help families let go of the past and get organized.
For a lot of the families, the concept of Swedish death cleaning was brand new before the show.
“What surprised me most was how fast Americans became open-minded to this concept,” says Blom. “Once we started the process and they felt the flow of letting go, they just became lighter and lighter as we went along. It is a process that makes you happier and lighter, even though it might initially sound morbid.”
Meant to lighten the burden placed on your loved ones when you pass—which often involves clearing out your home, among other tasks—Swedish death cleaning is an organizational method that aims to minimize clutter and unwanted items. The practice is often used by the elderly or the terminally ill, but is certainly not limited to those groups—everyone can benefit from a less messy home. Swedish death cleaning is not just a deep clean, but a permanent solution to clutter that usually involves clearing out smaller spaces, donating or throwing away items you no longer need, and making sure that sentimental things and family heirlooms have a safe and accessible home.
While its name might sound morbid, that’s not the intention behind Swedish death cleaning, says Blom. Döstädning, the method’s Swedish name, is a combination of the words death and cleaning, yes, but it’s so much more sentimental in practice.
“The ‘death’ part is so loud in this concept that people often associate it with a depressing, emotionally heavy process, like cleaning a space after you lose someone,” says Blom. “But death cleaning is a service of love and care you do before you pass so others don’t have to. It’s like one last gift from you to them to make the transition easier to navigate for the people you left behind.”
What sets Swedish death cleaning apart?
There’s an endless swath of organizational methods out there, so why should you give Swedish death cleaning a try? Svenson, the design expert on the show, says that it means more than just keeping a tidy home.
“It’s about the purpose behind what you own and how you tend to live,” says Svenson. “Is it authentic? Is this where you want to be in life? Does your home reflect you on a deeper level? The organization is just one tool to take you there. It’s a journey and should be an ongoing process through life.”
And, according to Engström, Swedish death cleaning reflects a larger value amongst those in Sweden—less is more. The focus is on keeping only items you use and love, allowing you to live free of clutter, with purpose and clarity.
“It’s a more direct, clear, and practical way of looking through your stuff; it goes beyond buying new plastic boxes and other storage solutions,” says Engström. “If you don’t do the work and figure out what drains your energy and decide what’s important to you, you will be left with unnecessary things that cost you lots of unnecessary energy.”
Is Swedish death cleaning all about minimalism?
Swedish death cleaning is not simply the latest iteration of the minimalist aesthetic—it’s not about aesthetics at all. The method pairs nicely with any design style, and Svenson says that if the clutter is gone, even maximalism is alright.
“It’s easy to become blind in your own home, so looking at your home with fresh eyes every now and then is useful no matter what style you have,” says Engström. “It’s about finding what you like and what’s important to you in order for you to feel comfortable in your home.”
The Benefits of Swedish Death Cleaning
Not only will Swedish death cleaning pay a favor to your family and friends someday down the line, but your quality of life in the present might just improve as well. The process gives you the time to be mindful about what you have versus what you really need—and gives you an opportunity to get rid of things that are associated with not-so-great memories. Svenson acknowledges that forming a connection with your things doesn’t happen overnight, but detaching from them can help you to live in the present and refresh your space.
“Possessions become a fake shield towards life, a quick fix instead of having the bumpy ride called life,” says Svenson. “The impact comes from us decluttering this situation in a home and getting closer to a person’s present life, and it’s often a relief to reconnect to your true self again.”
Plus, perhaps most importantly, Swedish death cleaning reminds you of what really matters in life.
“Life and wonderful things reside within us and reside in the connection we have with our loved ones, not in our possessions,” says Blom. “The more we can take ownership of our emotions, the less importance we place on the stuff around us.”
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is now available to stream on Peacock.
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