Downsizing: The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

When asked to recommend a book on downsizing and decluttering, I often refer clients to the valuable lessons found in The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson.

Death cleaning is what Swedish people do after retirement when they have more time to downsize a lifetime of accumulations. The system’s basic principles focus on the “gentle” side, rather than on “death.”

It’s not sad: Simplifying your life is not a melancholy experience. In fact, it can reduce your stress, thus bringing you more happiness and satisfaction.

Be gentle: Having said that, it may not be a cheeriest process, so be kind to yourself. As you sort through your belongings, recall happy memories associated with them.

No time to rush: This is not a weekend task; set a schedule and work at your own pace. And take the necessary time to decide what you want to do with your possessions. You can begin to distribute them to family, friends, and charities now or you can label them with instructions for future dissemination. Calling it the practice-makes-perfect principle, Magnusson notes, “… the more you do it, the easier it will become and the less time it will take.”

Think legacy: With death cleaning, you are giving an amazing gift to your descendants who often have to deal with a lifetime of accumulations as you move to a senior living home or after you pass. According to Magnusson, “By discarding your things and taking full responsibility for what you own, you will be leaving only good memories and valuable references for your family. Grieving is painful; anything we can do to make it better will be highly appreciated.”

Leave the best to last: Begin with the things that will be easier to let go. Your kitchen is a good place to start. Donate dishes and cooking supplies you no longer need. More personal objects like photographs and other memorabilia should be saved for last. Magnuson recommends scanning photos, saving them on a memory stick, and giving them to loved ones as Christmas gifts.

Tell: Finally, advise your family what you are doing, why you are doing it, and seek their help to sort, pack, and find new homes for things you no longer want or need. “It’s also a good way to share the fond memories associated with some of these objects and an object with a story to tell always has special value,” says Magnusson.

In closing, perhaps the most valuable lesson in the book is that death cleaning is a state of mind. Don’t wait until you retire; the earlier you start, the simpler it will be.

Barbara Graceffa owns and operates Secretary of the Interior in Quincy, MA offering creative solutions at reasonable rates. Learn more about her decorating, downsizing, decluttering and home décor sewing services, decorating workshops, and quilt programs and shows at and enjoy her art quilts on Instagram @secretaryinteriordecorating. You can reach her at 617.921.6033.

By Barbara Graceffa

Barbara Graceffa, CEO of Secretary of the Interior, serves decorating clients; assists with professional organizing, home staging and moving assistance; teaches on these subjects; and delivers quilt lectures and trunk shows.

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