Swedish Death Cleaning Checklist: 7 Steps and How It Works

By simplifying your belongings and finances before you die, you can avoid burdening others with the task.
Kurt Woock
By Kurt Woock 
Updated
Edited by Tina Orem

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Swedish death cleaning is the process of paring down possessions thoughtfully and intentionally before death so loved ones don’t have to do so. The term was popularized by the 2018 book “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” and later by a reality TV show based on the book

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This type of cleaning is a thorough inventory of every possession you own, one by one. According to Magnusson, death cleaning is unavoidable; it’s about whether you choose to face this inevitable task when you’re in a position of control or have your loved ones confront your belongings by default after you die.

1. Don’t wait.

The point of Swedish death cleaning is to confront your possessions under a timeline and conditions of your choosing when you have the energy to go through your things as you’d prefer. If you delay, you might have to rush through it.

And, if you delay too long, you risk having others make decisions about your things for you — and forcing your friends and family to take care of your personal items while they’re mourning.

2. Stick to the plan.

Before you start the process, create a plan of action to guide your purge. It can help to begin with the typical storage areas — basements and attics, for example. There’s a good chance you’ll find hastily stashed things that will be easy to part with. Culling clothes and furniture is another way to make quick, visible progress.

Attach notes to objects or make piles so you can easily remember where an item goes — to someone else, to a donation center, to a yard sale, etc. You can also move discards to a different room or garage to ensure objects are out of sight so you don’t have the urge to reclaim items you decided to leave behind.

» Learn more: How to make a bequest

3. Include your loved ones in the process.

Ask friends and family to assist. In addition to helping you go through boxes, they might discover things they’d gladly take off your hands, allowing you to find new homes for treasured possessions without throwing them away or donating them.

Giving a beloved object to a friend or family member can be a chance to recognize the importance of a relationship or pass on a family story or tradition. Something practical, like furniture or kitchenware, might have outgrown its use to you but could be extremely helpful to someone just starting a home.

4. Take the opportunity to reflect.

As you sort through your belongings, you’ll likely rediscover items and memories you have long forgotten. Encountering a lifetime of memories can be emotionally draining, and saying goodbye to some long-held objects that embody these memories is hard.

However, this can be a chance to reflect on your life and spark meaningful end-of-life conversations with friends and family that they or you might otherwise avoid. Be patient with yourself throughout the process, and save the most emotional things for last.

5. See it as a fresh start.

Swedish death cleaning can be transformative and often serves as a transition to a new chapter of life. If you go through a significant life event, like downsizing your home or the death of a spouse, this type of cleaning can bring a feeling of freedom to focus on something new.

Magnusson writes, “It does not necessarily have to do with your age or death, but often does.”

Simplifying your life this way can be liberating and allow you to focus on life experiences and relationships, especially in your later years.

6. Organize your finances.

Swedish death cleaning is an all-encompassing endeavor, including finances and digital accounts. Here are a few ways to get started:

7. Make an estate plan.

Even if you trim down your possessions now, you’ll still have things that require sorting through after your death. Estate planning tools like a will or a trust can ensure your assets go where you want them to. A good tax planning strategy can maximize the amount you pass on to others.

If you plan ahead — and streamline your belongings as much as possible now — your loved ones will have a much easier time settling your estate after you die. The executor responsible for settling your estate will need to get your belongings appraised and sold, and if there are decades’ worth of items, the process can become expensive and result in your heirs waiting years to receive your assets.

You may need assistance managing your assets if you become incapacitated before you die. A durable power of attorney can help ensure your property is cared for, but this is a decision you must make before you need assistance.

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