I tried Swedish death cleaning, the extreme decluttering method that's the anti-Kondo method, and it made me think about my stuff in a new way

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI found a lot of things I didn’t even know I had tucked away.
  • The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter” – a book written by Swedish-born Margareta Magnusson – shares the Swedish practice of döstädning – or death cleaning – with the world.
  • Swedish death cleaning is, in a way, the anti-Konmari method. While Marie Kondo’sdecluttering method focuses on only keeping things that bring you joy right now, the purpose of this cleaning method is to keep only the things that your friends and family will want once you’ve died.
  • I tried this extreme decluttering method and went through boxes and bins that I’ve been throwing my belongings into to “deal with later,” cleared out tons of cabinets and drawers, and gave away some of my clothes.
  • As a 23-year-old with belongings split between my apartment in New York City and my parents’ home in Westchester, New York, it proved a difficult task for me.
  • I also found Swedish death cleaning to be difficult at my age because I don’t have children or grandchildren to pass my things along to yet, which is a big part of the whole process and a big part of my decisions to hold onto certain belongings.
  • Even though this is a practice that even Magnusson writes will take a long time, just starting has made me think about my stuff differently.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.


The concept of Swedish Death Cleaning is nothing new, but it was recently made popular by Margareta Magnusson, a Swedish-born woman somewhere between 80 and 100 years old, as she says herself.

Editions Versilio chaine Youtube/YouTube‘The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning’ author Margareta Magnusson.

Source: Editions Versilio chaine Youtube, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


Magnusson wrote a book published in 2018 sharing the Swedish practice of döstädning. She breaks the term down for anyone who doesn’t speak Swedish: dö means death and städning means cleaning.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderLuckily we had a copy of the book in our office.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


The concept boils down to the act of preparing all of our things for our own death — answering the question, “What’s going to happen to our stuff when we’re dead?” Magnusson’s book outlines the way she approaches death cleaning and offers tips for getting it done in the most efficient way possible.

Editions Versilio chaine Youtube/YouTubeA shelf in Magnusson’s home.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


She wrote that the process won’t be quick — and it definitely won’t be easy — but that it will make life much easier for whoever is going through all of our stuff after we’ve died. Kind of morbid, I know, but also kind of genius. “Take your time and proceed at a pace that suits you,” she writes.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI was slightly overwhelmed from the start.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


She also offers a pretty appealing piece of advice in her book: Think of it this way, we all have that box at the back of our closets or tucked away somewhere. If we don’t want anyone to find it while we’re alive, we definitely don’t want to leave it lying around for someone to find once we’re dead.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI dug way into the depths of my childhood closet to pull out anything that had been hiding back there.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


I happen to be someone who holds onto everything from thank-you notes to gifts I’ll never use to the tags I take off of my new clothes. So when I was tasked with trying out this decluttering method I knew I’d have a lot of work to do.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderJust a few of the bins living at the top of my closet.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


I started by reading Magnusson’s book cover to cover. I took notes on things I thought would be helpful to come back to, things I thought would be especially easy or hard for me, and things I was going to have to approach differently because, unlike Magnusson, I’m not nearing a century on Earth — I’m nearing 24 years.

Rachel Askinasi/Business Insider‘Put thought into finding something a new home’ I noted.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


Magnusson suggests starting “sooner rather than later.” That’s because this isn’t something you can accomplish in one rainy afternoon, or likely even a week.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderMy closet in New York City.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


If you’re cleaning out an entire home, she suggests starting with the basement, attic, or storage spaces around the entrance. She said these places often have stuff we don’t even remember is there — and she’s not wrong.

San Jose Mercury News/Contributor/Getty ImagesSo many unnecessary floppy disks!

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


I live in an apartment with two roommates, so most of my “excess,” as Magnusson calls it, lives at my parents’ house. So I hopped on Metro North and headed out to the suburbs.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


When I moved into my apartment, I spent a lot of time going through and getting rid of things that I no longer needed at my parents’ house. But between you and me, I didn’t do so good of a job. I mostly just put things I didn’t want to deal with into bins and baskets and drawers — out of sight, but still very much there. Now was the time to tackle the not-so-organised chaos.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI had so much make up at my parents’ house, and I rarely put anything more than mascara on — if anything at all.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


Magnusson’s next piece of advice is likely why it always takes me forever to declutter and why I’ve never fully achieved a clutter-free state: She explicitly warns against starting with photographs and letters.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI came close to spiraling when I found pictures in a random bin.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


Her reasoning is that it’s easy to get stuck drifting down memory lane. Photos are fun and emotional things to deal with — every time I’ve started with mementos, I don’t make it to cleaning anything else. This time, I tried my best to stay away from the albums and letter boxes.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI stuck to old papers instead.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


Something else Magnusson mentions is the practice of giving things away to family and friends as you go through your belongings. Offer something to a friend or relative — if they don’t want it now, they’re not going to want it when you’re dead. So toss it!

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderNo, I wasn’t just trying to get rid of this dress. It really did look better on my sister-in-law.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


With all of that in mind, I started with places in my bedroom where I knew I had tucked things away. I don’t think I’ve opened my old bedside table in more than two years — so whatever is in there could probably go.

Rachel Askinasi/business InsiderI knew I could put this space to better use.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


I opened it up and found two pouches, a few plastic folders, a colouring book, and the box my most recent iPhone came in.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderNone of this needs to be next to my bed.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


I dumped the contents of the pouches onto my bed and found a lot of old nail polish, an old flip phone my dad wanted me to use as a decoy while living abroad, colourful hair clips I bought for a spirit day at sleep-away camp eight years ago, and an iPhone 5 case — I currently have an iPhone 8 Plus.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderThis is a great example of me stuffing random collections of things into storage containers so I don’t have to deal with them.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


Most of the nail polish I found was unusable …

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderThis nail polish is clearly old. But I tried it on my finger anyway to see if it was still good.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


… and there is no need for this dead mobile phone.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI don’t think this would even work as a decoy phone.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


I separated my loot into two piles: one pile of definite throw-away items, and one pile of things I’d either keep for myself or give to someone else specifically. I told myself I’d only put something in a “keep” pile if I knew exactly who I would give the stuff to.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI wanted to give the bows and the sparkly nail polish to my two-year-old niece.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


I kept up that practice as I went through the rest of my things, only keeping something I really wanted to use, or something I knew someone else would want. I took an art class in college and bought a sketch book for it. My mum is an artist, so she was happy to take the extra sketch paper off my hands. Success!

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderDon’t say I never gave you anything, Mum.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


Tucked into the pages of the sketch book were old art projects I had made for the class. I kept them because, well, look at them! I think that’s some of my best work.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI don’t remember my professor thinking so, though.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


But I get it, they’re not Picassos. No one is going to want to hold onto those except for me. So I took one last look at my masterpieces and then lovingly tucked them into the trash.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderNo regrets!

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


I continued on with papers I found in folders that included everything from old lifeguard certifications …

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderThis 2010 certification has long since expired.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


… to notes I took while listening to Randi Zuckerberg speak during Internet Week New York back in 2013. It was cool at the time, but all of it was 100% trash-able now.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI couldn’t even read my handwriting on some pages.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


I also found a random piece of fabric tucked into one of the folder pockets. I was about to throw it in the trash when I noticed the pattern: Hawaiian-inspired floral. I thought about what Magnussun wrote about finding things a new home, and I remembered how much my roommate loves that print — and she sews, so she’s always looking for new fabric. I called her up and she was thrilled to take it off my hands.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderThe face of a happy crafter.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


Back in Manhattan, I also tried to tackle my apartment bedroom. Something that’s really tough for some people — cough, cough: me — is figuring out where in a space to begin. It always seems like there is just a ton of stuff everywhere, and I can’t break it all down into lumps of belongings. One of Magnusson’s tips for this is to sort your stuff into categories.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderMy bedroom in NYC.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


She also suggested starting with the clothing category first. Magnusson wrote, “Life will be more pleasant and comfortable if we get rid of some of the abundance.” I’ve lived this truth, but it’s a lot easier said than done.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderComing off of winter, I had a ton of scarves and hats on the bottom of my clothing rack.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


Growing up I wore a uniform every day for eight weeks during the summer. Thinking about an outfit wasn’t something I had to deal with on a daily basis and that made mornings so much simpler — all I had to do was choose a colour. There was no “excess.”

Courtesy of Diane Schwartz StraussThere were nine possible combinations and they all basically looked the same.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


Now, I look at my closet and I’m overwhelmed with options. But, I love fashion. I love having so many different things to fit all the different moods, aesthetics, decades, and icons I want to channel on any given day.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI don’t have one single look that I stick to. Variety in my style is something I cherish.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


Magnusson wrote that we should pull out all of our clothes and separate them into two piles: Pile one is for clothes you want to keep; Pile two is for clothes you want to get rid of.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI started to pull things out, but it didn’t go so well.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


I get overwhelmed fairly easily, so I knew this wasn’t going to fly. Instead, I made piles drawer-by-drawer. I thought this worked pretty well for me because I don’t like to get rid of things in general, and this made it feel like I wasn’t getting rid of so much.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI moved from one area to the next.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


Every few months my family donates a slew of clothes and shoes. When I moved into my apartment around eight months ago I donated everything that I knew I wasn’t wearing anymore. But I also put a lot in my parents’ attic and basement — the bag seen here is filled with things I haven’t worn in years and should just give away.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderBags like this are scattered around my parents’ storage spaces.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


Naturally, I want to save all of my favourite clothes for my hypothetical daughter to wear one day. Since the key word there is “hypothetical,” I can’t ask her which of my stuff she wants, like Magnusson suggests.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI love these pants, but they don’t fit me at all.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


But this lead me to a major Swedish Death Cleaning discovery: Doing this as a 23-year-old won’t get you to throw out as much as you will, perhaps, as an 80-year-old. That’s because the people who you’ll want to pass things on to don’t exist yet.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderOf course I want my children, nieces, and nephews to represent our mutual family alma mater.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


A good chunk of my wardrobe now came from the clothes my mum saved when she was growing up. Working in fashion, she acquired a ton of unique pieces and — lucky for me — she kept them all. I can confidently say that around 75% of the clothes I get compliments on are at least 30 years old and were found on these racks in my basement.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderThanks, Mum!

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


So until then, I’ll continue to save the pieces I think will last. But there are some things I can be better about getting rid of, like all the regular clothes that just don’t fit me. I own jeans with waists spanning a 6-size range. I keep the ones that don’t fit because maybe they will fit again some day. But it’s been several years since I’ve properly fit into some of them, so it’s time to part ways — I got rid of three pairs!

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderPart of me thinks that as soon as I get rid of something, I’ll need it again.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


Madewell — a clothing company known for its denim — offers shoppers $US20 off their next pair of Madewell jeans for every old pair they donate to the company’s Blue Jeans Go Green™ denim recycling program. I’ve made use of this discount in the past, and I thought this would be a great time to do it again.

MadewellWhy not?

Source: Madewell,
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


So I’m bringing this pile of denim to the store, and when I eventually need a new pair, I’ll let the old ones help pay for them.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderIt’s inevitable that I’ll need a new pair someday.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


Magnusson makes the point that it’s not about owning a lot of clothes; rather it’s about what you can do with the clothes you do own. This philosophy is ideally supposed to yield a rather bare closet. But in the age of Leandra Medine’s Man Repeller and the encouragement of personal style, I could feasibly walk outside in any seemingly ridiculous combination of my clothes and someone out there would think it looked great.

Christian Vierig/Contributor/Getty ImagesLeandra Medine Cohen, founder of Man Repeller

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


So along with Swedish death cleaning, I’m adding another layer of organisation for my clothes: colour coordination. I’ve organised my closet in this way before, and I honestly really like it. I’ve also gotten rid of things this way — if I keep going to the blue section and taking a pass on a certain shirt, it’s likely time for that shirt to go.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderMy new colour-coordinated clothing rack.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


Regardless of whether you’re able to get rid of a lot of stuff, there’s a lot to learn from Swedish death cleaning. I learned what my personal downfalls are when it comes to creating clutter and what types of things I’ve developed a personal connection with over time, whether I was collecting these items or just letting them pile up.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI re-purposed this meaningful ‘sippy cup’ as a cool decorative treat bucket.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


One section of the book called “Collections, Collectors, and Hoarders” really speaks to this aspect of accumulating belongings. Magnusson writes that there are important distinctions between the collection of things that just pile up on their own in our homes, the active and intentional collecting of things like coins or stamps, and the compulsive perceived need to save items regardless of value.

leezsnow/Getty ImagesCollecting coins would take up a lot less room than what I decided to collect.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


Growing up, I watched as my older brothers intentionally built collections of things. One collected movie tickets — he put them in a binder and everything — and the other collected golf balls — he had a whole set-up dedicated to them. They also had a small shot glass collection, so once I reached high school I thought I should start contributing. I would buy shot glasses at airports and from souvenir shops. But they didn’t mean anything to me, so I tossed them a few months ago.

Waring Abbott/Contributor/Getty ImagesOur since-thrown out collection is not pictured here.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


I tried collecting a bunch of things, but it was because I wanted to collect *something*, not necessarily the subject of the collection. But then I found inspiration elsewhere.

Joe Schilling/Contributor/Getty ImagesMy brother’s movie ticket collection is not pictured here.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


My mum collected these limited edition Bloomingdale’s shopping bags that were created for events they would hold while she worked for the company. That collection meant something to her then, and I love looking at them now. My first college internship was my first foray into both the fashion industry and the editorial world — I started my own collection then.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderThe events were usually destination themed.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


I have stacks of back issued Harper’s BAZAAR magazines. Some of them I lugged home from work because I liked the cover art or an article inside. Others have a memory attached — the very first issue I helped produce, a photoshoot I went on, or a gift from one of the editors.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderSome of these issues mean absolutely nothing to me.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


I have stacks and stacks of magazine back issues in my closet — most are Bazaar, some have my own writing published, and others are just magazines I hoped to write for one day. I decided to go through them and get rid of the ones that don’t actually mean anything to me.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderJust one of three trips I made from my closet to the floor.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


I started by employing Magnusson’s pile method. I made three piles: Keep because I love them, keep because my writing is in them, and toss.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderThat last pile was underwhelmingly small.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


I ended up only getting rid of a handful of magazines — some of them I just couldn’t bring myself to part with. The issue on the left is my favourite magazine issue of all time.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI have both the subscription cover and the newsstand cover in my collection.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


From the magazines I moved onto other little baskets and bins of papers. I threw out old lecture notes …

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI’ve been avoiding this little pile of baskets since May 2017.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


… class registration papers …

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI can’t even figure out why I kept these for so long.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


… oversized seal-able plastic bags I used to keep my shoes in …

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI strongly denounce single-use plastic nowadays, so this discovery hurt my heart a little.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


… and baggies of vitamins and Advil that I had tucked in every corner of every bag, because you never know when you’re going to need it!

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderWhat a waste of perfectly good Advil Cold & Sinus.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


Another challenge I faced as I went along was that I had little notes and letters tucked in these spaces as well. It’s not like they were all organised into one shoe box at the back of my closet — after all, getting organised is one of the reasons to attempt decluttering in the first place.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI was finding little notes and people’s business cards everywhere.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


So saving notes and photos for last wasn’t as easy as it sounds. But, the good thing is I was able to make snap decisions about the ones I was finding. Anything from a grandparent or family member I kept, anything else I gave one last read, appreciated it for what it was, and then tossed it — just as Magnussun does before she throws papers in the shredder.

Rachel Askinasi/Business Insider‘Stephy Oh’ probably thought I was going to throw this out as soon as I opened the M&M’S that came with it in 2015.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


Going through my boxes of letters …

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderThis box is about to burst.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


… and all my photo albums is going to take a long, long time. But as I go through them, I’ll keep the death cleaning practices in mind and consider which photos my family would want to go through and which ones they probably wouldn’t.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI keep this album in NYC with me and the rest are at my parents’ house.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


Magnusson also has an entire section on books. She writes that we should only keep books that we haven’t yet read or that we plan on reading again — everything else can be donated or gifted. But my approach to books is a little different.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI’ve only half-read most of my books.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


I love the way some of them look and the memories they have. When I moved into my apartment, I went through all the books on my shelf — most of which were children’s books — and got rid of a bunch of them. But I kept a few for the memories and for inspiration.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI wanted to write a children’s book for my niece and nephew.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


I ultimately wound up getting rid of three pairs of jeans, six magazines, a meaningless shot glass collection, all of the school work and shopping receipts that no one should ever have to go through, and I cut my makeup bin in half.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderSaying goodbye to my ‘excess’ at my parents’ house.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


What I liked most about this method is Magnussun’s concept of a “Throw-Away Box” — a literal box of stuff that is too meaningful to her to get rid of, but that she wants her loved ones to just throw away and not even bother going through after her death. Right now I have too much to fit it all in one box, but I will definitely be keeping that idea in mind.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderHer ‘Throw-Away Box’ is essentially a loophole to the whole decluttering mindset.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


Without knowing it at the time, I was also on the receiving end of death cleaning throughout my entire childhood — although my family isn’t Swedish and we don’t call it “death cleaning.” It’s more like my grandparents wanting to unload some of their stuff on us so they can watch us enjoy it, and — let’s be real — so they can make some space in their homes. While sometimes the gifts are arbitrary, sometimes they’re extremely meaningful, like this cookbook my grandmother just gave me.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderCooking is a huge part of life in my family.

Source: “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning


While this whole process of Swedish death cleaning definitely requires a deep breath — or seven — and a glass of wine, I didn’t loath the experience like I usually do when my mum begs me to get rid of things. After all, Magnusson does have a point: “Don’t collect things that you don’t want,” she writes. “Someone has to take care of it one day.”

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderCheers to cleaning up!

Source: Editions Versilio chaine Youtube,
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

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