Swedish Death Cleaning

During our lives we naturally accrue an ever growing collection of items and of objects that we think may be of importance in the future. It is easy to think that one day you will be glad that you kept that box  of receipts or the beginnings of an unfinished project. With the addition of items with sentimental value, our personal possessions can often become more numerous than we expect. So what happens to all of these assets when we pass away? In her book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter, Margaret Magnusson explores this question and offers an intriguing and surprising solution.

Magnusson understands that when a death occurs, it is often a hard and even conflict-ridden process to sort through and divide the belongings of a loved one. This is made even more difficult when these belongings are great in number. In response to this, Magnusson  suggests the Swedish practice of “Dostadning” or death cleaning. Instead of the tradition of posthumous cleaning, dostadning occurs during life as something we do for ourselves. The essentials of the dostadning process includes distributing items to those who will most appreciate them, such as clothing or cherished memories. The essential question to ask during this process is “Will anyone I know be happier if I save this?” If the answer no, chances are that item may not need to be kept any longer. To Magnusson, it is our personal duty to be accountable for our possessions and minimizing the disagreement that may occur between family members if they were forced to decide for themselves. Through the dostadning experience we can find a peace of mind by de-cluttering and knowing our belongings are in the right hands.

As an elder law attorney, I often see the complications and sometimes conflict that is generated by extensive belongings acquired during life. The idea of dostadning is valuable because of its potential to both improve our own lives and of those we love. By identifying the items of true value in our lives we experience gratitude and peace of mind knowing that these important items can continue to be valued by those we love. I recommend to anyone who would like to address the natural clutter of life to take the time to research and read about the practice of dostadning.


Source: NAELA Journal, Spring 2019


Colin Austin