What is “death cleaning”?

What is “death cleaning”?

Some people call it “purging“, some “decluttering” and others “minimalizing”, but in Sweden, they call it “death cleaning”.

Well, actually they call it “dostadning”, which is a hybrid of the words for death and cleaning.

The purpose?

Cleaning out your house before you die so others don’t have to after you are gone.

While it may sound morbid to some, to others, it’s a way of not burdening children or other loved ones.

In her book called The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, Swedish author and artist Margareta Magnusson describes the process as “more like a relief” than being morbid and says the cleaning brings benefits you can appreciate while you’re still enjoying life – like a clean, uncluttered and streamlined house.

Magnusson says people should start thinking about death cleaning as soon as they’re old enough to start thinking about their own mortality.

Geriatric Medicine Specialist Dr. Willam D. Rhoades, with Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., agrees with the author’s philosophy on not keeping things you don’t want or use, and says there are multiple benefits to letting go of these extraneous possessions. These include:

  • Decreasing stress levels: Studies have shown that messy houses can increase anxiety and stress and decrease productivity
  • Knowing where everything is: It’s easier to lose important items like bills and medications when there is too much clutter in the home, which also contributes to stress and anxiety
  • Safety: Seniors are much more susceptible to falls and breaking bones; that risk is exacerbated with a house full of stuff
  • Reducing allergies: Having too much stuff also increases the likelihood for allergens and mold in your home
  • The joy of giving: Items you no longer need or use can help younger relatives who are just starting out or can be given to friends who will put items to use. However, be prepared that others may turn down some of your gifts
  • Tax breaks: When you donate your possessions, it can help decrease your tax burden if you itemize those donations
  • Passing on family history: When families are engaged together in reducing possessions, certain items are likely to spark conversations about memories and ancestors, which can promote family bonding and help to pass down family history

Many people are already death cleaning – they just don’t call it that. One increasingly popular way is through downsizing, the process of letting go of possessions and moving from large homes, where children were raised, to smaller homes, condos or apartments, to decrease housing expenses, move closer to grandchildren or warmer weather or transition from the suburbs into the city.

If you want to help your parents with the process of death cleaning, Dr. Rhoades suggests a more gentle approach than “we want to help you clean out your stuff before you die” will be more likely to get aging parents on board.

He suggests broaching the conversation by highlighting the benefits. For example, “Would you like help organizing your belongings so your house is a more enjoyable and safer place to live?”

“If not initially receptive, you may need to have multiple conversations over time to help parents warm up to the idea,” says Dr. Rhoades. However, he notes, some people may never be receptive. If a loved one’s home is indeed a safety hazard, you may want to call in an expert who specializes in hoarding. The National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) is a good place to start.

Related Posts



  1. Id like to hear about (and help fellow Aurorians) learn about the Danish lifestyle- Hygge. It is an awesome concept. I think it would be beneficial to a lot of people…..

  2. elizabeth mulvey April 9, 2019 at 3:51 pm · Reply

    always enjoy reading your health e news. also, learn a lot from your information,

  3. I just started doing this with my parents. Unfortunately, I had to move them last year into an ass’t living and now their house sits full of everything that they had when they got married 68 years ago. Every time I bring mom home to start purging things, she gets overwhelmed. In fact, when I got her to go through her clothes she had 1 1/2 boxes filled. The next time we came back she went back through the boxes again and took some things out. She wants to keep sandels that my dad got when on vacation in Cancun in the 70’s and he now has Parkinsons and will never be able to wear them again, yet she will not part with them… I will be renting the house out from them and she expects me to keep all of her things in the house PLUS mine. My husband is having a very difficult time accepting all of this, and has no patience for her and all of her antics. I’ve been going through some of her things in the house and either packing them up in boxes or dispensing them in the garbage..lol…some items I’m donating….(of course with her permission, but with some hesitation) I’ve sat down nicely and talked to her that my southwest design doesn’t go with her 70″s look, and she just doesn’t understand why I would want to get rid of her things….any suggestions, as I move in to their house in May!

About the Author

Kate Eller
Kate Eller

Kate Eller was a regional director of public affairs and marketing operations for Advocate Health Care. She enjoys road trips, dogs, minimalism, yoga, hiking, and “urban hiking.”