It may sound like a strange ritual for cleansing the dead, but the term Swedish Death Cleaning actually refers to the process of de-cluttering and purging your belongings so your loved ones won’t be left with a mountain of personal crap to sift through after you pass away. The Swedish word for this process is döstädning, where dö means “death,” and städning means “cleaning,” however this is something you do while you are very much alive.
Death Cleaning and Decluttering
The thing that sparked my personal purge was the death of my best friend last Christmas. It was sudden and unexpected. She was a few years younger than me, and we often joked about becoming funny old ladies together. Our own deaths were not something we thought much about, figuring we have plenty of time before that happens. Life is all about planning for the future, not your end of days.
So when her life was suddenly cut short, her husband was left with all of her things. And all I could think about was what it must be like to go through all those belongings. All those things she saved that meant something only to her. Or those things she hung onto, hoping it might be worth money one day. Suddenly all of it seemed so meaningless.
It got me started thinking about all my things. So many things squirreled away in the attic, things I had been dragging around with me since high school, things I didn’t really need. Boxes of old clothes, collectables, trading cards, dolls, all just sitting up there waiting to be sold or tossed out one day.
I’ll be honest that her death had me completely freaked out and obsessing a bit over the fact that I could literally die at any moment. And then I started thinking how I’d be pissed I spent all that time lugging this stuff around and saving it, and never even got to enjoy the rewards. So then I went on a total purging spree, getting rid of not just collectibles, but other stuff I’d been hoarding and wasn’t ever going to use. I made three piles- one for selling, one for the trash and one to give away to friends.
A Method to the Madness
I later learned there was actually a term for this death-inspired cleaning event- Swedish Death Cleaning. And that people all over the world were doing similar things in an effort to basically “die with less stuff.” There’s even books about it (like the one in the pic above), with workbooks and activity guides to help people through the process.
My own process took me a couple weeks. I started in one corner of the attic and worked my way around, one box at a time. Each box I opened was full of memories and memorabilia. Some of it I carefully tucked back away, too special to part with. But I found many things I had saved hoping to sell one day when they appreciated in value, but I knew most of it would need another 20 years before it was really worth something, I decided to cash it all in NOW. I wanted to enjoy the benefits while I knew I could, since I suddenly saw a shaky future where just living to age 50 might not happen. I thought, why wait?
The whole process was pretty interesting. It involved researching each item to see if it was worth selling. I found it’s not worth the time to list something that only sells for $5. And during that research I found several things I thought were of sentimental value only, were actually worth big a lot of money, and some items I had counted on bringing in top dollar were actually not worth much at all.
A Few Things I Learned from Swedish Death Cleaning:
1 – Check the value of stuff before you throw it out
I was ready to toss a pile of clothes I had saved from my high school years in the 90s- old JNCO jeans and big skater t-shirts. Then on a whim I checked eBay. Glad I did! Those old skater shirts were going for $200+! It was crazy because I thought they were only worth something to me. I put them on eBay and cleaned up. Those shirts alone made the cleaning spree really pay off. The shirt below sold for $250:
2 – Sometimes you forget why you saved stuff
I found a lot of things that I had saved, but didn’t know why. Random plush animals, clothes, etc. If I couldn’t recall why I had it, out it went. It felt good to clear things out.
3 – Stuff gets ruined in storage
I found a lot of stuff that was falling apart from being stored in a hot attic for years. There’s no point in saving things that are just falling apart. I took pics of the things I might want to remember and then in the trash it went.
4 – It gives you some perspective
I found all my old high school journals and one from college. One of the angles of Swedish Death Cleaning is to get rid of stuff that may be embarrassing to you or other people. I shredded all my old journals, not wanting anyone to sit and read my silly high school rambling. I saved a few favorite pages and then shredded the other 300 pages about which boy I liked or which friend was pissing me off that week.
5 – It Takes a LONG Time for Collectibles to be Worth Money
While some things were surprisingly valuable, other things I thought were a sure thing, were surprisingly not. I had a stash of Garbage Pail Kids cards that I had been saving. The problem with them is that I really loved playing and trading cards, so they all had dirty and bent edges. That takes the value way down. I had to do a bunch of research on the value of 100+ cards and managed to sell off a few really good and rare ones for maybe $10 and then sold the rest in bulk. If you look on eBay, there’s tons of cards available. Everybody had them, and apparently, everybody saved them. There’s just tons available, so that makes them not worth a lot of money.
Which leads us to the other big cash cow that didn’t work out- Cabbage Patch Kids. Again, eBay is flooded with original Cabbage Patch dolls that aren’t selling for very much. I have a trunk full of them. Originals from 1984 – 89. I have a couple preemies, twins and even a Koosa. I couldn’t bear to part with by babies for such little $$ so I boxed them back up and decided to save them a bit longer. So I didn’t manage to purge everything!
A Sense of Calm
After days and days of cleaning and selling, I had more space in both my attic and my head. What started as a frantic effort evolved into a soothing experience. With each thing I cleared out, I felt better. The trick was figuring out when to stop. Near the end I started to be able to focus more where I wanted to go, rather than where I’d been. And as my mind cleared, I started to pack up and save a few things (like the Cabbage Patch Dolls) and just maybe one day, if I live to be 100, they might actually be worth something. But I feel pretty good knowing I was able to declutter my space and know exactly what I’d be leaving, if I did leave this world suddenly.
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About the Author
Candy Keane is a digital content creator and long-time cosplayer, most well-known for being on the cover of the Star Wars documentary Jedi Junkies. After making costumes professionally for over a decade, she now writes about about geek culture and mom life, and continues to cosplay for fun, while sharing her love of costumes on Instagram @SewGeekMama. Her first children’s book, I’m Going to My First Comic Convention, was published in 2020 and won a Story Monsters Approved award for Excellence in Literature.