Which is Better: Swedish Death Cleaning or Decluttering?

Angela | Arrow
by Angela | Arrow

I'm going to be comparing Swedish death cleaning with the standard decluttering method. We'll talk about how they're similar and how they are very, very different.

You may or may not know that the Swedish death-cleaning method has recently become mainstream. I've talked about the principles of Swedish death cleaning before.

Still, with this new popularity, I thought it would be interesting to dive deeper and talk about how the Swedish death cleaning method compares to a standard decluttering process.

Similarities between Swedish death cleaning and decluttering

Both require the person going through the process to evaluate their belongings, and the concept of things being just things becomes apparent whether you're following either plan.

Swedish death cleaning and the standard decluttering method bring about feelings of lightness or having a weight lifted off your shoulders. I would call it sort of unburdening. The appreciation of life is a huge cornerstone of both methods.

Differences between Swedish death cleaning and decluttering

Now let's talk about ways Swedish death cleaning works differently than decluttering.

First off, with Swedish death cleaning, there tends to be a bit more of an emphasis on the future of life rather than on the present tense. While going through different items, you're constantly thinking about the future of this item. We're even encouraged to ask, would anyone be happier if I kept this item?

While working through a Swedish death clean, we are to face our mortality and recognize that anything that we leave behind, our loved ones are going to have to deal with.

I'd say that decluttering with this more end perspective in mind can feel a bit more daunting because there's just a little more to it. You're not just thinking about how you feel about an item in the present and how, okay, I don't like this anymore, I can get rid of it.

You're also considering other people's feelings. You're considering in the future how it's going to be perceived. And so you have to be a lot more methodical and careful about your decisions, which becomes a really slow process. A true Swedish death clean can take years to accomplish.

Decluttering sentimental items


These two styles, the standard decluttering, and the Swedish death cleaning, start to go in parallel when it comes to the more sentimental items.

Because once we hit those sentimental items, I think that's the heart of a Swedish death cleaning when you're thinking about those special things that could be passed down from generation to generation.

You're wondering if those ancestors of yours or if your close friends will appreciate them the same way. You're adding that extra layer of emotion to it. 


With the Swedish death cleaning method, we are deciding about passing down items or gifting them to people. So we may need to reach out to friends or family members and ask them if they would like to inherit certain items or if they would like to be gifted certain items before we pass away.

We may find ourselves sharing stories about why a particular item holds so much value to us, whether we are talking with somebody about it or if we are maybe writing down a note that we can tuck in or send with that item that we're planning to give to somebody or pass down to somebody. 

In a standard decluttering, that mental walking down memory lane happens solo. You are going through your things; you might come across something, say a dress, and remember wearing it at a certain event, graduation, or a wedding and have that moment to yourself. 

When doing a Swedish death cleaning, you're just thinking a lot more about other people and the connection this piece has to you, and it might have to other people as well.

Decluttering vs Swedish Death Cleaning


Another way that Swedish death cleaning works differently than standard decluttering is that the result feels a lot more final.

When doing a standard decluttering, we can justify many of our reasons for getting rid of something by realizing that we can replace them anytime. So if I declutter a pair of jeans and regret that decision later, I can buy myself a new pair without too much hassle. 

While that is true with the Swedish Death cleaning, you can replace most items.

I think a lot of people going into it are focused more on a one-and-done type of approach because they know it's very much more emotional, very draining, it's a thorough process, and they don't want to then be confronted with the same thing again a few years down the road. 

Organizing stringed instruments

I think people also tend to do a bit more of a thorough job when doing a Swedish death clean rather than a standard decluttering. 

They want to get into all of those cabinets, all of those storage areas, see every item, make decisions on every item, decide if something's going to be passed down, who it's going to be going to, or if they're going to gift something, they maybe want to give it to that person while they're still alive. 

It gives you a sense of pride and accomplishment in that way. I think it probably means that you're not going to have the clutter come back as easily with a Swedish death cleaning as you might with a standard declutter because, again, it's such a long drawn out process, it could take years, and you only want to do that once. 

Swedish Death Cleaning vs decluttering

Which is better?

After comparing the two, I wouldn't say that one is better than the other. They're just different approaches to how you go through your belongings.

Whether you decide to do a deep dive, full-on Swedish death cleaning, or the more standard decluttering approach, you will find benefits in your life. You're going to rid yourself of excess; you're going to free up your space and free up your mind.

Have you done Swedish's death cleaning, or are you decluttering? Which one works better for you? Share your experience with either method in the comments below.

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2 of 23 comments
  • BonDiva BonDiva on Sep 07, 2023

    I discovered Swedish Death Cleaning last year when I was headed into downsizing big time due to my health and needed to move toa small place.

    The title cracked me with my dark humor and it really set me free because I was able to let go of the guilt over my home businesses because my eyesight and physical conditions just would not allow me to do thhose things any longer, although I had spent years working my behind off just to get the bridal part launched.

  • Helen Helen on Sep 16, 2023

    I intend to start the Swedish death cleanse tomorrow. I have already written my will, & made my funeral arrangements. I'm 71 years old ; with sons 51 & 49.