Forget the spring clean or the autumn blitz - you need a Swedish Death Clean.

It might sound like some form of torture, but it's a growing trend that decluttering experts say is one of the kindest things you can do for loved ones.

The process has become popular overseas since the book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson hit shelves last year and is now gaining traction in New Zealand.

Put simply, it's the decluttering process you do while you're living, so that after death your loved ones can grieve without sorting through boxes of meaningless things.


Herald contributor Diana Clement is one who has embraced the declutter trend.

It was her Crown Lynn collection that proved the turning point a year ago in her relationship with the things she'd gathered through her life.

"I suddenly felt overwhelmed by my house ... and my beloved Crown Lynn collection. I'd had joy from collecting it, but it was time to move on."

She enjoyed selling her collection to people who would love it as she had.

Clement's home was "reasonably minimalist" and what she had was neatly organised. But her home was still "full" and it had been liberating to free herself of things she no longer needed or wanted.

"It's been a wonderful year."

Auckland expert organiser Angella Gilbert held a workshop last week with Magnusson's principles of death cleaning.

Through her company Gioia - Italian for joy - she advised a group of clients, all over 60, living in large houses and looking to downsize for the next phase of life.


In Sweden, people start the style of clearing known as "dostadning" as early as 50 years old.

"The first thing I make sure they understand is that their kids don't want their stuff," Gilbert said.

Auckland expert organiser Angella Gilbert held a workshop just last week with the exact principles of Swedish Death Cleaning, but calls it
Auckland expert organiser Angella Gilbert held a workshop just last week with the exact principles of Swedish Death Cleaning, but calls it "downsizing". Photo / File

"A lot of people collect and hoard far too much stuff and when they pass away the kids have a nightmare because they don't know what to do with it."

"We have to think about who is coming along behind us."

Gilbert said there had been an increased awareness around the trend as people had less space to keep excess items.

"We can't take anything with us when we go so we have to look at how we can condense things so our loved ones don't have so much to do."

One of Gilbert's friends lost her mother recently and she said she was "absolutely exhausted" just going through paperwork.

"It took her weeks to go through and it was already a tough time," Gilbert said.

"If I was diagnosed with a terminal illness the first thing I would do would be go through all of the paperwork - that is the most time consuming thing for a loved one when you have gone."

Gilbert said it is not a case of binning everything.

If there are things that are special, treat them that way and put things in a pretty box or scrapbook she says.

"A ticket in a scrapbook with a bit of a note means you have a story of your life which can be pulled out rather than a whole bunch of photos and paperwork.

And like the advice given in The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning there needs to be a reward or treat after a good decluttering session.

"It can be a heart-wrenching process, it can bring a tear so be kind to yourself," Gilbert said.

"Pat yourself on the back because it is a big thing to do and some people never do it."

Less Mess professional organiser Steph Knight also praised those who took the step, even if they were not aware of the term Swedish Death Cleaning.

"I think a lot of people are doing that anyway."

It was easier for young people, as items were cheaper and more easily obtained than for previous generations. The emotional attachment for them was less.

"You can just go to Kmart and buy things now, but some [older] people have furniture they've had their whole [adult] lives."

She had worked with elderly clients who had kept old baby care items such as wooden high chairs "because someone might need it". No one did.

"The technology has changed to make things like [highchairs] more functional and lighter."

No matter the name, any process that kept a lid on the stuff that came into our lives was a good one.

"It gives people a plan."