Your Secret File and the Art of Death Cleaning

It’s a process all humans must go through, but we don’t like to talk about it much. When you bring up death with loved ones, often the conversation goes quiet; people get emotional, reserved, deflective. But death – whether it’s a parent’s, a loved one’s or your own – is a natural part of life, a major milestone that we all must endure.

And like all of life’s milestones, it’s best to be prepared. That’s the thinking behind Döstädning – or “death cleaning” – a Swedish concept that’s making waves here in North America. Essentially, death cleaning is about preparing your estate before you pass on, to alleviate the burden on loved ones. It may strike some as uncharacteristically sober, but that’s a virtue of its origin: leave it to the Northern Europeans to be pragmatic, even in the face of death.

Here at NEATSPACES, we like the idea of death cleaning. Not only is it an act of generosity, but it’s also a great way to enjoy one’s life and memories. It can be a helpful, therapeutic part of your or your loved one’s end of life plans.

In this article, we’re going to dive deeper into the concept of Döstädning, revealing what we believe to be special about it. We’ll also discuss a specific characteristic of death cleaning, known as the “secret file” or “throw away box.” And finally, we’ll talk a bit about how you can start your death cleaning journey with our decluttering services and estate services.

Döstädning, or the Swedish Art of Death Cleaning

According to Margareta Magnusson, the 86-year-old woman who popularized the concept with her book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, “Death cleaning is not about dusting or mopping up; it is about a permanent form of organization that makes your everyday life run more smoothly.”

In the book, Magnusson discusses (often in very blunt terms) the idea that you should not leave your loved ones a mess to clean up. Rather, you should go through the process yourself, both as a courtesy to them and as a way to streamline your life.

A common misconception about death cleaning is that it’s just for older adults. As many practitioners of the concept are quick to point out, you can – and should – start now, regardless of how old you are. If you are inclined to view it as such, death cleaning can be a lifelong project: a way of living minimally and happily, leaving only cherished things behind when you pass away.

Your Secret File

A common element in death cleaning is what’s known as the secret file (sometimes called a “Throw away box.”) Basically, the secret file is where you can put anything sensitive and personal, like past love letters, diaries, private memorabilia and other things you may not want your family to see. Most people opt to destroy their secret file before they pass away, to save their family the potential discomfort of seeing its contents.


But others view their secret file differently. Some put personal possessions that they want their family to have inside their secret file, as a way of differentiating the contents. Sort of like saying: among all the things I’m leaving behind, these are the most special to me.

Ultimately, how you use your secret file (if you make a secret file) will be up to you. However you choose to go about it, it’s one more way that you can organize your possessions ahead of time. 

Death Cleaning Can Be a Lesson in Living a Great Life

Death cleaning doesn’t have to be a sombre or selfless task. On the contrary, it can be celebratory, easy, and even fun!

With the help of professional home organizers like NEATSPACES, you can view your death cleaning adventure as a way to get organized and take a trip down memory lane while you do it.

People accumulate a lot of items over a lifetime. And often, we tend to hold onto things that are neither useful nor bring us joy. Shedding ourselves of those items can make us feel lighter, more in control and happier. And the process of going through your possessions can be a potent reminder of past experiences and current priorities.

Although death cleaning is formally about extending a courtesy to your loved ones, that doesn’t mean it can’t have value for your life. Live freer, reflect on your life and feel comfortable knowing that, when you pass away, you are leaving a manageable task to your loved ones.



At NEATSPACES, we understand that sorting through a lifetime of possessions can be difficult, both physically and emotionally. That’s why our services, including our estate cleanout services and home organization services, are always compassionate, patient and professional.

Our expert team can help you start your death cleaning journey by sorting through your possessions and, with your approval, donating, selling or disposing of unwanted items. We can also help you implement easy-to-follow organizational systems so that you can keep track of your cherished items. We can even help you arrange your secret file, whether you choose to dispose of it or keep it.

Of course, if you don’t want to refer to it as “death cleaning,” we completely understand. Think of it as using NEATSPACES’ services to create a more manageable, organized and enjoyable home.

To summarize, death cleaning is the Swedish art of organizing your belongings and saving your loved ones time and effort when you’re gone. But, more than just a courtesy, it can help you enjoy your life more, providing ample opportunity for reminiscence as you get organized. Anyone, no matter how old, can start their death cleaning journey. All you have to do is contact our expert team here at NEATSPACES, and we can get the ball rolling.

If you, or a loved one, are interested in the art of death cleaning, give us a call. We’ll be happy to offer a complimentary consultation to uncover your goals and objectives, and then proceed from there.

For downsizing, moving and organizing services in the Greater Toronto Area contact us today!