Thursday, July 20, 2023

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter
by Margareta Magnusson
Published January 2018 by Scribner
128 pages

Publisher's Summary: 
In Sweden there is a kind of decluttering called döstädning, dö meaning “death” and städning meaning “cleaning.” This surprising and invigorating process of clearing out unnecessary belongings can be undertaken at any age or life stage but should be done sooner than later, before others have to do it for you. In The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, artist Margareta Magnusson, with Scandinavian humor and wisdom, instructs readers to embrace minimalism. Her radical and joyous method for putting things in order helps families broach sensitive conversations, and makes the process uplifting rather than overwhelming. 

Margareta suggests which possessions you can easily get rid of (unworn clothes, unwanted presents, more plates than you’d ever use) and which you might want to keep (photographs, love letters, a few of your children’s art projects). Digging into her late husband’s tool shed, and her own secret drawer of vices, Margareta introduces an element of fun to a potentially daunting task. Along the way readers get a glimpse into her life in Sweden, and also become more comfortable with the idea of letting go.

My Thoughts:
You know how much I love to organize and how I'm always working to declutter my house (and still we're overwhelmed!). Any time I hear about a new idea to help with that process, I'm interested. But it wasn't until I heard someone talking about Swedish death cleaning on a podcast recently that I decided it was time to learn more. 

The concept it this: one day you will die and your loved ones will have to go through all of the things you have saved over the years and you can make their lives so much easier if you will take the time, particularly as you get older, to get rid of things that will have no real value to anyone else once you're gone. 

Not everything. Magnusson doesn't suggest that you get rid of everything you love or even live a minimalist life. She admits to being "somewhere between eighty and one hundred" and still keeps on a shelf a large stuffed animal of which she's quite fond. But, similarly to Marie Kondo, she recommends you go through things you don't use any more, take a moment to recall the memories they carry, and then get rid of them. Unlike some other methods, Magnusson's ideas about Swedish death cleaning recommend taking your time, advising that it may take years before you can go through everything. Even more reason to start now and not what until you're too old and it's even harder to part with things. 

Magnusson is big on shredding and tossing (some of the things she said she tossed seemed to me to be things she might have donated to a charity). She has also sold many of the things she got rid of, often without even asking her family if anyone might want the item. I'm sure that's meant to avoid any fighting amongst her family; but, having just cleaned out my parents' home, I know it can be done without fighting (I can't swear there were never any hard feelings or things people might have wanted that they didn't get). I also know that there were items that I was the only person who really wanted. Imagine if I had been looking forward to one day having the stewardship of that item, only to discover that my mom had sold it.

Magnusson has a sweet way about her and the book has a very personal feel. I can't say that there was a lot here that was new for me; but it was good reminder that we all have well more than we need and well more than I would ever want our children to have to deal with. I finished the book about a week ago and have already found that it has provided the encouragement I needed to let go of some things I might otherwise have held on to for emotional reasons, which is where I always struggle. For that I am grateful for this book.


  1. Mystica VarathapalanJuly 21, 2023 at 7:08 AM

    I’ve arched you tube clips on this subject. I’ve started it myself.

  2. We have donated and are also selling in order to downsize drastically, and we still have a ways to go. The idea is not death cleaning but potential move cleaning and clearing. We would want to have as few things to move if that happens. Out goes the idea of keeping things that bring you joy. My books gave me much joy and I gave them almost all away!