The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson

A charming, practical, and unsentimental approach to putting a home in order while reflecting on the tiny joys that make up a long life.

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.

The book above will be available shortly in English, but this is basically what I have been doing since January. I didn’t realise it until I read the book in Swedish a few weeks ago.

As regular readers know, I have had a major decluttering project going on all year. I didn’t make a conscious decision to do it but my mindset this year was such that it happened naturally. I have been selling, auctioning, donating, recycling and throwing away things every single day. Sometimes it is just magazines going to my doctor’s office or a coffee mug and books going to the local charity shop, but every bit adds up.

I made my first will last year and that must have planted a seed somewhere inside me. When I was married I didn’t have a will because I knew my spouse would inherit and I figured (lazily) that he would sort it out. It was only recently that I realised my family history would be a strike against me even when I die because my closest relatives are not very close at all. The Swedish state would thus get everything if I should die intestate, as only parents, siblings or children automatically inherit.

So I drew up quite a complicated will, specifying who would get the apartment, my sentimental inherited family items from South Africa, and my cats (of course!). I feel a lot better now, and while figuring out what was worth leaving to people, it made me thing of things I did not want anyone scratching through. I don’t have any bodies buried under the beds, but there are things which are special to me that I don’t want to throw away but I also don’t want anyone seeing – love letters to me for example. I also did not want the poor people who have to sort out my things to be overwhelmed by sorting out my ‘stuff’.

So this year I have been blessing the world with my bounty so to speak. And at the same time decluttering and making myself feel light and free. I have been able to help other people and myself.

I can definitely recommend decluttering. I am not like those hoarders you see on television but I am a collector and that is sometimes a challenge. Following the one out, one in approach means I have managed to downsize immensely and still keep things that are most precious to me.

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

3 thoughts

  1. I have been introduced to the habit of decluttering at a very young age and I still do it nowadays.

    I try to declutter my house every other month as I don’t want to spend too much time doing it. I don’t gather too much stuff in two months so it only takes me two or three hours to go through my things (from food to clothes, decoration/furniture to books, magazines to inserts in my planners etc) and decide what stays and what goes.

    I love doing it as it gives me a feeling of lightness and tidyness.

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