By Sarah Colombo
While the title may be a little morbid, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning offers a practical and light-hearted approach to keeping an orderly home. Written by Margareta Magnusson, a Swedish woman who says she is “Between eighty and one hundred,” the book is based on the Swedish concept of döstädning (dö means “death” and stadning means “cleaning”).
Based on personal experience cleaning out after the deaths of her mother, mother-in-law, and husband, Magnusson advises us to clean out our homes – not just out of respect for those who have to go through our items when we’re no longer here – but also out of respect for ourselves, so we can better enjoy our homes and our things. She says it’s never too early to start the process: “…work to keep things organized throughout your life, and death cleaning will be easier for everyone.”
If you read organizational books already – like The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – you won’t find any earth-shattering advice in Magnusson’s book: go through your items by type, sort what you want to keep, donate, and throw out the rest, etc. What you will find is a delightful reading experience full of humorous observations: “When [the Vikings] buried their relatives, they also buried many objects together with the body…Can you imagine the same scenario today? With all the skräp (Swedish for ‘junk’) people have now, they would have to be buried in Olympic-sized swimming pools…”
The book also contains touching, personal tales that add a little more warmth than what is found in the average cleaning book. Magnusson shares family stories, all tangentially related to the art of death cleaning, such as the tactic taken by her mother-in-law, who used cleaning out her apartment as an opportunity to share stories and treasured possessions with her grandchildren.
If you’re not already on the de-cluttering bandwagon, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is a short, entertaining book that may inspire you to get organized. “Death cleaning,” Magnusson tells us, “is not about dusting or mopping up; it is about a permanent form of organization that makes your everyday life run more smoothly.”
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson is available for check out at the West Baton Rouge Library.