Death Cleaning for Life Living

Updated: Dec 10, 2019

You know about fads—in diets, fashion, entertainment. But you may be surprised to know that even home organizing has its trends. A few years ago, we were all learning the “KonMari Method” to simplify and tidy our spaces. The latest de-cluttering advice comes from author Margareta Magnusson in her book, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter.” Sounds a bit gruesome or depressing, doesn’t it?


On the contrary, Ms. Magnusson combines a sense of humor with a dose of reality as she outlines the approach she has taken to downsizing her home. Apparently, döstädning (death cleaning) is a common activity in Sweden and is not intended in any way to be morbid or to indicate that one’s own death is imminent.


Currently “somewhere between 80 and 100” years old, Magnusson writes about the fun of revisiting our past, looking back over the stories from our lives. She sees this activity as joy-filled, not depressing. No one—not our spouse, children or even our best friend—will get pleasure out of sorting our memories after we are gone. Leaving everything for them will cause them stress during their time of grief. Sorting through our possessions and getting rid of everything that no longer is useful to our lives is a gift to those we will leave behind.


Despite the implication of its name, death cleaning can (and should) happen at a variety of stages in our lives. In fact, Magnusson confesses a regret at not beginning this process in her mid-60’s. At that point her husband was still living and could have worked alongside her. Sorting a lifetime of relationships and activities can naturally feel a bit overwhelming. The sooner you get started the better.


This book offers gentle nudging to get going on your own death cleaning, as well as specific advice about how to sort your possessions. It also provides some great advice; about broaching the difficult topic with loved ones regarding your favorite items and what should happen to them when you are gone. I think you’ll enjoy the read, learn some tricks and be inspired by Margareta’s honesty and charm.

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