I picked this book up at the same table with the Marie Kondo books and the books on Danish hyggie-ness. I suppose it was kinda self-improvement station. I'm not sure it was written with my age range in mind but I liked a lot of the simple truths that Magnusson brings to the table.
Title: The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning
Author: Margareta Magnusson
Page Number: 117 pages (hardcover)
Genre: nonfiction, self-help, memoir
Publisher: Scribnor, an imprint of Simon and Schuster
In Sweden there is a kind of decluttering called döstädning, dömeaning “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.
This isn't an outline nor does it include detailed checklists for you to begin a death-cleaning journey. It's more of a narrative that covers several topics, explaining the philosophy of Swedish Death Cleaning with personal stories. In a way, it's like sitting down with a grandmother and having her tell you important life lessons over tea.
I assume. My grandmother told me stories about my crazy relatives and why we weren't giving that nosy neighbor the secret pound cake recipe (she'd been gunning for it at every church function.) She never talked about cleaning out or life lessons (other than not to say mean things when a president was assassinated...but that's another story).
The book has several messages that are important but difficult to accept. One is that all that stuff you accumulate in your life might not be important to your descendants (who will have to clean it out). One man's treasure is another's trash, etc. In order to not burden family, Margareta Magnusson suggests sitting down and having frank (but not depressing) conversations with family/friends about stuff they might like. She points out (p. 33) that "a loved one wishes to inherit nice things from you. Not all things from you."
Basically, the philosophy boils down to 'organize yourself for yourself....but also for the people who you leave behind'. Magnusson has done the death cleaning for her parents and husband, plus she's moved seventeen times. She's highly organized and rational in her methods of de-cluttering and downsizing. I also think this gives her the understanding of the emotional impact involved in cleaning up after death.
My favorite section was titled, "If It Was Your Secret, Then Keep It that Way (Or How To Death Clean Hidden, Dangerous and Secret Things)" which deals with painful personal secrets, sexual items, mean spirited information and gossip. It reminds me of the promise you wring out of your best friends...to have them remove things before your parents find it in cases of the worst outcome. Or maybe that's just me.
I also learned that the Swedish word for "junk" is "skrap.".
The book itself is short, only 117 pages. I easily finished it in one sitting. It's more of a philosophy than a how-to book. I really enjoyed the narrative aspect of the book, as it felt like an important but slightly meandering conversation with someone. It does deal with sensitive, important topics but not in a depressing tone. While Magnusson suggests starting the "Dostadning" (Death Cleaning) in your sixties, I think it's a nice guide for downsizing, moving, or even cleaning for a passed relative.
I might be more partial to the message as I've had to clean out after several relatives and one of my parents (I think it's important to grasp the amount of emotional labour involved in cleaning out possessions that were owned by someone you love). I gave the book four stars for the writing and message and the playful stories. I did want more of a checklist included somewhere...especially since the book was so short.
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