The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter
"Aging is certainly not for weaklings," writes Swedish artist Margareta Magnusson in The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter. "Somewhere between eighty and one-hundred-years old" and a veteran of death cleaning, Magnusson paints the Swedish practice of döstädning as an important, thoughtful act, whether mortality looms or hovers in the distance, or it's just time for a necessary conversation with loved ones facing it.
Start large, she suggests, getting rid of clothes or furniture--things less emotionally fraught than photographs or letters. Consider possessions by category, taking stock of what things merit keeping and why. Sell some. Give lots away. And when it comes time to sort photographs or letters? Digitize them, and give the tangible copies to family.
Magnusson also considers vices: "Maybe Grandfather had ladies' underwear in his drawer and maybe Grandma had a dildo in hers. But what does that matter now?" For things that mean something only to their owner, or are evidence of habits surviving family members might not enjoy discovering, she counsels readers to keep them in a box marked, "Throw Away." Relatives will know what to do.
Magnusson admits that death cleaning can elicit a range of emotions, including, inevitably, some sadness, but also agency, nostalgia and comfort. Her tone is straightforward and casual, generously punctuated with exclamation points, inspiring hope in the face of what can feel like a monumental or morbid chore: dealing with the stuff of life at the end of it. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer