Thursday, June 10, 2021

Book Review: The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of ClutterThe Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. Margareta Magnusson. Scribner (2018). 117 pages. Genre:  Non-fiction.

First Line: "I am death cleaning, or, as we call it in Swedish, dostadning."

Summary:  Margareta Magnusson has death cleaned more than once.  Not for herself, but after a loved one has passed away.  She describes it  like this, "For me it means going through all my belongings and deciding how to get rid of the things I do not want anymore. "  This can be done at any point in your life, but the older you get, the harder it becomes. 

In this book, Margareta takes the reader through several categories of possessions and offers helpful suggestions for making decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of.  She also offers plenty of personal illustrations along the way.

My thoughts:  Swedish Death Cleaning is a topic I had heard about a couple of years ago, probably around the time this book came out.  I knew a few things about it, but had never actually read the book.  My mother-in-law recently joined a Swedish Death Cleaning Facebook group and we were again discussing the concept.  I decided I needed to read the book.  

The book is short, just over 100 pages.  I can't say that I learned anything earth shattering from reading it, but I enjoyed getting to know Margareta and felt encouraged on my own journey of getting rid of clutter. 

Margareta describes her age as, "somewhere between eighty and one hundred years old."  That is impressive and also shows that she has some life experience to share.  

From the beginning she wants to encourage the reader that death cleaning is not sad.  There is no getting away from the fact that we will all die someday.  There is also no getting away from the fact that as we age we have less energy which may make it more difficult to death clean.  Margareta encourages the reader to get started.  She has a lot of enthusiasm for the topic and says, "I have collected many things over the years, and it gives me such joy to go through them all."  Her joy and zest for life are contagious. 

She is a book lover and discusses the difficulty of getting rid of books.  She has moved to a smaller home and now, "I only keep books that I still haven't read or books that I keep returning to.  In my case these are mostly books about art and some reference books, such as a dictionary, a thesaurus, and an atlas."  Those seem to be very doable guidelines.  She mentioned that she had Bibles that were old and bound in leather.  They had belonged to relatives in her family and her husband's family.  When she was downsizing, she had trouble figuring out what to do with them.  No one in her family wanted them, the local church didn't want them.  In the end, she ended up throwing them away and felt bad about it.  However, this is what would happen to them eventually since no one wanted them.  

She discusses what it was like decluttering her home after her husband died.  She and her husband had five children who had all come home for the funeral.  However, several of them live in far away places.  She did most of the decluttering by herself and this was by choice.  She knows that if she had asked, her children would have helped her.  But, she realized that it would be difficult for them to make the arrangements.  While she admits to feeling lonely during this time, she says that it was much easier to make decisions about items without other opinions.  I appreciated her honesty.

If you are curious about Swedish Death Cleaning or maybe you have had experience cleaning up after someone else's death and would like to save your loved ones that trouble, I recommend this book.  Margareta will point you in the right direction and encourage you along the way.


  1. Interesting. I think this book would be helpful for our little bedroom and our basement. They seem to be the "catch all" in our home.

    1. We have areas like that too. I always say that if you have empty spaces, it is a challenge not to fill them.