The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 02 Jan 2018

Member Reviews

Why Swedish Death Cleaning Is the Right Way to Go
Decluttering is all the rage, but this "Swedish" slant rocks.

Posted Apr 01, 2018

I, and I suspect many others, have been doing a form of so-called "Swedish Death Cleaning" all along.

While some folks spend time and money on home organizers, and on books about minimalism and decluttering, many never complete the job. If you're tossing or giving away a massive hoard of collected stuff just so you have room for more, or to make cleaning easier, or because you're moving and simply have to, your motivation may dim before you finish.

Whereas if your motivation is to lighten the load on your family and other beneficiaries of your piles of stuff, you may keep working at it longer. That's one of the main points suggested by The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter, by Margareta Magnusson.


When my mate Stephen died half a year ago, I had quite a task ahead of me. After a 34-year marriage, every item in the house was a stark reminder of him and the shared life that was utterly gone now. I was a "keeper" all along: I saved masses of things from my kids "for my future grandchildren," and also every now-heart-wrenchingly poignant Valentine's Day card Stephen ever gave me. And he had no interest in cutting down his own collections (a box of LPs, thousands of books, every piece of paper from his many years of teaching, every letter and email ever written and received, including printouts of many emails, and so on).

Then it became all mine to deal with. And this, after having helped him dispose of his father's and then his mother's obsessively collected souvenirs and clothes and slides and albums. (My own parents are quite elderly, and I'm an only child, so the eventual task of dismantling their home looms large in my mind too. They have no desire to make my task easier, as that would be admitting that they could die someday.)

The fact is that we never know how much time we have left. Therefore, it is a good idea to take a few hours, far ahead of old age, to rethink our relationship with things. Such thinking ahead is truly a kindness to others. In a closed Facebook group to which I belong called Grief Beyond Belief, members often express deep emotional pain about the process of going through a loved one's belongings, using words like "torturous" and "grueling." Swedish Death Cleaning can reduce that down at least a little bit.

What I especially liked about the book is that Magnusson uses a folksy tone, never commanding nor making the reader feel like a jerk for needing to be given this advice. Also, she includes a lot of specific advice on items we tend to collect without even realizing.


1. Do not begin with photos and personal mementos acquired through a lifetime. The reasoning: Your emotions will be unleashed, and you will have a very hard time deciding what to keep and what to ditch. Leave the intensely personal memory-laden pictures, cards, and personalized souvenirs for last, suggests Magnusson.

2. Winnow down your cache of erotic aids, and any old letters or journals you don't want your progeny or others to see. According to Magnusson, why save things that your family will be shocked or upset by after you're gone? Clothing or nightwear you don't want to be caught dead in: get them out of the house. Now.

3. Try not to get sidetracked. Every so often when I visit my parents, I bring back bags of their unneeded greeting cards, books, old maps, and outdated notes, thinking I'll get a head start of the eventual cleaning up I'll have to do. But that takes time and energy from my own death cleaning efforts, so I need to stop myself.

4. Now is the time to make decisions about all those books. After all, whoever comes after you shouldn't have to carry endless heavy boxes to a thrift store. If there are some valuable or signed editions, deal with them now or risk them being lumped in with the dross.

5. Be generous. Offer items you don't want anymore to family and friends before selling or donating. If the item comes with a story, share the story. Everyone likes something free, and they will remember you by the things you give them. But don't foist junk on anyone!

NOTE: I'd include more tips but the e-galley I was given by Scribner's has self-destructed (as promised). Anyway, I recommend you buy and read the book, which has good ideas for dealing with all your collections, cookbooks, photographs, kids' clothes, pet items, and much more. The benefits to you and yours will outweigh any sadness you may be fearing.

Please feel free to share any tips of your own. Also, if you like, let me and my readers know which fears and blocks keep you from starting (declutterer's block, anyone?).

Copyright (c) 2018 by Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
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Such a great book, and something I will be keeping in mind as I help my parents downsize for a move. Additionally, as I prepare to join the foreign service and start living a more nomadic existence, I will keep some of these principles in mind as I declutter.
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Besides being the sweetest little book, written by a spry somewhere-between-eighty-and-a-hundred widow, it gave an infinitely practical and rather unique formula for downsizing and decluttering in later life. Entertaining and helpful!
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'The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter' by Margareta Magnusson is a short book about a kind of dark subject.  It is handled with charm and gentleness.

The author, who is aged somewhere between 80 and 100, proposes that we all die and we shouldn't leave our mess behind for the next generation.  In a practical approach that made me smile, the author talks about what to keep, what to toss and what to give away, perhaps to your children or someone else who might appreciate it.  Emphasis is made that things given away should be actually wanted by the recipient. 

The author writes with such warmth about a topic that can be uncomfortable.  There is a level of humor that is completely appropriate for the book.  I'm glad I got to read this ebook.

I received a review copy of this ebook from Scribner and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you for allowing me to review this ebook.
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I sort of wish that I could give this book no stars at all.  I tend to think of it in the category of hours of my time that I will never get back.

This is really just a book saying that you should clean house before you die so that your relatives don't have to do it for you.  That is well and good, but there were so many problems with her ideas that it was hard to take it seriously.

Everyone knows that when you downsize a house you must pick and choose what to keep and what to dispose of.  Everyone knows that you can give things away either to someone you know or to a charity.  Everyone knows how to throw things away.

The idea of messages fastened to items has long been used by people in this country and I have to wonder if the author thinks this is something her mother invented.  We have many items that have been passed down that have notes from the previous owners telling where an item came from and how it should be cared for.

I found no new or helpful information in this book at all.

I received this book free from the publisher through NetGalley. I thank them for their generosity. In exchange, I was simply asked to write an honest review, and post it. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.
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An enjoyable read filled with practical advice for making sure you don't leave your loved ones with a mess. Reading this book is like spending an afternoon with a wise, beloved grandparent. In addition to helping you "tidy up" Margareta shares a lifetime of wisdom so readers will know how best to cherish what is really important.
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We can’t take our stuff with us. So when we go, somebody has to clean up all the stuff we leave behind. Margareta Magnusson wrote this book to work out that problem. She says sort it out yourself before you go.

She says that death cleaning is not a sad thing to do, as she walks you step by step through eliminating things you need, don’t want, or don’t have room for. She says that remembering the history of each item one last time can actually be enjoyable.

Some practical tips include: start by checking the items by your front door; do the large items first; choose the clothes category early on.

She also suggests you don’t wait too long.

Once you get things under control, you can enjoy life even more. Magnusson says, “Death cleaning is not about dusting or mopping up; it is about a permanent form of organization that makes your everyday life run more smoothly.”

I recommend this book to anyone who is ready to downsize their belongings and upsize their living. (My thanks to NetGalley for the review copy of this book.)
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I want to thank the Publisher, Simon & schuster and Netgalley for provincia me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.

This is a lovely book, that is very thought provoking by addresssing an isssue that none of want to face or discuss with our love ones. Some of us have thought about this wreath cleaning when we visit our parents and see the amount of things they have in their home. Some that may  have lost their parents or one parent, have had the burden to deal with this issue  of  cleaning out the home and find a place for all these belongings, or help the surviving parent downsize and move.
 Ms Magnusson, teaches us about dear cleaning by telling us about her own experience when her parents past away and het in laws and then her own husband. Now as a single women, she has gone through the process of her own. 
The book is very charming and very practical,as she provides many ideas of how to deal with death cleaning, the emotions we will experience and possible questions that we may have while going through the process.
Many ideas you may have read in other book about de-cluttering and minimalism.
The difference with this book, is that it is really geared toward preparing for our  end of life which is inevitable. We have to deal with the amount of stuff we have amassed over time, so that we do not leave the burden for our children and other loved ones. She clearly shows us how the process of death cleaning process provides you with the peace of mind that your things find a new home where they can be useful to someone else or another family. She provides great ideas of how to rid ourselves of our stuff in a way that will be satisfying.

The book provides a great step by step description for reaching this goal. I really like her observation of how removing staples are very difficult when death cleaning as they are hard to remove and can not be place in your shredder and we difficult to remove especially as we are getting older. She advises to start using tape instead. I also like the tip of using a little book with all your passwords, so that your children will be able to find what they need when the time comes.

I think that this book is a great read with tons of practical advice and easy to read. I read it in one day. And will revisit it again. I think it makes a great gift and even as a coffee table book, for other to stumble upon.
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This is a charming little book that is also quite funny.  The author writes about why we should declutter before we reach the end of the road. She has quite a sense of humor about death too. I think readers will enjoy this book as I did.
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This book is beautifully and simply written. Margareta Magnusson light heartedly tells about the de-cluttering she has done in her own life and how she has downsized. She gives advice on how to it. It is a very interesting and thought provoking read.
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Margareta Magnusson is an artist, a world traveler, a mother and grandmother, a widow, and now -- according to her -- between 80 and 100 years old.  In this slim volume, she shares her wisdom gleaned from years of having to deal with Stuff accumulated over the years, as well as delightful personal stories (and recipes!).  I am having to deal with items from my parents' estate, and the task can be emotional and overwhelming.  I feel as though I am sitting across the table from her with her nostalgic, conversational, caring tone.  Why the word "gentle" in the title?  Because she recognizes the emotional aspects of having to declutter, she advocates for a gradual, methodical approach, beginning with more practical, less fraught areas.  She offers no in-depth "to do" lists, no psychologically based strategies for compulsive hoarders (readily admitting that is outside her area of expertise).  

With that in mind, the author makes a case for focusing on keeping those items that bring the most joy and pleasure to one's life.  I imagine I will return to this volume for inspiration as I continue to deal with my parents' estate.
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This book, while brief, is charming and inspirational and really made me think of things I could do right now to declutter and downsize. The author's approach is charming and practical and offers some great tips on approaching the task of eliminating the stuff that you just don't need. Thanks to Net Galley for providing me with an advanced copy of this title.
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This book is a helpful, fun, quick read for anyone intrigued by the Kon-mari craze of "tidying up." 

I have watched my parents "death clean" after their parents and one of their siblings (although they did not use that term). They were overwhelmed by the tasks left to them and seemed determined not to let history repeat itself with their own belongings. Only time will tell if they succeed, however. It already seems that as each year passes, they become more attached to their belongings - or worse yet, to the idea that their attachment is somehow transferable to their children.

I was hooked on these lines: "I have death cleaned so many times for others, I'll be damned if someone else has to death clean after me" (16) and "Do not ever imagine that anyone will wish - or be able - to schedule time off to take care of what you didn't bother to take care of yourself. No matter how much they love you: don't leave this burden to them" (17). YES! I could not agree more! 

But how does it work? The rest of the book is devoted to practical and philosophical advice for the death cleaner, such as:
 - start with large items and work your way down to small things (pictures, letters)
 - your loved ones wish to inherit nice things from you, not all things from you
 - your memories and your family's are not the same - what one person thinks is worth saving is different from the next person
 - start a "throw away" box of things that you value and wish to keep until you die, but which can be thrown away (with your explicit permission) after you go
 - death cleaning can be a pleasant experience for someone after age 65 or so
 - ask yourself: will anyone you know be happier if you save this? If not, send it away!

This is a delightful little book. It's somehow light and deep at the same time. I am seriously considering giving it to my 75-year-old mother for Christmas... but I'm worried she'll be offended. Is anyone interested in some sets of china???
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What will happen to all your stuff when you die? Will your spouse have to spend years mucking out all the junk in the house? Will your kids send it all off to a dump? 

Margareta Magnusson suggests a better way: take your own stuff into your own hands. Don't keep stuff you don't use anymore. Find good homes for the things you don't need. Make it easier for your family after you're gone.

The author starts out by describing the cleaning she does after loved ones' deaths, and then outlines what she has done to make it easier on her family one day. If you've read [book:The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up|22318578], this book is another, more practical, take on the same idea. 

I'm not planning on dying for quite some time, but what Magnusson says still makes sense. Keep your life in order. Write down your passwords. Make a will. Pare down your belongings as your life phases change. Preserve the memories you want to pass on, and destroy the ones you don't. Not just because you'll die one day, but because you'll have a better life meanwhile if you keep things in order and you aren't drowning in excess objects.
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When a friend mentioned this book on her blog, I immediately wanted to read it and promptly requested the book from Net Galley! 

I found The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning an inspiring, get off your butt and get things done book! If you liked Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, you will find this book a more direct and practical approach to the tidying, de-cluttering task! If you did not like Marie Kondo at all, I think you will find Margareta's advice and instruction a refreshing and easy to do. How easy you ask? Well, her inspiration started even before I finished her book! In one short weekend we had reorganized, sorted, and cleaned out 2 closets! I gave this book 4-stars, and if you, like me, struggle with stuff - this book is for you!

Thanks to both Scribner and Net Galley for this advance copy to read!
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I was excited when a great reading friend brought The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning to my attention. The title made me laugh, but it really does make sense. Döstädning is the Swedish word for the concept; dö is translated as death, and städning means cleaning. This can mean clearing out after a loved one has died, but it's so much more. Margareta Magnusson encourages people to downsize and begin to responsibly clear out their own things as they get older so relatives aren't stuck doing it all after they are gone.

The author writes with a wise, kind, humorous, and upbeat voice about how to begin, how to deal with clothes, books, collections, photographs, even pets, and how to death clean any hidden or secret parts of your life. She includes plenty of personal stories and anecdotes from her own life, and I valued her voice of experience. I rolled my eyes through much of Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but not at all with this excellent book. While this isn't a handbook or how-to, Magnusson helps the reader begin to think about death cleaning, how to approach the process, and provides motivation and helpful ideas like the throw away box. It's not exactly what you might think, but you'll need to read the book and find out for yourself. 

I was originally interested in this book because of the six months and 17 dumpsters it took for my sister and me to clean out after my mother died. I was angry and resentful by the end, and swore I would not overwhelm my own kids in this way. I've made a start, but after reading this excellent little book, I have a much clearer idea of how to proceed, along with good reasons for carrying out my own death cleaning process. Death cleaning isn't about death. It's about the story of your life and all its wonderful and lovely memories.

Thank you to Scribner and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of the book.
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"Funny, wise, and deeply practical..." Yes, yes, and yes! That last one may throw some people off, but if you're not discouraged by the title or thinking too deeply about mortality, this may be the right book for you. For anyone who is intrigued by the Marie Kondo method of tidying-up, but not on board with the "magic" and "life-changing" aspects, this book is probably a good fit for you if you're drawn to a more practical philosophy on why you should let go of the clutter.

This book entered my life at the perfect time. I received an advance copy for review, the resease date is not until January, 2018. My father passed away six months ago and I did the best I could to clean out his apartment, but I am forever haunted by the experience because it was like going through a museum about someone I loved dearly, and having to get rid of things that meant something to him in his lifetime. From family heirlooms to a pinecone in a pocket of his old winter coat, every reminder has equal value when you are in a state of grief. In this book, Margareta Magnusson tells you how to avoid leaving your loved ones with a burden in addition to losing you from your life. She's very straightforward in that we will all eventually die, and whatever we accumulate does not come with us. For our loved ones, for our own peace of mind, and for the environment and future generations, downsizing and living with less makes good sense. 

This is not a room by room guide telling you how to get rid of things. At times it feels a lot like just listening to an old lady tell you about her life in a no-nonsense way. From early in the book, I knew I could learn from this woman when she mentioned a bracelet she had inherited from her mother. The author has five children, she is over the age of 80 and she decided the best thing to do with the bracelet was to sell it. Then she told her adult children about it after the fact and they agreed it was the right thing for her to do. This is jaw-dropping stuff for me. If this were to happen in my family with a cherished heirloom, especially one of financial value, there would be pandemonium. Family heirlooms are to be kept until death, and then a rift is created among all family members as everyone argues about who should receive it, or accusations of theft and manipulation, as the family divides into teams based on their feelings about what should happen to that one valuable item. I've seen it happen so many times and the idea of selling the item and removing it from the covetous family while she was still alive seems like a heartbreaking thing. But admittedly, far less heartbreaking than family members not being on speaking terms with each other because someone else has to make that decision after she dies. It's not an easy thing and that's the point. Death is inevitable, so getting your affairs in order is one of the kindest things you can do for your loved ones who must carry on without you.
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I expect many people will be charmed by the folksy writing and stories of the elderly author. Unfortunately, I wasn't. As the grandchild of Swedish immigrants who is in the midst of a de-cluttering/death cleaning phase, I expected to love this short book. It started just fine, but after a few minutes it seemed like the ramblings of a person giving maybe not so wanted advice to a relative. Some lines were cute, like giving her age as between 80 and 100, but not the second time. If you wish your grandma was around to tell you to throw out your extra stuff, read this. Otherwise, it is a real snooze.
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This book is written like a grandmother telling her grandchild the important things to do as you age. It is not like the cleaning books that are very self centered about doing everything for yourself. This encourages you to not only thing about yourself but of those that are going to left behind to take care of all your items. 

I am not even middle aged yet and I really took a lot away from this book about how I live my life and the items that I hang on to and what they will mean in the future. This book is going to help me in my life right now and I don't plan on dying any time soon. 

I highly recommend this book.
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A really interesting concept and process.  With all things Swedish being so big right now I can see people really taking to this idea.
I thought the book was well written in a lovely conversation style.
However, this southern girl sort of felt like following it's advice would be tempting fate. Maybe I was just raised with too many superstitions for this to be for me.  I'm all for decluttering and cleaning but doing it with my future death in mind just isn't something I'm willing to do.
Still.  A really good read and very well written.  It's always fascinating to see how things are done in other parts of the world.
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