Book Review: The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

the-gentle-art-of-swedish-death-cleaning-9781501173240_hrTitle: The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter
Author: Margareta Magnusson
Genre: Nonfiction, Self-Help
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: October 6, 2017
Pages: 128
Format Read: audiobook
Standalone or series: standalone
Where I got the book: library Libby app
Date finished reading: February 26, 2019

Goodreads Description: A charming, practical, and unsentimental approach to putting a home in order while reflecting on the tiny joys that make up a long life.

In Sweden there is a kind of decluttering called döstädningmeaning “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.

My Review: I am definitely one of those people who is enjoying everyone talking about decluttering techniques. I think Marie Kondo’s book and now her Netflix show have really sparked some “joy” or at least interesting conversations and insights.

This book is different because it does not focus on daily decluttering techniques. This book is meant for older people who want to clear house and maybe downsize before they die. My parents fall under this category. They are older and can’t manage living in their house anymore. They are looking to downsize to a smaller place. This move will not be able to accommodate the 40 years of stuff they have accumulated.

Here is the definition of death cleaning, stated in the book:

“The difference between death cleaning and just a big clean up is the amount of time they consume. 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 like how Margareta Magnusson is clear that this is a long and involved process. I think my mom will enjoy that support. They have been clearing and disposing of items for more than a year now and still have a lot to do. I’m sure the process takes longer too, because they will spend time reminiscing on what those items have meant to them. That is normal and almost necessary according to Margareta Magnusson:

“It is rewarding to spend time with these objects one last time and then dispose of them. Each item has its own history and remembering that history is often enjoyable. When I was younger, I never use to have the time to sit and think of about what an object meant to me in my life or where it came from or when and how it came into my possession.”

On a personal note though, I did not agree with the author when she discussed keeping things to give to her children, including saving baby clothes for when her kids had babies. I realize that today’s clothes are of a poorer quality than clothes that were made 30 years ago. However, as someone from the next generation, if I have kids, I do not want to dress my kids in my baby clothes. Those baby clothes don’t mean to me what they might mean to my mother. Plus, you are preventing your kids from being able to have memorable experiences finding or making adorable outfits for their kids. I am under the opinion that if something has been packed away in a box for 30 years, it can just go away. If I have lived decades without my baby clothes, trophies, stuffed animals, and other childhood memorabilia, then those items should be disposed of or donated.

I don’t feel the author touched enough on the emotional strain of letting go, which is something I do enjoy about Marie Kondo’s philosophy in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Letting go seems to be an issue for my parents. They are baby boomers who had very little when they were children – hardly enough food on the table, so it is not surprising that when they became working adults, that they used their hard-earned money to buy stuff. However, in my experience most of that stuff is only valuable to them. I’ve become the opposite from them. I spend my hard-earned money on travel and experiences not stuff. Well…okay….maybe I also buy books. 🙂

I felt this book is decent and helpful for older people who are needing or wanting to minimize their belongings to make the remaining years of their lives easier and clutter-free. Plus, they would be relieving their children of the responsibility of taking care of their stuff when they are no longer with us. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning has definitely made me look at things from my parents’ perspective a bit and helped me begin the process of minimizing my life now to avoid having to ever death clean.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ½

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

  1. Great review! I felt similar to you about this book – it had some helpful suggestions but it lacked ideas on how to deal with the emotions that go with belongings. I agree with you about people not keeping baby clothes etc for when their children have children – for me it just encourages people to keep things that quite likely won’t ever get used again. I’m a big believer in Marie Kondo’s way, it helped me get my whole house de-cluttered in a way that felt good and not overwhelming. I definitely feel now that getting rid of things (to charity etc if in good condition) as soon as you’re done with them so it clears your home and someone else will get use out of it.

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