'Swedish death-cleaning is something we should all think about – and enjoy'

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards - [email protected]
'Swedish death-cleaning is something we should all think about – and enjoy'
Margareta Magnusson advises getting rid of anything that will be a burden after your death. Photo: Stina Stjernkvist/TT

Swedish debut author Margareta Magnusson wants you to tidy your house and think about death.


It might sound like a rather gloomy way to spend a weekend, but Magnusson – who describes herself as "between 80 and 100 years old", says she has spent the last 40 years cleaning her home in preparation for her death, and that she has "got a lot of pleasure out of it".

The uniquely Swedish practice of 'Döstädning' (death-cleaning) is a method of decluttering based on which objects will be of value to loved ones after your death.

"My motto for cleaning is simply: If you don't love it, lose it. If you don't use it, lose it," Magnusson told The Local. "My death cleaning has brought back wonderful memories. I wish for other people to have the same experience."

She hopes that her new book Döstädning, published in Sweden earlier this month and translated into English as The Gentle Art of Swedish Death-Cleaning, will help achieve this. It has already attracted global interest, with reviews in Business Insider and the New York Times and plans for publication in 20 languages.

Asked why she thought the idea had garnered so much attention abroad, Magnusson said: "Scandinavians have a high standard of living, we have a long life expectancy and are reasonably happy. We have a great deal of equality. Maybe people want to know how this is possible, despite our cold and dark winters."

Döstädning or death-cleaning is different from 'dödsstädning' (after-death cleaning), which takes place after someone has died when family members are left to sort through their belongings. This is something Magnusson herself was forced to do after her parents and husband died. In contrast, döstädning takes place while we're still alive, and is a way of getting rid of unnecessary objects so that loved ones aren't left to deal with the mess.

This could mean throwing away broken or unnecessary items, but also those of a personal nature which wouldn't have a sentimental value, or could even be upsetting, to those left behind. 

"Today, people have enough jackets for a Siberian winter, and more shoes than a centipede could wear. When I was young it was completely different," Magnusson told The Local. "When I grew up we didn't really have brands, we didn't have logos, we had, if we were lucky, just what we needed. People today, in developed countries, have much more than they need, and that becomes a problem in the end."

Many elderly people, she said, have attics or basements packed with stuff which they may not remember, and which can leave children conflicted when faced with the decision of what to keep.

The author believes people should start thinking about the objects they're accumulating as soon as they find themselves 'collecting' too many items, and that at the age of 40, they should be working towards a more organized lifestyle.

She thinks the book could prove particularly useful to middle-aged children of hoarders and collectors, who could give the book to their parents as a gift.

And despite the subject matter, Magnusson said she kept the tone light and personal throughout. "I wanted to write a short and fun book. I didn't want to write a thick book. Old people don't want to read four hundred pages – they may not live that long," she pointed out.


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