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The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter

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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 döstädning, meaning “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.

117 pages, Hardcover

First published October 6, 2017

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About the author

Margareta Magnusson

3 books154 followers
Margareta Magnusson is, in her own words, aged between 80 and 100. Born in Sweden, she has lived all over the world. Margareta graduated from Beckman's College of Design and her art has been exhibited in galleries from Hong Kong to Singapore. She has five children and lives in Stockholm. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is her first book.

(from publisher's website at http://www.simonandschuster.com/autho...)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,273 reviews
Profile Image for LK.
77 reviews18 followers
January 9, 2018
Right. Well, first of all, you can't make available a galley of a book on my favorite guilty-pleasure topic (decluttering), call it "The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning" and expect me NOT to download it.

Secondly - would someone please call their band Swedish Death Cleaning? That cannot just be left on the table.
Profile Image for Lisa.
Author 30 books9,761 followers
January 31, 2018
Other than being utterly adorable, this book doesn't offer much insight beyond "get rid of your stuff before you die." My two favorite quotes from the book:
"Life will become more pleasant and comfortable if we get rid of some of the abundance."
"I have gone skiing in a bikini on a wonderful, sunny winter day."
Profile Image for Kathleen.
180 reviews27 followers
October 8, 2017
"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.

Thank you to NetGalley, the author and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy for review.
Profile Image for Sheri.
1,120 reviews42 followers
May 17, 2021
A nice reminder to occasionally pare down your possessions and discard those that no longer have value. In short, be considerate of those who will have to deal with your things once you’re gone. At least make a start so it isn’t so overwhelming for your loved ones to deal with someday. A quick and inspiring read about a seldom thought of, yet relevant topic. 3.5 stars
Profile Image for Diane.
1,080 reviews2,653 followers
March 16, 2022
This is a quick and gentle read on ways to declutter your home, with the spirit of making it easier for your loved ones to deal with your possessions after you die.

I was a bit anxious about reading this book, because my mother passed away two years ago and I still have a lot of her possessions that I need to sort through, but I was relieved by the author's calm and soothing tone. She tells stories of the "death cleanings" she's experienced, and the steps she's taken to sort her own things so that her children won't have to worry about it.

This book is a complement to Marie Kondo's work on decluttering, and I'd recommend it.

Update March 2022
I reread this book recently and it has been a TREMENDOUS inspiration as I finally tackled a serious clutter problem in my basement. I had inherited a lot of family stuff after my mother died, and the volume of it had overwhelmed me for years. But this book, along with some decluttering experts on YouTube, helped me finally make progress on sorting my mother's collection of items. Thanks, Margareta.

Meaningful Quote
"The only thing we know for sure is that we will die one day. But before that we can try to do almost anything ... You have collected so much wonderful stuff in your life — stuff that your family and friends can't evaluate or take care of. Let me help make your loved ones' memories of you nice — instead of awful."
Profile Image for j e w e l s.
309 reviews2,370 followers
December 13, 2018

It's no secret I've been on a minimalist kick for the last year or so. I've read lots of decluttering how-to books and aside from Marie Kondo's way-out wacky 🤪 method, they're all basically the same.

This book was a sweet surprise. I downloaded the audio version from the library and didn't know much about it --except that it was short. (YESSSS, no snide comments please! I'm trying to meet my reading goal and short audio books count, too.) The book is impressively written by a debut author who describes herself as between 80-100 yrs. old. I wish she was my next door neighbor, she has so many interesting stories and knows about this death cleaning business first hand. A death cleaning is what family members are forced to do with your "stuff" when you die.

After having handled 5 death cleanings over her many years, I guess she rightfully felt she should write an instruction manual for the rest of us greedy American over-consumers.

She breaks down the task at hand in logical, simple language and you will find yourself saying, "hey, cleaning out this closet sounds fun" and other such nonsensical things. But, stay with it, you can do it! She points out the many ways that living "smaller" will bring you so much more daily joy. I completely agree with her.

The audio is narrated by an older, regal sounding actress and she is perfect for the job! I loved the first section of the book with all the personal stories of how she cleaned out her husband, parents and other family member's stuff. It may sound boring here, but believe me, I found it fascinating! The second part is mostly recipes, a bit inexplicable, and I found it and the third section of the book (pets) a little mundane.

Overall, it is a delightful little book bursting with wisdom and common sense for living life as a minimalist.
Profile Image for Vivian.
2,839 reviews393 followers
January 19, 2018
Alrighty, so not what I was looking for. This is a gentle nudge about getting your house together with basic breakdowns of clothing, furniture, knickknacks, and personal items. Unfortunately, either I have my act together or am way more neurotic that this provided nothing new for me. I routinely clear out closets and always have three piles: keep, throw, and donate. Since other members of my household tend towards hoarding I implemented a rule: Buy something, get rid of something--actually, in one case it was buy something, get rid of two to work through their pile. I'd do it, but after the unfortunate incident of me disposing of a bag of treasured items (I still refute the treasured claim since they'd been abandoned for years) I'm not allowed or rather choose not to clear out for anyone to ensure domestic tranquility.

Things that probably gave me an advantage: my parents were hoarders/collectors--thank the deities for hurricanes, if you sail you have to stow and the less crap you have the less stowing, and the more you move the less crap you drag around the world.

This book is really for the person who is older and downsizing and has a reassuring, yet firm quality to the writing that is filled with personal anecdotes. It isn't very long and is a good first step for one looking to start clearing out.

BEST Advice: Give away things before you die. If you know someone is getting something, then give it to them and get the pleasure of seeing them enjoy it.
Profile Image for Emily.
687 reviews624 followers
September 6, 2017
"Save your favorite dildo--but throw away the other fifteen!" is a jarring bit of advice from this brief and rather charming book by Swedish granny who gives her age as "between eighty and one hundred years old." In it, she explains her philosophy of downsizing and giving things away to reduce the work (emotional and otherwise) of cleaning up after her death.

I've never read the primary comp title for this book--The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up--because I am already a clean person and don't feel I need the advice. But I probably do need the advice in this book, or at least my relatives do. One extreme example from my family was my grandmother, who was so convinced she would eventually come home from the nursing home that her house stayed as it was, waiting, for years before her death--and years after, since it was too big a project for anyone to cope with. Magnusson encourages us to face the situation boldly: downsize, recognize what is and isn't useful to your descendants, take joy from what's left, and avoid leaving a daunting project as your legacy. The tone of this book is fun; she looks back cheerfully at a full and interesting life, and when she considers the lifestyles of younger people it's with a mixture of adventure and a bit of winking crankiness. (She loves the internet but thinks people should write thank-you notes, ahem ahem.)

As is often the case when I read about Scandinavia, I have to wonder if we Americans are enlightened enough to put their advice into practice. Her grandchildren seem willing to put re-using things above stylish decor, which my younger family members are not. Her new apartment building sounds more like heaven than a retirement home. Overall the author sounds content that things are happening as they should. I don't think you can blame Americans (not that she tries to) for not having as good an attitude about aging.

My only complaint about this book is its slightness. I read more than half of it in one sitting on my deck. This probably isn't what the publisher wants me to say, but I'd get it from the library--unless you're brave enough to buy it for a relative.

Review copy received from Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Erin.
2,956 reviews485 followers
February 26, 2018
Upon spying me talk about this book on Instagram and Facebook, my mother asked if she should be worried. I was like "Mom, take this as advanced notice that you and Dad need to declutter the basement, the two woodsheds and like your entire house. My sibling and I would really appreciate." Sibling response " Haha, yeah right, I am not helping! Isn't there a reason you were born first?" Ladies and gentlemen, all kidding aside it is for this purpose that Margareta Magnusson wrote this little book. Although not earth shattering it is good for all of us to declutter the junk from our lives.
Profile Image for Bonny.
749 reviews26 followers
October 12, 2017
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.
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.

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.
Profile Image for Gretchen Rubin.
Author 42 books88.7k followers
March 27, 2019
A frank, bold term for this kind of clutter-clearing! Short and inspiring.
Profile Image for Carol.
345 reviews4 followers
February 3, 2018
I love the gentle art of Swedish death cleaning. The idea of it, that is. Not so much the book, though. I gave it two stars just because I think it's a good idea, even if really poorly executed. Thankfully, I won this book in a giveaway and didn't waste my own money on it. As a public service, I will save you the the cost of the book with a quick summary. I'd say that I'm also saving you time, but this book took literally 40 minutes to read - and that included my husband interrupting me to come to the study and proofread something for him!

The premise is that we are all going to die. The older you get, obviously, the sooner that will happen. And when you die, your stuff becomes your heirs' burden. Death cleaning, or döstädning, is about off-loading things that no one will want after you are gone to reduce that burden. So get rid of your crap.

That's it. That's what is of value in this book. The rest of it is random reminiscing about life in Sweden and an odd coyness about the author's age. Seriously, she says several times that she is "between 80 and 100." I found that irritating enough to google it - she's 83. Mystery revealed. I can't imagine saying I'm between 50 and 70. Although maybe I should tell people I'm between 30 and 56.

Other tidbits from the book: She has a "stylish" leopard-print apron she wishes she could wear all the time. She repurposed a metal wok into a hat. She's remarkably snarky about her kids. Like this: "Still, I know families who live in a complete mess (I won't mention the names of my children here, but you know who you are.)" Well. Isn’t that lovely. She also kept some of her kids' baby clothes to spur their own procreation. "And when grandchildren failed to arrive, I would take the box down and remind my lazy children of what I wanted. It worked. Now I have 8 grandchildren." Jesus.

Technology notes: She wishes she'd used tape to hold together papers instead of staples because you can't put staples through a shredder. Um, yeah you can. Also, a hook to hang your keys on doesn't actually "cost nothing" unless you steal it. And while she notes that encyclopedias are no longer necessary because of the wonders of the internet, she does hang on to reference books like a dictionary, a thesaurus, and an atlas. Because apparently she doesn't know those answers can also be found online.

In a section on accumulation she says, "We feel like last year's colonial style of dark wood and bamboo has to be exchanged for this year's clean white Nordic minimalism"... "This is wasteful but not a huge problem if we remember to get rid of last year's things before we buy the new ones." Well, I beg to differ, Ms. Magnusson, it is indeed a huge problem. That kind of mindless consumption is killing the planet.

Among the things she's held onto are ladles made from coconut shells (Ah, NOW I know what my kitchen is missing!) and a "small tea strainer of plaited bamboo, far too brittle and beautiful for daily use." Okay, forget the whole idea of using what you have. She feels these things will be "easy to place with anyone," but she also tells a story of a beautiful bracelet her father gave her that she sold rather than risk a possible fight over it when she died. She really doesn't seem to like her kids much.

An additional reason to death clean is to rid your house of items others might find upsetting. Like grandma's collection of dildos. "Save your favorite dildo - but throw away the other fifteen!" (At this point in the book, I found myself wondering if I had any brain bleach on hand.)

A side note - when I was googling her age, I watched a bit of an interview with the author. In it, she was dusting a packed bookshelf with loads of knick knacks in front of the books. So how much death cleaning is she really doing? Walk the walk, man, especially if you are selling a book about it.

And the book wraps up with "I will feel so content and happy when I have done most of this work.... And if I don't die, I will probably go shopping. Again!" What the actual fuck? I do believe that for Margareta Magnusson, senility started to creep in somewhere between 80 and 100.
Profile Image for Mohamed Khaled Sharif.
771 reviews874 followers
January 29, 2023

لا يُمكنني أن أفهم لماذا يجد معظم الناس الحديث عن الموت صعباً. إنه الأمر الوحيد الذي لا مفر منه على الإطلاق، الأمر الذي سنمر به جميعاً في أيامنا القادمة."

كتاب "التأهب للرحيل" هو واحد من أجمل الكتب التي قرأتها في الفترة الأخيرة، رغم أن الموضوع الذي يتحدث عنه ليس الموضوع الذي اعتقدت أن الكتاب يدور حوله!
في البداية، عندما ستقرأ العنوان ستعتقد أن هذا الكتاب يدور حول العلاقات البشرية، وكيف تُعد من حولك لرحيلك الحتمي، ولكن، هذا الكتاب هو كتاب عملي جداً، يتحدث عن جانب لم أجد أحداً جريء كفاية كي يتحدث عنه، وهو كُل تلك المُتعلقات الخاصة بك، كيف تُريح أقاربك وأصدقاءك من تلك الفوضى التى تركتها. تخيل كم الكُتب التي تتملكها، الملابس، الأكواب، المُتعلقات الشخصية، الأقلام، إلخ.. كُل تلك الأشياء التي هي حياتك، تلك الفوضى في كُل مكان، هل ستترك كُل ذلك خلفك بدون ترتيب؟ أسرارك، أفكارك، وكُل تلك الأشياء التي تذكرك أن عشت حياة، رائعة أو سيئة، لا فارق، فقد اقترب الموت بما فيه الكفاية لأن تُفكر أن كُل تلك الأشياء لن تأخذ منها شيئاً معك.

وعدت الكاتبة في البداية أنها لن تجعل الحديث عن موضوع الكتاب الحزين بشكل حزين! وقد نجحت في ذلك تماماً، الكتاب لطيف، ومرح! يتعامل مع أشياء حزينة وعند تجربتها ستكون حزينة فعلاً، ولكن أسلوب الكاتبة مرح، وكأنها وصلت لتلك المرحلة التي لا تأبه لأي شيء من الحياة، هي فقط تُريد أن تستريح، تنتظر أجلها الحتمي.
أمثلة الكاتبة التي ذكرتها من حياتها الشخصية حيث أن عمرها كما تقول "بين الثمانين والمائة عام"، جعلت للكتاب وزناً حي، هناك شخص قام بذلك فعلاً، هناك شخص يستعد للموت، ويتقبله، ولا يجد فيه شيء مقيت، لأنها قد عاشت حياتها، رأت حتى أحفادها، ورُبما أحفاد أحفادها رأتهم أو ستراهم.

كتاب "التأهب للرحيل" هو واحد من الكُتب الذي سأحرص أن أقرأه كل عشرة سنوات في حياتي، إن شاء الله، كتاب ينصح بالحد الأدنى من شكل الحياة، في ظل التطور الرهيب والقوة الشرائية للبشر، التي تجعلهم يشتروا أشياءاً لا يحتاجوها في الأساس.
كتاب رائع، صادم، عن عملية الموت، وما يليها، وبكل تأكيد يُنصح بها.
Profile Image for Wanda Pedersen.
1,861 reviews369 followers
March 26, 2018
I’ve been practicing döstädning (death cleaning) for years without knowing it. My two sisters and I were responsible for cleaning out our parents’ home 20 years ago and we were all inspired by that experience to cut down (or at least try to cut down) on our own clutter load. We’ve had varying degrees of success.

Spring may arrive someday soon here in Western Canada and I needed some inspiration to get me back in the swing of things, purging the unnecessary accumulations of the past year, sorting older deposits, and clearing the decks for spring cleaning.

The author recommends a slow but steady culling process to deal with the pile-ups of possessions that afflict many of us in the first world. I know that I look forward to each spring, when I can count on a number of book sales and garage sales to be soliciting for donations. Each year, I contribute things that I am willing to part with and it gets easier every year.

I am pretty ruthless now with clothing—anything that needs ironing goes. So does anything uncomfortable to wear. There are very few ‘dry clean only’ items remaining in my closet. But a closet can be easily sorted in an afternoon—what I struggle with are things like photographs, paper files, and items which hold sentimental attachment for me. As tax time approaches, I’m going to be forced to deal with at least a few papers. Then I’m planning a photo sorting party to deal with all the photographs from my parents’ home, inviting a sister and a cousin to come for a day and help me get to the bottom of the box. Combining the necessary work with a good visit seems like an excellent idea.

The author advocates a very rational approach to these tasks—visualizing yourself taking the weight of these decisions off others and dealing with your own possessions. I find I’m only able to maintain this mindset in short bursts, so her slow-but-steady method works well for me. If you are a more emotional or sentimental sort, this book may not be the most motivating for you, but if you have a logical, pragmatic approach to life it should be a useful book.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,412 followers
May 22, 2018
I read about this in the New York Times awhile ago and it sounded like it might be the right thing for members of my family. Margareta is a friendly guide but she can be refreshingly tart. She’s completed death cleaning three times in her life, twice for other people. She is matter-of-fact about death, the most predictable thing about our life. She allows us to see how this death cleaning can concentrate the experience of life, and can often increase our pleasure by forcing the recognition that all is fleeting.

Margareta acknowledges how difficult it can be to downsize for oneself. In the example she shares with us, her husband of many years passed after a long illness. The house in which they’d lived so long together was bringing her down, and it had many things she no longer needed, could no longer use. Her husband had a meticulous collection of tools which he kept in pristine condition. He would never have been able to get rid of them, but Margareta herself had no personal connection to the items, so could save a hammer, screw driver and a few hooks and give the rest to grateful kids and their friends.

Most of us haven’t moved as many times as Margareta has—seventeen times in all— throughout her husband’s career and raising five children. She is somewhere between eighty and a hundred years old and can no longer take care of a garden, or care for a houseful of things. She talks naturally about what is important, and how take joy in the things that will work well in smaller living accommodations. She even suggests a way to estimate what will work in a smaller apartment.

I’ve read a few of these books, and all of them have been helpful. One useful idea makes the entire experience less fraught, and one really does grow more accustomed to the idea as one proceeds. One retains some control if one does it oneself, but also one gets to remember while looking ahead. She recommends doing it while young, age sixty-five or so, when one is still fit enough to handle the work and resilient enough to enjoy the freedom that comes.

Don’t start with photos and letters, or you’ll never get done. Margareta is so Scandinavian, and very appealing for that. She has wonderful memories and stories of her family and her pets. She shares a couple of the recipes she found while going through her things. I really enjoyed this one.
Profile Image for G.G..
Author 5 books114 followers
June 3, 2018
Recently one of my sisters told me that our mother had started sorting through her desk and throwing out old photos—those she could no longer recall where they’d been taken and/or who was in them. “You know, that Swedish death cleaning thing,” my sister said. Just after that conversation I happened upon Trish’s (https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/1...) excellent review of Margareta Magnusson’s book and decided I needed to read it for myself.

It doesn’t take long—a couple of hours—but is no less convincing for its brevity and the light touch with which Magnusson conveys what she has to say. She recommends starting early, at the age of 65 or thereabouts, while you still have the physical strength and the presence of mind to cope with all that sorting, reminiscing, and clearing out.

My parents didn’t do that. My mother knew they had too much, felt oppressed by it all, and attempted to solve the problem by moving to a smaller house, which helped a bit, but not enough. Looking back, I think I can see the warring factions in her head: the desire to rid herself of the burden of all that stuff, countermanded by guilt—the “but it’s still got plenty of wear in it”/“wicked waste” view of giving things away. In the end, decisions had to be made for her, and so far as we can tell, out of sight is out of mind: now that she has only a single room, she does not appear to miss any of the stuff that could not go with her. And she is at last able to focus on what is left and begin to put it in order.

My father’s stuff was entirely different. At one time he had an entire shed full of paperwork, “just in case,” and another shed full of gardening equipment and other random tools. The paperwork could be sent off for shredding, but the equipment shed required a man with a trailer and a willingness to devote an entire day to the chore. Still, despite the volume of stuff, what strikes me now is how none of it was personal, how lightly he had traveled. No school or work memorabilia, no diaries or photo albums, no letters. We found a chocolate box that contained a few old photographs, but that was all.

Magnusson’s suggestions for death cleaning are all of them sensible. Getting rid of every last little thing in your own or someone else’s house is hard, time-consuming work, and the more help you can get from charities, friends, neighbors, and relatives, the better. If all people have to do is come over and take stuff away, they are usually happy to do so, if not for themselves, then for the friend who recently got divorced and needs a set of basic household equipment or the niece who has just moved out. Some people will insist on paying, but we only accepted money if we felt it saved face; the gift of liberation from things, of feeling that our parents’ stuff was appreciated by or useful to others, was worth much more than money.

If you’re in the midst of life and looking to downsize, then The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondō is the place to start. But if you’ve just experienced a major bereavement or need to help an older relative move on—or if you’re at that stage of life yourself—then Magnusson’s book is full of ways of thinking about things that will help.
Profile Image for Janelle.
682 reviews15 followers
November 24, 2021
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???

Thanks to NetGalley for providing the e-ARC.
Profile Image for Tracy.
630 reviews21 followers
January 5, 2018
I loved this book. The gentle voice of the writer reminded me so much of my German mother in law. It was lovely and inspiring. It is funny because I disliked Marie Kondo’s book so much I really couldn’t read it at all. But this I loved. It is kind of inspiring and I feel like I need to do some death cleaning of my own.
Profile Image for Beth.
545 reviews7 followers
March 4, 2018
Do not read this book. I bought it because I thought it might have some useful advice about sorting through possessions before I am too old to do it myself. I have, for the past year, been cleaning and sorting and tossing, and I thought a book with such a friendly title would be nice to read. NO! Her situation is not the exactly the same as mine because she was moving from a large house to a two room apartment, thus forcing her to downsize. The first part of the book has some good advice and then she gets to pets. Her solution to how to deal with her pets is to give two dogs away and KILL the third dog. After all, he was "old" and it would be too "hard" for the dog to love anyone but her, so off to the vet she goes. At that point I was done. "Gentle Art" my ass.
Profile Image for Katerina.
806 reviews692 followers
December 18, 2020
(Read by Juliet Stevenson)

Решила не сходить с намеченного курса и после книжки про военный госпиталь прочла шведскую книжку о том, как перед смертью выбросить все ненужное. Автор 1934 г.р. утверждает, что некоторые темы не принято обсуждать даже в Швеции (вот сюрприз!), но если три раза мягко спросить у любимой бабули «Как ты думаешь, может, твоя жизнь станет лучше и веселее, если мы выбросим почти все твои вещи?», на третий раз она может и согласиться.

Именно с практичной Швецией такая книга и может ассоциироваться. Магнуссон, в прошлом художница и космополит, пытается убедить читателя, что, если какая-то вещь обладает для вас сентиментальной ценностью, это не значит, что ваши взрослые дети и внуки после вашей смерти будут смотреть на эту тарелочку из Сингапура с таким же умилением. Избавьте родных от хлопот, и они будут вспоминать вас добрым словом! — вот девиз этой книжки.

Начинать, впрочем, стоит, не дожидаясь деменции и артрита: разберите кладовку и подвал, пока еще молоды. Ни в коем случае не начинайте расхламление с фотографий и писем: утонете в воспоминаниях, и дело застопорится. Первым делом разберите гардероб и раздайте неносимую одежду и обувь, пожертвуйте игрушки и картинки, отдайте мебель в Красный крест. К старости стоит подумать, чтобы продать дом и переехать в квартирку поменьше, пожертвовав любимым садом и расставшись с домашними животными (NB: если на старости лет умер ваш партнер, а вы никак не можете без компаньона, заведите себе старенького питомца, чтобы он точно надолго вас не пережил и не доставил неудобства семье).

Fun fact: 14 августа в Стокгольме устраивают грандиозную уличную распродажу книг, куда можно принести и свои 26 томов большой советской экнциклопедии — и тоже знатно расхламиться.
Profile Image for Emma Sea.
2,184 reviews1,064 followers
January 26, 2018
I love Magnusson's voice in this: very unique and quirky. I'd like to be like her when I am "between 80 and 100".
Profile Image for Graeme Roberts.
505 reviews37 followers
June 30, 2022

This simple, beautiful book by Margareta Magnusson is full of wisdom, honesty, and humor about family life. She also gives practical advice about how to reduce the number and volume of your possessions when downsizing your housing or approaching the end of life. I know now to first start getting rid of clothes, household goods, and books, always leaving photographs and letters to last, because they suck up all the time.

The book inspired me to write to my adult children. Here's what I said:

I have just finished this simple, beautiful book by Margareta Magnusson. I recommend it highly for its wisdom, depth, and honesty, among many other fine attributes.

She was celebrating the letters, variously delivering thanks, news, and affection she had sent over the years, some of which had been saved and given back to her. She readily acknowledged that email and digital messaging has vastly increased communication and often made it richer, and said that she has even collected her digital correspondence onto thumb drives, which she eventually gives to the beloved child or grandchild as a celebratory record of their relationship. She did complain, however, that having trained her own children to always write literate thank you notes, her grandchildren very seldom thank her for her many gifts.

I thought about this, and my own selfish intransigence as a child in avoiding and refusing to write thank you notes, despite my poor mom's best efforts. I have clear memories of the intensely boring content and format of such notes when I did write them. It gave the writing, a process that I normally love above all, a terrible taint of boredom and duty.

I was thinking about our much loved granddaughter, and kids yet to arrive, and how I would encourage them to write some notes (complete consistency is and should be impossible). People are all different, of course, but what drives me to communicate is the creative opportunity it provides. I love thinking about what I say, how I say it, how it can be packaged and delivered, and what I can do to make it aesthetically pleasing, pleasurable, and compelling to read. Indeed, this very letter makes me excited and optimistic. Communicating with family and friends is an important, beautiful opportunity for us all, not a chore or a duty if we do it right. In my opinion, the best way to teach children to swim in that river of artistry and love is to emphasize the many rewards of connection and creativity.

I don't mean that every message we send should be a great work of art, but merely that it should contain some special word or wink, a signal that we see our correspondent. After almost seventy years of keeping in touch with GW, we still find creative ways to insult each other, expand the other's understanding, quietly touch the other's heart when he needs it, and argue about the future prospects of his football club. And sometimes to provide comfort. So there are always smiles or laughs attached, and occasionally a dampness of eye.

Profile Image for Leigh Anne.
933 reviews34 followers
January 27, 2018
More a why-to than a how-to, but definitely gentle.

Readers expecting the next Marie Kondo guide will find themselves disappointed by this short, sweet little treatise on tidying up. Everyone else will be charmed by Magnusson's musings on mortality, and the pearls of wisdom that come scattered therein. Death-cleaning is a thing Swedish people do: it's very important to them not to leave a mess behind for other people to deal with. From their pov, this is an act of love, sparing whoever deals with your belongings a lot of drama at a difficult time.

Most of the advice is pretty pedestrian: start while you're relatively young (65 or so), give things to your family and friends, charity, junk shops, etc. Shred papers. Get rid of anything embarrassing or awkward (my favorite section, which includes stories about arsenic and sex toys). Make arrangements for your pets, and so on. What makes this advice so adorable is the rambling, story-telling style in which it's delivered. Reading Magnusson is like listening to your grandma tell stories about her life, and what a life the author has had! Living all over the world, doing all kinds of different things, a successful life as an artist, and so on. She also talks about what it was like to lose her own husband and clean up after him, a touching story with a cat at the center of it. It really reads like the kind of thing you wish more people left behind: chronicles of ordinary days gone by, with a little elder wisdom sprinkled here and there.

Purchase-wise, you should definitely have it for demand. Just make sure you and your staff know how to pitch it properly, so that super type-A folks don't come away disappointed. This is much more of a memoir than a housekeeping/organizing book, and should be booktalked as such. It will most likely appeal to people who liked "A Man Called Ove"; it's also a good book for the middle-aged (40+) want to get a head start, and senior readers, who will feel as if they've found a good friend who understands them. Anybody under 40 is probably not ready for this yet, though if they have fond feelings for -- or terribly miss -- their own grandparents, they might want to give it a try. Recommended for all collections, with the above RA suggestions.
Profile Image for Edgar.
276 reviews4 followers
January 26, 2018
It might seem macabre to read about getting rid of excess items from your life in preparation for your death, but really - look around you. If you were to die tomorrow and your partner or child had to go through your stuff, would it be a pain in the ass for them? Would they say to themselves, “Why the hell did Dad have 2 cast iron pans?” or “Why did he keep this DVD player when he already had 2 Blu-Ray players?” Ok those are me specific. This book is part memoir, part musing and part instructional to help you get rid of the stuff you don’t need anymore. Recommend.
Profile Image for Marian.
237 reviews130 followers
March 14, 2023
She has her old dog killed because he’s “too old” to find a new family or spend 4 months in quarantine? And then she follows this up with “To let things, people, and pets go when there is no better alternative is a lesson … life, as it goes further along, is teaching me more and more often.” People, too, eh? Yikes.

There was some other weirdness in the book, too, but I stopped here with only 27 pages left.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for StMargarets.
2,818 reviews471 followers
April 26, 2022
Such a charming book about cleaning out your house before you die so someone else doesn't have to do it. The author, who describes herself as between 80 and 100, faces the change and loss of downsizing with humor and a wonderful philosophy.

I felt like I had spent the afternoon with a wise friend after I finished this very short book.
Profile Image for Nigeyb.
1,210 reviews266 followers
August 4, 2022
I bought this as an audible deal of the day. New year, new you, or something. I also am attracted to books about tidying and decluttering. So, to be clear, and if the title was not sufficiently obvious, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson is another take on decluttering.

This one takes the magnificently monikered Swedish Death Cleaning as its starting point. In short, the book advocates sorting out all your own decluttering before you die, so that someone else doesn't have to do it.

Margareta Magnusson states she is between 80 and 100, not quite sure why she's so imprecise, and has done three previous death cleans - cleaning up belongings after someone has died. Her manner is meandering and gentle, and a little befuddled by aspects of the modern world. However her message is simple and compelling, regularly sort out your stuff, or suggest to older relatives in a tactful way, that they do the same.

There was nothing in this book that I didn't already know, not because I'm splendidly well informed and wise, just that it is all obvious. Some people, overwhelmed by the task of decluttering, might find some of her guidance and practical tips helpful. And, of course, many people do not think about this stuff, so the book is a useful prompt to regularly declutter, particularly if you are getting towards the end of your time on the planet.


Profile Image for Dianna.
1,869 reviews33 followers
October 24, 2017
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 The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, 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.
1,689 reviews4 followers
August 2, 2017
A big thank you to NetGalley and Scribner for the ARC for my honest review. The name may be off putting but it is well worth the quick read that it is. I had just gotten back from a trip to Sweden and the name caught my eye. What the heck? I have been to Sweden loads of times and have never heard of this...so curiosity aroused I requested it. I have just gone through an unwanted divorce and so am clearing and cleaning out my house. Not for the same reasons but sort of-I feel like its a sort of death. This book has good tips is quick to read and is very interesting. I found it to be well written, with a lovely sentiment. It helped keep me motivated to continue in the cleaning of our house-which is a cleansing in itself. I have told multiple people about this book and the concept (I rarely tell people about what I read-it is usually my private pleasure). I would recommend this to everyone. Thanks for the great read and inspiration. Loved her attitude- I am somewhere between 80 and 100!!
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