Cleanse Before You Die: The Morbid and Practical Art of Swedish Death Cleanse


In short, I cleaned up as if my life – or maybe the end of my life – depended on it.

Do not worry.

I am (hopefully) far from my actual expiration date.

But I recently came across a YouTube video about this very real phenomenon, rooted in Scandinavian tradition and based on a book, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning”, by Margareta Magnusson. Magnusson, a Swedish artist who is “between 80 and 100 years old,” wrote the book after finding herself immersed in döstädning (it is To do for “dead” and permanent for “cleaning”) following the death of her parents and her husband.

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Margareta Magnusson's book,

Margareta Magnusson’s book, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Cleaning to Death”. Photo courtesy of Simon & Schuster / Special at the Forum

Admittedly, the book does not have the tidy, sunny charm of Marie Kondo’s bestseller, “The magic of storage that changes life”. (Leave it to the Scandihoovians to inject some Ingmar Bergman into a home organization book.)

Despite its macabre title, “The Gentle Art” is surprisingly sweet and quirky, revealing Magnusson’s pragmatic language and practical wisdom. Throughout, she shares a message: We don’t just declutter to improve our lives, but to ease the burden on those we leave behind.

Magnusson’s theories could be practiced by anyone of any age who wants to make their life easier. But she especially urges people in their 50s and 60s to do so. This is the stage of life after which the frenetic pace of raising children and building careers has slowed down, but we are still young and healthy enough to dig into a big and ambitious project. It is also a time when it can be rewarding to go through your belongings and celebrate all that we have accomplished.

I found myself comparing the book to Kondo’s foundational work. Like the famous organizer, Magnusson’s approach is approached space by space, room by room and element by element. For example, she helps suggest the types of items we can get rid of (clothes that don’t fit anymore, unwanted gifts, dishes) and what we might want to keep (photographs, special letters, a few of the craft projects. of our children).

But unlike Kondo, Magnusson sees the organization of the house as a kind gift – a way to make life less painful and overwhelming for the surviving family. “A loved one wishes to inherit pleasant things from you, “she reminds us.” No all things about you. “

Among some of my favorite Magnusson observations:

  • Do you want us to remember Mother Teresa … or Bridget Jones? : When you decide to keep all those tormented 20-year-old diaries or steamy letters from a former college boyfriend, ask yourself if they are really something you want to leave behind for a family member. find out. If an object appears to be something that might shock or embarrass family members, ask yourself if this is how you would like children and grandchildren to remember you.

  • Passing objects with intention: Magnusson explained how she walked through her house, identified an object, and thought about who she might pass it on. For example, she gave her husband’s tools to young men looking to create their own tool collections.
  • Abundance is nice. Overabundance is a burden: We accumulate stuff because we love the feeling of abundance, but after a while the abundance grows so much, uh, abundant that we don’t even like it. And once the collections have built up, there’s a good chance the items our loved ones cherish the most will get so lost in the chaos that they end up in a dumpster.
  • A bowl on the coffee table is worth 20 in the attic: We can refuse to part with a huge set of porcelains because they were given to us by a grandmother or a beloved friend. But we don’t honor these things if we store them in dusty boxes in the attic. When possible, find a way to use or display these memories so that they trigger happy thoughts whenever we see them.
  • Your treasures may be someone else’s trash: The Christian Science Monitor reported in July that baby boomer kids aren’t eager to take over the furniture in their parents’ house. In fact, they prefer not to. It’s not just that kids don’t want their parents’ possessions, it’s that there’s no market for those old mahogany furniture. It may even cost them more to get rid of it. So don’t be afraid to have these conversations with your kids about what they would like the most, instead of assuming that they will want it all.

One of the most important questions to ask yourself: will anyone be happier if I save this? And then really listen to what your inner Magnusson is telling you.

Do not worry.

She’s in there, battling with your inner Kondo over how to fold your socks.


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