In “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning,” Margareta Magnusson uses a dry, unsentimental and sometimes dark Scandinavian sense of humor, and writes with an older set in mind.
“Aging is not for weaklings,” she says. “That is why you should not wait too long to start your downsizing. Sooner or later you will have your own infirmities, and then it is damn nice to enjoy the things you can still manage to do without the burden of too many things to look after and too many messes to organize.”
“Death cleaning” is translated literally from Swedish (“doestaedning”). Magnusson says it’s a de-cluttering tradition generally undertaken by those 65 and up. The purpose is to streamline your belongings while you’re still healthy enough to do the job – thus saving relatives the difficult task of sorting through them after you’re gone.
The concept, she writes, “is not sad at all,” and can be uplifting and rewarding. The focus is not so much on keeping what “sparks joy,” as Kondo advises, but on finding the right homes for beloved possessions so they can spark joy for someone else.
The diminutive book – complete with playful drawings by the author, a professional artist – meanders from subject to subject like a conversation over tea with a friend. It addresses how to approach “death cleaning,” how to encourage an elderly family member to do so and what to keep when downsizing.
Magnusson says she has done “death cleaning” for parents, in-laws, friends, and, after her husband died, for herself. She downsized from a five-bedroom house in the country to a two-bedroom apartment in Stockholm.
Magnusson recommends starting by going through the basement, attic, and any cupboards or closets by the front door.
She called an appraiser to help decide which items to sell. Then, family, friends and neighbors were invited in to see if they wanted anything.
Like Kondo, Magnusson recommends leaving sentimental items like photographs until the end of the process. She, too, suggests dividing belongings into categories, and tackling the least sentimental (generally clothes and books) first.
Once the bulk had been cleared away, Magnusson says she gave herself one week per room to clear up the rest.