While The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up makes big promises about a different lifestyle, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning takes a gentler, sagacious and humorous look at how your home will be different by giving things away or throwing things out. While at first I found the title a bit morbid, the author of this self-improvement guide puts you at ease. Clearing your clutter is beneficial for peace of mind during your lifetime, and a thoughtful consideration for others.
Margareta Magnusson is a great-grandmother, self-described as between 80 and 100. She states that death “is the only absolutely inevitable happening that we all have in our future.” Her view on death is not one of sadness, which she addresses in the opening chapter. Death cleaning is prudent. It is simply putting a name to the process of making things clear and orderly when you think that the time is coming closer to the end of your life. It’s not only for yourself, as you clear through your memories with each object you release, but also for those left behind who will be responsible for your belongings.
My own ardent enthusiasm for clearing clutter came after assisting my father in emptying his childhood home to sell. We emptied the garage of belongings; our week punctuated with delighted ahhs as we examined his old exercise books and my grandmother’s colorful vintage scarves, and exasperated sighs trying to work out what to do with all this stuff. Fortunately for us, we just had the room above the garage to sort; a collection of neatly compartmentalized boxes thoughtfully whittled down over the years by his mother’s own death cleaning.
While Marie Kondo’s magic technique could seem fast paced given the enticement of transformation, Magnusson’s methodology strolls along like a kind friend chatting you through the process over fika. Each chapter is short and charming enough to feel manageable, and includes personal anecdotes that offer glimpses of cultural idiosyncrasies in a gentle sing-song Swedish patter. Nestled between advice on how to give things away, you’ll find a recipe for pickled rosehip marmalade. Another quirk of the book is when Magnusson treats us to fun linguistic phrases such as mansdagis. While in English we may call this sort of place a “man cave”, the Swedish translation is closer to “male kindergarten”.
If your new resolution is to resolve clutter, Magnusson is offering you a gentle and humorous way to approach the task. She doesn’t offer magic, but presents this simple advice: “life will become more pleasant and comfortable if we get rid of some of the abundance” and “the task will not be finished any faster if you wait.” Although I’m a while off nearing 80 and even further 100, reading The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning has further encouraged me to clear out my clutter. Not because I feel that I will die soon but because I will die one day, and not clearing out things that don’t matter to me is just delaying the task.
Also, I offered to send a copy of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning to my father, but he said he’d prefer to read it on his Kindle so it’s one less thing to declutter.
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