Have you read “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” by Margareta Magnusson?

By Gerald Soon

I must say that the title intrigued me.  I had heard something about this when I was listening to CBC one day and put the title on one of my “must read” lists.


So, what is “döstädning” or Death Cleaning?  It sounded rather solemn, but it is anything but!

When I finished reading this book, it became clear to me that it offered some good suggestions.

If you have ever experienced having to deal with the effects of a loved one after they have passed away, then you will be familiar with the huge task of sorting and making decisions about their belongings. In Swedish it is a term that means removing unnecessary things to make your home orderly and nice when you think your time here on earth is coming closer to an end for you.

Magnusson, who wrote this book in 2018, is between 80 and 100 years old. She has death cleaned for a number of people and wrote, “I will be damned if someone else has to death clean for me.”

Magnusson suggests starting with an attic, or basement, or with the cupboards by your front door.  Front door?  She writes that these areas are the places where people put things “temporarily.”  Temporarily.  Yes… like temporarily forever!


The author suggests that you DO NOT begin with photographs or letters, because you will get bogged down in going through memories.

You could start with your clothes closet…  she suggests you empty your closet, and as you do so, make two piles:  Pile One: Keep.  Or…  Pile Two: Get rid of .  Then, deal with Pile One: Remove clothes that need adjustments or cleaning.  Pile Two: give away or throw away.

Then, look at Pile one again. If something doesn’t fit, it gets moved to Pile 2.


Magnusson wrote that in our lifetime, we receive many items as gifts that perhaps we honestly didn’t like, but to save feelings of others, we have put aside somewhere in our homes until the giver is due to visit. She recommends appreciating the gift when it is given, and the thought, but if you really don’t like something, get rid of it!


There may be some special items that have some meaning. Personal items or things that bring back special memories only for you, can be placed in a small shoe box, labelled “Throw Away.” Your family may choose to follow that direction or may pause and examine and enjoy what you felt was special. However, they can in clear conscience, follow your directions and indeed throw it away, without looking at it.


Magnusson writes that Death Cleaning actually is something you do for YOU. For your own pleasure. It is an opportunity to reflect and enjoy.  And, if you come across things that you don’t remember why you kept it, it is easier for you to part with it.



Magnusson went through old photographs. If she didn’t remember the people in the photo, out it went. She suggests scanning photos, organizing them, and then exporting them onto USB memory sticks to give to family members 


Going through old correspondence brought Magnusson to happy times and sad times, sometimes even depressing feelings. She views it as an opportunity to see the whole picture of your story and your life.


As she focused on her cleaning, she would often ask herself, “Will anyone I know be happier if I save this?”  That key question would then make it easier to shred the item or discard it if the answer is “No.” But before it is discarded, she has had a moment to think about it, and know that it has been part of her story and her life.

I would recommend borrowing the book from your local library, and fully reading the book.

Magnusson, Margareta. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter. Scribner, 2018. ISBN 978-1-5011-7324-0