How to free yourself and your family from a lifetime of clutter

By Margareta Magnusson

Published by Scribe, $30


The book for review today is about the approach to putting your life in order so your loved ones won’t have to. There is a word for it in Swedish: döstädning, literally, ‘death cleaning’.


Swedish author Margareta Magnusson is in her eighties and has experienced the importance of death cleaning when she had to move her widowed parent to a smaller home. She wants to save her own children the stress of going through drawers and boxes of meaningless things after her death. She writes that it is an act of love for the ones you leave behind, so they can focus on remembering you. She addresses everything from kitchen utensils to photographs and letters. Where Marie Kondo asked ‘does this item spark joy?’, Margareta Magnusson asks ‘will anyone I know be happier if I save this?’ Any item you want to keep while you are living but that will have no value to your loved ones you can put in a shoebox labelled the ‘throw away (after I am gone)’ box. I personally imagine that this is the only box that will get the kids’ full attention when I am gone.


I recall an article in the New Zealand Listener a few years ago that featured the same book when it was first published in hardback. There was some backlash from readers who protested that the task of clearing out a home was the least thing children could do for their parents. But the author emphasizes how death cleaning is an opportunity to reflect on the story of your life.


The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is only a small book with very short chapters. It’s a mix of practical advice and the author’s own memories. A lot is common sense. A lot is really just about downsizing. And yet, I think what this book achieves is that it gently nudges you to think about your death, about what you value now and about what you want to leave behind.



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