The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning – Book Review
Author: Margareta Magnusson
Genre: Minimalism, death cleaning, sweden
My rating: ★★★☆☆
Release Date: Published 2nd October, 2017 by Scribe Publications
Format: Hardcover, 160 pages
What did I think?
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning gives some good advice regarding not waiting until you’re elderly before you clean out your belongings, coupled with relevant anecdotes from Margareta Magnusson’s life. I really can’t argue with the basis of the book to “…take responsibility for your things to make it easier on your loved ones after your death.” I’ve seen what can happen when people don’t and it can be hard on those left behind.
The advice not to get rid of items that make your life easier and more comfortable but to try to remove the ‘excess’ can benefit anyone if they want to do their kids or other family members a solid in preparing for the inevitable.
Magnusson had an enlightened attitude toward the kinds of habits or traits that sometimes come to light after someone’s death. The personal things that they have kept secret. “Let us each have our small preferences, as long as nobody gets hurt,” says Magnusson, adding “save your favourite dildo, but throw away the other fifteen!” 😛
I agreed thoroughly on not falling for the myth that others will value the same things as you do. For example, a record collection will be perfect for the right person yet these days most people won’t have a need, or want, for it. Magnusson suggests keeping a small box marked to throwaway after your death for those items such as personal letters or keepsakes that will mean nothing to others.
I disagreed on two things. The first may have been poorly chosen words or a poorly expressed thought. Regarding the replacement of household items because of fashion and style changes, Magnusson said “this is wasteful, but not a huge problem if we remember to get rid of last year’s things before we buy the new ones.” I begged to differ – I see that as a big problem because we are doing that more and more and we have a much larger population now. Though I could see the point being made, in terms of keeping things manageable. However, she later wrote “this crazy consumption we are all part of will eventually destroy our planet,…” which I do agree with and which shows that perhaps she didn’t really mean her earlier statement. She added “but it doesn’t have to destroy the relationship you have with whomever you leave behind.” I’ll give her that.
I also feel that Magnusson is slightly behind the times regarding the giving of unasked for gifts (of your unwanted belongings) to family and friends. I feel we’ve reached peak stuff in the west and trying to pass things on is now fraught with difficulty because we have so much already and much of it is poor quality – yet people accept that and buy more and more. My concern is that when presented with your gift people may not want it (for a variety of reasons) yet they could be too polite to say no (which the author notes herself at one point). I prefer asking people: Can you use this? Would you like this?
A very nice suggestion in the book is to tell people about the thing you’re giving away. I suppose it works best if the item had a good life and some meaning. So if you are giving away a desk you could tell the person where it came from, how long you had it, what you did with it – I used it when I was studying my degree, I used it to write letters to my family, my daughter got through year twelve on this desk. I found it such a nice idea because it’s linking us to belongings in a more positive way. It’s not about more, newer, better, expensive. It’s about the items that have helped us live our lives. In that way they become a part of our lives.
The (near) death of letter writing was raised in the book, and it’s something I am sad about. Magnusson spoke of only finding out if a present—posted to family—has arrived (and was liked by the person) by way of Facebook. How sad.
A few ideas and tips I gained from the book:
– Only keeping books that I intend to read or ones I think I will re-read – ie favourites (dictionaries and reference books included there).
– That if you’re having trouble keeping up with ‘your things’ then you probably have too damn many.
– Asking yourself: “Will anyone I know be happier if I save this?”
This book was well worth the read, and it tied in nicely with a few other books I’ve read lately, notably ‘Less Stuff’ by Lindsay Miles.
Let me leave you with this quote from the book:
“A loved one wishes to inherit nice things from you. Not all things from you.”