Death cleaning

I forget why I ordered The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning from the library. Why did I need Margareta Magnusson’s advice on de-cluttering when we already did our drastic clean-up, moving cross-country and into an apartment? But I suppose it’s like perusing reviews of books you’ve already read or plays and concerts you’ve already attended: was it the same for you as me? And there it was, arrived to the Holds shelf, and since it’s short, interesting, and funny, I read it immediately, in about an hour.

download (2)Magnusson, now “between eighty and one hundred,” moved often and cleaned up her parents’ place as well as the family home after her husband’s death. Her ideas resonate with current de-cluttering messages from tidy-gurus like Marie Kondo, but this isn’t about folding T-shirts as much as sparing the kids. (“Let me help make your loved ones’ memories of you nice — instead of awful.”) Well, yes, why not spare the kids? I don’t know if it’s certain personalities or my generation in particular, but we definitely don’t want to be a bother or a burden!

And it’s about getting started, since we’re older and slower and it all takes time. (Her place took a year.) So, clothing first, photos and letters and personal papers last, lest one get stuck in reminiscence and never clean up anything else. And drop expectations that that thing you really treasure will be wanted by children or grandchildren. Just find someone else for it.

“Aging is certainly not for weaklings,” Magnusson writes, but she makes it sound cheerful and a pleasure and she has some great ideas, so I’m glad I read her book, even if I can’t remember why I thought I should.

16 thoughts on “Death cleaning

  1. I remember going to your book sale when you were downsizing. You were so practical about everything and so thorough it seemed to me. For a reader like you books must have been the hardest to get rid of, I know I kept too many when we moved to Winnipeg. My parents didn’t do any death cleaning. My sister stayed in the house with all their stuff. Now my younger sister who has an amazing gift for down sizing is helping her get rid of it. I get all the letters and cards in bits and pieces! How do you throw out letters, lovingly written, cards from grandchildren, etc. ? Letters written in Russian?

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    • I was thinking about that sale just the other day and realized that although it was kind of odd on the one hand, part of the motivation was to have some of my books bought by people I knew, where they would have value and meaning for these friends as well. It made me happy when they picked this one or that for their own libraries! — I’m so glad you’re getting the letters and cards from your parents’ home, which of course you must keep! Your sister knows that you will tell their stories. We enjoy reading them in your blog posts.

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  2. I have managed to find a copy of this in our local library and will collect it on Friday – didn’t want to buy it as we have SO MANY books and this would just add one more to our huge collection. I did a huge clear out a few years ago when we thought we were going to move – cards sent to us on the occasion of our wedding – now 51 years ago – and cards sent to us when we had both our sons. I did read them all, of course, before I threw them into the recycling bin, but kept just one or two. It’s so hard, because both my husband and I know that when we have had our allotted time on this earth, all our “treasures” will go into a large skip. Ah well, such is life – and death! M xx “He (or she) who can read never clears out an attic!”

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    • Thank you Maureen, and this sent me to your blog, though you haven’t written for a while, but there’s such exuberance in your writing. — Love too the quote at the end of your comment. So true!

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  3. What an amazing title for a book. I was thinking about similar ideas yesterday and wrote about a similar topic on my blog this morning. It’s interesting that you say Magnusson has a cheerful approach to aging. I like that idea and will see if I can order the same book from my library,

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      • Thank you for visiting and reading Dora. I ordered that book from my library after I read your post. Clearing up this emotional baggage seems to be part of the aging process too for me. It’s either that or let it get fester inside and affect my health.

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  4. I really admired the way you down-sized, and as has been mentioned in previous comments, the books and other correspondence must have been very hard. The sale of your books and wanting them to go to people who would value them – that’s what makes it easier for me, too, to get rid of stuff. But, I have not yet gone through the death cleaning. Down-sizing my parents went in stages. I was left with most of the “sentimental” things and still have a couple of plastic bins to sort. I have heard there is something therapeutic about kids going through their parents’ belongings. It helps to grieve the loss. I did find this with some of the more sentimental things. Hopefully, my own death cleaning will leave some of the items which will help our kids in this way. Having said that, there is a whole lot of “junk” and giveaways, too! You, and this blog, inspired me anew!!

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  5. Hi Dora, I read this book too. In 2018 I had the grim task of cleaning out all my mom’s stuff after she died. She planned to live much longer than 78, so she never got rid of anything. She would not have read this book either. However, when I was cleaning out her bookshelf I found several copies of “Under the Still Standing Sun.” She had really enjoyed your book and gave copies away for gifts. I thought you might like to know that! Hope all is well.

    Margita

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    • How great to hear from you, Margita! And this story of something you found in “the grim task”! Thanks for sharing it with me. UtSSS must have resonated with her experiences growing up.

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