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Article: The Swedish art of death cleaning


The Swedish art of death cleaning

Those ever-pragmatic Swedes love a spot of döstädning, or getting one's things and affairs in order, as Niki Brantmark discovers

How was your mother?’ I asked Per (my Swedish husband) after a lengthy phone call last week, ‘She’s in the process of döstädning…’ came the response. ‘That sounds a bit morbid,’ came my shocked reply,” says Niki.

“You might be familiar with the term döstädning thanks to the popular tome The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson. In the book, Margareta – who describes herself as somewhere between 80 and 100 years old – addresses the concept of döstädning or ‘death cleaning’, which is ‘the process of freeing yourself and your family from a lifetime of clutter’.

“On first thoughts, the phrase sounds a bit morbid – let’s face it, no one wants to think about kicking the bucket. But I’m not surprised döstädning exists in Sweden; after all, Swedes are a highly pragmatic bunch and incredibly considerate of others. ‘Death cleaning has become very popular in Sweden, especially in recent years,’ my Swedish mother-in-law Christina tells me. ‘Clearing out your home and organising your estate is a great way to ease the burden on your relatives and save them the hassle, embarrassment and any potential squabbles between siblings after you’ve gone.’

“If you think about, it does makes sense. After your demise, your family have enough to deal with, without clearing out a lifetime of clutter. And that’s without the sheer mortification of uncovering photos, diaries and items that may be lurking in your bedside table. In fact, the very thought of it has me climbing the ladder to the loft (not that I have anything to hide – honest!).

Döstädning might sound like an art for the aged, but really, who’s to say we can’t start now? I mean, if you’re anything like me, you’ve likely amassed quite a lot of stuff over the years already and it would feel so cathartic to have a big declutter, keeping only the possessions you love and need. Moreover, it would be of great peace of mind to know your paperwork, passwords, certificates, financial affairs and so on are in order.

“The art of döstädning allows you to go one step further and allocate your prized possessions in advance – which, according to my mother-in-law, is also an amusing topic among contemporaries: ‘My friends and I are often chatting about döstädning and comparing notes about what we’re leaving our children and the items we definitely don’t want them to discover.’

“We might not be ready to go just yet, but by engaging in an ongoing art of döstädning means being free of clutter, highly organised and smugly relaxed. And, just in case the unlikely does happen, no one will stumble across ‘those’ photos in your attic,” says Niki.

Words: Niki Brantmark. Photographs Sarah Brown, Elena Ferrer; both on Unsplash.