Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson

Hardcover, 128 pgs, Pub Jan 2nd 2018 by Scribner (first published October 6th 2017), Orig TitleDöstädning. Ingen sorglig historia, ISBN13: 9781501173240

I read about this in the New York Times awhile ago and it sounded like it might be the right thing for members of my family. Margareta is a friendly guide but she can be refreshingly tart. She’s completed death cleaning three times in her life, twice for other people. She is matter-of-fact about the most predictable thing about our life--our own death. She allows us to see how this death cleaning can concentrate the experience of life, and can often increase our pleasure by its recognition that all is fleeting.

Margareta acknowledges how difficult it can be to downsize for oneself. In the example she shares with us, her husband of many years passed after a long illness. The house in which they’d lived so long together was bringing her down, and it had many things she no longer needed, could no longer use. Her husband had a meticulous collection of tools which he kept in pristine condition. He would never have been able to get rid of them, but Margareta herself had no personal connection to the items, so could save a hammer, screw driver and a few hooks and give the rest to grateful kids and their friends.

Most of us haven’t moved as many times as Margareta has—seventeen times in all— throughout her husband’s career and raising five children. She is somewhere between eighty and a hundred years old and can no longer take care of her garden, or care for a houseful of things. She talks naturally about what is important, and how take joy in the things that will work well in smaller living accommodations. She even suggests a way to estimate what will work in a smaller apartment.

I’ve read a few of these books, and all of them have been helpful. One useful idea makes the entire experience less fraught, and one really does grow more accustomed to the idea as one proceeds. We also develop questions, which this book helps to answer. We can commiserate. This is a new stage! We're developing insights, and wisdom...though we may forget it all tomorrow. All the more reason to start today to pare down and simplify. One retains some control if one does it oneself, and also because one gets to remember while looking ahead. Margareta recommends doing it young, age sixty-five or so, when one is still fit enough to do the work and resilient enough to enjoy the freedom that comes.

Don’t start with photos and letters, or you’ll never get done. Margareta is so Scandinavian, and very appealing for that. She has wonderful memories and stories of her family and her pets. She shares a couple of the recipes she found that she didn't want to lose in the shuffle. I really enjoyed reading this book.

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