How to switch on to dostadning | Margareta Magnusson

Clean up your act with the art of Swedish death cleaning

Just look around you. Many of your things have probably been around for so long that you do not even see or value them any more. I think the term döstädning – in Swedish dö is death and städning is cleaning – is quite new, but not the act of döstädning. It is a word that is used when you or someone else does a good, thorough cleaning and gets rid of things to make life easier and less crowded. It does not necessarily have to do with your age or death, but often does. Sometimes you just realise that you can barely shut your cupboard door. When that happens, it is definitely time to do something, even if you are only in your thirties.

While one would usually say ‘clean up after yourself’, here we are dealing with the odd -situation of cleaning up before ourselves… before we die. Some people can’t get their heads around death. And these people leave a mess after them. Many adult children do not want to talk about death with their parents. They should not be afraid. We must all talk about death. If it’s too difficult to address, then death cleaning can be a way to start the conversation in a less blunt fashion.

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson is out now (Canongate, £12.99)

The other day, I told one of my sons that I was death cleaning and writing a book about it. He wondered if it was going to be a sad book and whether it made me sad to write it. No, no, I said. It is not sad at all. Neither the cleaning nor the writing of the book. Going through your old belongings, remembering when you used them last and hopefully saying goodbye to some of them is very difficult for many of us. People tend to hoard rather than throw away.

Sometimes I feel a little uncomfortable with how unappreciative I am about some of the things I want to rid myself of. Some of these things have brought benefits to me. But I’ve discovered that it is rewarding to spend time with each of these objects one last time and dispose of them. Each item has its own history, and remembering that history is often -enjoyable. When I was younger, I never used to have the time to sit and think about what an object meant to me in my life, or where it came from, or when and how it came into my possession.

The difference between death cleaning and just a big clean up is the amount of time they consume. Death cleaning is not about dusting or mopping up, it is about a permanent form of organisation that makes your everyday life run more smoothly.