Clean Like There’s No Tomorrow
Spring — a season of renewal, rebirth . . . and now something known as “death cleaning.”
Stockholm artist and writer Margareta Magnusson adds a new existential layer to this year’s springtime tidying with The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, a darker twist on joyful decluttering tactics made famous by Marie Kondo and her KonMari method.
At the heart of Magnusson’s quirky opus is the Swedish practice of döstädning, a hybrid of the words “die” and “cleaning” that pretty much means what it says: keeping your house in order before that fateful day arrives. Why not sort your worldly possessions while you’re among the living, instead of kicking the can to your loved ones?
“While one would usually say, ‘clean up after yourself,’” the author explains. “Here we are dealing with the odd situation of cleaning up before . . . we die.”
Magnusson, who lists her age “between 80 and 100,” insists döstädning is for younger and older generations alike. It’s for twenty-somethings who can’t close their closet doors as well as for those sitting on four decades of TV Guides. It’s for, well, you know who you are.
The essential benefit of death cleaning, however, lies not in its obvious organizational benefits, but in its broader outlook on the possessions we keep and why. Cleanliness becomes almost a byproduct of a process that requires us to contemplate what we need and don’t need in our daily lives.
Döstädning takes its place among recent tide of life advice coming from those ancient Viking fjords. Denmark has its hygge for embracing coziness and lykke for accentuating the positive. Sweden has its lagom for finding balance and fika for taking those all-important coffee breaks. Like its Scandinavian self-help cousins, death cleaning turns a simple human act into a blueprint for handling the stresses of 21st-century life.
“Death cleaning is not about dusting or mopping up,” the author writes. “It is about a permanent form of organization that makes your everyday life run more smoothly.”
The book outlines dozens of scenarios to put death cleaning to the test, from moving to a smaller house in a new country to the inevitable reasons that give the method its name.
In the end, döstädning asks people which items are truly necessary or useful — and which ones you keep for more personal, even inexplicable reasons. Those nice pots and pans serves a clear function in the kitchen. But the value and meaning of, say, a pinecone collection is harder to pin down. By embracing the fundamental difference between our kitchenware and our pinecones, death cleaning becomes an act of embracing our own humanity.