May 11, 2022

Dostadning: the Swedish “gentle art” of cleaning before death

In her stylish apartment in central Stockholm, Lena Sundgren, 84, stares at her crowded library, lit by candlelight.

Sighing deeply, she lifts a stack of gardening books and moves them aside. “The feeling of getting rid of it is a relief,” she admits. “This death cleansing, which I do a few times a week, calms me down.”

Death cleanup, or “dostadning” in Swedish, is the name given to the practice of sorting through your personal belongings before you die.

The concept has become cult worldwide since it was coined by author Margareta Magnusson in her 2017 bestseller. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleansing: How to Free You and Your Family from a Life of Clutter.

“I think you should mind your own business so no one else has to do all the work for you with all the bullshit you left behind,” the author told AFP.

Sorting through a lifetime of possessions “brings you back to times you might want to remember, and if you don’t, just throw it away,” she says.

Death cleanup differs from the approach to decluttering a tidy house associated with Marie Kondo, a Japanese celebrity who rose to worldwide fame by promoting the idea that people should only keep items that bring them joy.

The Swedish Death Cleanup is intended to relieve families of the burden of sorting through possessions after the death of a loved one.

“You Can’t Live Forever”

Magnusson’s daughter, Jane, appreciates her mother’s efforts.

“I think most people who have very old parents and busy lives would like to go through their parents’ things less when they’re gone,” she says.

“I’m grateful for the tremendous amount of work she’s done…and glad it’s spreading around the world.”

Magnusson’s book made the New York Times bestseller list and has been translated into dozens of languages.

An American blogger who posted a video about her death cleanup experience has racked up three million views online.

While Magnusson coined the term, Swedes have been practicing death cleansing for ages.

“Forty years ago, a very old neighbor told me that she was going to clean up death,” recalls Kristina Adolphson, an 84-year-old former actress who now does too.

“When you clean to death…you have to realize you can’t live forever!” »

Swedes’ pragmatic approach to death helps explain the phenomenon, Magnusson says, suggesting that other cultures prefer to avoid the subject.

“They are afraid of death, the Swedes too. But we talk about it.”

Only a few essential clothes hang in her closet, but a few animal and troll figurines still dot her living room.

“I’ve had my apartment cleaned several times by death but I still have quite a bit of stuff. So it never ends.” – AFP Relax News