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The Daily Dish The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

This is the Book That Inspired The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning Show

You probably don't know Margareta Magnusson by name, but her bestselling book inspired a Peacock decluttering docuseries produced by Amy Poehler.

By Matthew Jackson
Johan, Katarina, and Ella stand together smiling outdoors.

You might not know the name Margareta Magnusson, but you've probably heard about the decluttering philosophy she's helped bring to the world.

Magnusson is the author of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter, the bestselling advice book that's been adapted into a Peacock docuseries from the producers of Queer Eye and Making It.

RELATED: What is Swedish Death Cleaning? Everything You Need To Know

Bravo is set to air three episodes of the show on Thursday nights, beginning with “What Lies Beneath” — about how one man struggles to clean out his parents’ belongings that he’s been storing in his basement since their deaths — on August 17 at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT.

It'll be followed by “Confessions of a Lounge Singer” on August 24, and “F*ck Cancer” on August 31, in the same time slot. 

In the book, and on The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning show, "death cleaning" is used to help people learn to let go of their possessions — whether because they're facing death, have lost a loved one, or are simply trying to get their lives in order. But Magnusson didn't invent Swedish Death Cleaning, and she hasn't even devoted her entire adult life to practicing it. So how did the bestselling author come to introduce Americans to Swedish Death Cleaning?

Illustrated book cover for The Gentle Art Of Swedish Death Cleaning

Self-described as aged between 80 and 100, Magnusson has spent much of her life working as an artist and illustrator in her native Sweden. She explained to iNews that her line of work — in which she spent years constantly completing pieces only to then sell them off and never see them again — helped her learn how to let go of possessions more easily. But it wasn't until her husband of 48 years died that she became intimately familiar with what's known in Sweden as "döstädning."

Faced with downsizing from the home where she raised five children and moving into a smaller apartment, Magnusson took on death cleaning in the wake of losing her spouse, and found comfort not just in going through their memories together, but in the practical process of figuring out what to do with decades' worth of possessions.

"The more I have focused on my cleaning, the braver I have become in discarding possessions," she told AARP. "I have had a moment to reflect on the event or feeling, good or bad, and to know that it had been a part of my story and my life.​"

RELATED: 10 Decluttering Tips We Learned from Watching The Gentle Art Of Swedish Death Cleaning

So began the journey to The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, first published in 2017 to acclaim and bestsellerdom. In the years since the book was released, Magnusson has become something of a guru when it comes to the practice, offering tips via articles and interviews while also focusing on her other work.

Her second book, The Swedish Art of Aging Exuberantly: Life Wisdom from Someone Who Will (Probably) Die Before You, was published in 2022. She's also a very in-depth practitioner of what she preaches. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, she explained that her death cleaning extended not just to her own home, but the homes of her parents and in-laws.

"I took a year, and I spent a week on each room, and then took a well-deserved break," she explained. "The ideal age to start is 65, but you can begin anytime. The sooner the better."

Johan, Katarina, Ella and Flora talking together in a kitchen.

So, what other tips does Magnusson have to offer aspiring death cleaners? For one thing, don't kick things off with the absolute most personal things in the collection.

"Whatever you do, don't start with photographs or personal papers," she said. "If you start with them you will definitely get stuck down memory lane and may never get around to anything else."

RELATED: Here’s Why Amy Poehler Appreciates Swedish Death Cleaners: “They’re So Direct”

It's been six years since The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning was published, and the phenomenon has only grown in popularity. The Peacock series based on the book, which is produced and narrated by Amy Poehler, premiered in April, driving even more attention to Magnusson's methods. For the artist-turned-self-help-guru, she's still practicing what she preaches.

"I have death cleaned so many times for others," she told The Globe and Mail. "I'll be damned if someone else has to death clean after me."

All eight episodes of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning are now streaming on Peacock.

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