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The Swedish Art of Aging Exuberantly
Life Wisdom from Someone Who Will (Probably) Die Before You
Table of Contents
About The Book
In her international bestseller The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning Margareta Magnusson introduced the world to the Swedish tradition of döstädning, or “death cleaning”—clearing out your unnecessary belongings so others don’t have to do it for you. Now, unburdened by (literal and emotional) baggage, Magnusson is able to focus on what makes each day worth living. In her new book she reveals her discoveries about aging—some difficult to accept, many rather wondrous. She reflects on her idyllic childhood on the west coast of Sweden, the fullness of her life with her husband and five children, and learning how to live alone. Throughout, she offers advice on how to age gracefully, such as: wear stripes, don’t resist new technology, let go of what doesn’t matter, and more.
As with death cleaning, it’s never too early to begin. The Swedish Art of Aging Exuberantly shows all readers how to prepare for and understand the process of growing older and the joys and sorrows it can bring. While Magnusson still recommends decluttering (your loved ones will thank you!), her ultimate message is that we should not live in fear of death but rather focus on appreciating beauty, connecting with our loved ones, and enjoying our time together.
Wise, funny, and eminently practical, The Swedish Art of Aging Exuberantly is a gentle and welcome reminder that, no matter your age, there are always fresh discoveries ahead, and pleasures both new and familiar to be encountered every day.
The year I was born, the life expectancy for a Swedish woman was a little over sixty-six years and for a Swedish man was a little under sixty-four. My mother died at sixty-eight; she liked to follow the rules, while my father died at eighty-one—I’m sure he would have lived much longer if my mother had been there with him.
If I go by the actuarial tables, I should be long dead by now. If I go by the experience of most of my family, I’m practically a spring chicken at age eighty-six. My great-grandmother died at one hundred. Is it possible I could live for fourteen more years? It would seem so, but I think I won’t. Or at least, some days, I hope I won’t.
What does anyone do with one’s time when one lives so long? Well, a few years back, one thing I did was write a book about a tradition we have here in Sweden. The tradition was sometimes called döstädning, literally in English “death cleaning,” and because it is something that older women do—and society can often be very uninterested in older women’s day-to-day lives—this practical, useful philosophy had not yet been noticed. So, I wrote a book called The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning; it came out in thirty-two countries and is aimed at all of us—even men!—who are in the latter half of life, though I have heard from a number of enterprising thirtysomethings who say they’ve already put the idea to work and have found it very useful, bringing calmness and order to their lives.
The idea is that we should not leave a mountain of crap behind for our loved ones to clean up when we die. Why would your family and friends want to take time out of their busy lives to clean up your mess when you clearly could have taken care of it yourself? Remember, your kids and your other loved ones may want some of your stuff when you are gone—not all of your stuff. So, we can help them narrow down the selection.
The book and the idea seemed to take on a life of their own once the book was published. For a year or two, I suddenly became very busy, much busier than I ever imagined I would be deep into my eighties. I found myself sitting for press interviews and answering questions about death cleaning from around the world, from Vietnam to the United Arab Emirates to Germany. I even traveled to London for the publication of the book there. In many of the interviews and articles, I was asked to show how I do my own death cleaning at home. By the time the whirl of press activity ended, I had death cleaned my little apartment so many times, I had practically nothing left!
I felt light and clearheaded. With all the stuff of my life no longer weighing on me, I began to refocus on what I would do now that I had no more death cleaning ahead.
If I end up following the footsteps of my great-grandmother, I might possibly have more than a decade of life still left to fill, so I began to look around me to see what remained, what I had in fact actually kept after all my death cleaning. I found I’d kept my memories and I now lived in a smaller, simpler way. I could actually see my life, now that there was less mental and physical clutter; I could enjoy my life more fully, even though of course there are other difficulties that come with aging.
All my life I have been an artist and a painter. Suddenly I am a writer. I like it. But it is new.
The following essays are discoveries I have made about becoming very old—some of the discoveries were hard to accept, but many of them have been rather wondrous. In thinking and writing about them, my mind wandered to often pleasant and funny memories—and some not so pleasant or fun—that I hope will entertain you and take you to places and times you may never have experienced.
Much of this book was written while all of us were caught in the lockdowns and the pandemic—when death felt very near our doors and tragically claimed so many lives the world over. And yet in writing during that time, I was forced to focus on what made each day worth living.
I didn’t want to write a long book. Old people don’t want to read four hundred pages—they may not live that long. But I hope this book is also for younger people, who can get some tips about what to enjoy and watch out for as their own lives grow longer. Just like death cleaning, you can never start too early in preparing yourself for and understanding the aging process, and the wonders and sorrows it will have in store for you.
In writing this book I have tried to include advice I myself needed as time marched forward, as history flapped by, as I stood in the middle of my own strange life and sometimes felt like a lonely pioneer, sometimes the happiest woman on earth, sometimes just completely clueless.
Is my advice particularly Swedish? Some of it. Are there secrets of Swedish aging? Perhaps, and perhaps I have managed to unearth a few here. What I do know is that as a nationality we are certainly not as long-lived as the famous Okinawans of Japan, but Sweden is not doing too badly. Our current life expectancy averages 81.9 years, making us the thirteenth most long-lived country on the planet. If you are expecting that the Swedish secrets I will tell you will involve jumping into the frozen North Sea to stay young or taking long saunas, like some of my fellow older Swedes do, or eating ground-up reindeer horn in your morning muesli, I will disappoint you. I can’t recommend these things, particularly if your constitution is not as strong as it used to be. Besides, I am sure I would not survive a frozen swim in the North Sea and would need to be very careful not to slip and fall in the sauna.
But perhaps my advice and discoveries are “Swedish” in that as a nationality, we tend to be quite blunt, clear-eyed, and unsentimental. Aging is often difficult, but it doesn’t have to be if you approach it in a way that isn’t too filled with drama or with dread. And if you can find a way to make aging itself into an art, where you are creative in how you approach each day, perhaps it can be a little easier.
Finally, because death cleaning really does not ever really end until you yourself do, I’ve included a little appendix to tell you about a few more tips I’ve discovered about perfecting your death cleaning, as well as answers to a few of the most often-asked questions that came up from readers.
So, yes, while I will always recommend continuing to death clean—your loved ones will thank you—remember that the process of death cleaning is ultimately in service to two larger points: to be less afraid of the idea of death, for it comes for all of us, and to remember that after you’ve death cleaned, no matter how ancient you become, there are always new discoveries, new mind-sets through which to see your life and the experiences you have had. And new and familiar pleasures to be had every day—even as the final visit of Mr. (or indeed Miss!) Death approaches.
- Publisher: Scribner (December 27, 2022)
- Length: 160 pages
- ISBN13: 9781982196622
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Raves and Reviews
“A few rules to live by even when the trials of getting older make it easy to complain... irresistible... how to make life worth living, no matter your age.” —The New York Times
“A warm, accessible guide to aging with grace and art (and chocolate). I loved it.” —Matt Haig, author of The Midnight Library
“Cheeky and concise prose... Magnusson is a wonderful storyteller full of wisdom, and this book embodies her attitude of exuberance.” —The Washington Post
“Shows us how to prepare for and understand the aging process, and the joys and sorrows it can bring.” —Buzzfeed
“The Swedish secret to a decluttered life.” —Oprah Daily
"A thought-provoking guide for how to take life in with clear-eyed humor—whatever age we are. Definitely read this funny, very wise book before you die. Afterward, its availability may be severely limited.” —Daniel Klein, bestselling author of Travels with Epicurus: A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life
Praise for The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning
"A fond and wise little book. . . . I jettison advice books after I’ve flipped through them. This one I will keep." —Dwight Garner, The New York Times
"A slim yet sage volume. . . . While Marie Kondo gave us strict instructions to only keep things that spark joy, Magnusson’s book is straightforward and unsentimental (with a bit of humor)." —The Washington Post
"Witty, useful and oddly profound.” —Entertainment Weekly
"Proustian. . . . Ms. Magnusson is the anti-Kondo, who takes us on a charming and discursive tour of her own stuff." —Penelope Green, The New York Times
“Magnusson shares solid guiding principles for organizing your home, no matter your age or life circumstance.” —Business Insider
"One of the most charming, funny, and motivating books I've read in some time. . . . Magnusson is an absolute delight. This book is so much more than lifestyle tips. It's full of life. Magnusson's candid humor and unassailable spirit comes through on each page." —Buzzfeed
"Magnusson uses a dry, unsentimental and sometimes dark Scandinavian sense of humor, and writes with an older set (and their younger relatives) in mind. . . . like a conversation over tea with a friend." —Associated Press
"The answer to clutter you've been looking for. . . . Magnusson instructs readers on how to gently and joyously put your affairs in order while you’re still alive." —Reader's Digest
“Smart… death cleaning isn't about getting rid of all your stuff, but rather streamlining your life so you're only holding onto what makes you happy . . . it's about so much more than dusting and sorting.” —Elle Décor
“Like having a sensible, cheerful aunt sit you down to tell you hard truths that your mother is too nice to say.” —Laurie Hertzel, Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Has benefits you can enjoy while you’re still very much alive. . . . could be a good way for families to discuss sensitive issues that might otherwise be hard to bring up." —TIME
"Pragmatic. . . . the idea in this system is that we should leave behind as little as possible, or at least, not the many thousands of items of junk that Americans often accumulate." —W Magazine
"Even millennials will enjoy this non-militant approach to decluttering.” —PEOPLE Magazine
"A mindful way to sort through your belongings throughout your life." —Better Homes and Gardens
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- Author Photo (jpg): Margareta Magnusson © Alexander Mahmoud(0.1 MB)
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