MARGARETA MAGNUSSON was born in Gothenburg, Sweden and is the bestselling author of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. Her latest book, The Swedish Art of Ageing Well is a funny and practical guide to ageing. Read on for an extract.
In her first book, Margareta Magnusson shared with the world the practical Swedish tradition of döstädning, or ‘death cleaning’ – clearing out unnecessary belongings so others don’t have to do it for you. Now, unburdened by baggage (emotional and actual), she is able to focus on what makes each day worth living, and reveals her discoveries about growing older – some difficult to accept, and many rather wondrous.
Margareta reflects on her idyllic childhood on the west coast of Sweden, the fullness of her life with her husband and their five children, and learning how to live alone. Throughout, she offers advice on how to age gracefully, such as: don’t be afraid to wear stripes, don’t resist new technology, and let go of what doesn’t matter.
As with death-cleaning, it’s never too early to begin. The Swedish Art of Ageing Well shows us how to prepare for and understand the ageing process, and the joys and sorrows it can bring. While Margareta still recommends downsizing and 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 practical, The Swedish Art of Ageing Well 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 enjoyed every day.
TREAT LITTLE CHILDREN,
BIG CHILDREN (AND
GRANDCHILDREN) AS YOU
WANT TO BE TREATED
Spending time with the young is good for anyone getting older; the best thing is that it gets easier: the older you get, the more and more people younger than you there are.
But within the group of younger people, perhaps my favourite is the very young, let’s say children under eight. Not toddlers, but children old enough that they can at least (sort of ) put sentences together.
When I was a teenager, I was determined never to have children. I do not know why; I simply thought they were annoying and whiny and completely unnecessary wastes of time. Thankfully, I changed my mind. Little did I know then that I would end up with five children and seven grandchildren.
Spending time with and talking to small children is really so fun and enriching. They have an unpredictable nature and a way of looking at things that you cannot even imagine, that you can never anticipate. Once I had small children of my own, I seemed to be surprised every day by what popped out of their mouths.
Traveling with children became a particularly enjoyable experience for me: children see everything with inexperienced, unspoiled eyes. Their comments can be unexpected and strange, and sometimes very funny.
My mother-in-law once told me about a long train journey she made with my late husband, Lars, when he was maybe four years old. At the time he looked like a little curly-haired angel. The train just kept going and going and baby Lars was terribly bored. After a long silence without anything interesting to look at, they passed a very large red barn.
In the countryside at that time, houses did not have indoor plumbing and hardly any had flushing toilets. Instead one used the outhouse, a tiny little house, always painted a special red colour – falu rödfärg. It is a cheap paint, almost the colour of bricks, which is why it became so popular. Way back in the day it was fancier to have a brick house than a wooden one. So, all wood house owners painted their houses to look like bricks.
Anyway, baby Lars had seen an outhouse before, but being a city child, he had never seen a barn. Baby Lars pointed at the barn:
‘Vilket jävla stort dass!’
What a damn giant shit house!
This was 1936. My mother-in-law was mortified. She gave him an apple out of her purse to shut the little boy up. He munched and ate. After a while, the apple caused bowel movements in Lars’s small body and a loud fart exploded. My mother-in-law was hugely embarrassed, but Lars didn’t really know what had just happened. Over the din of the noisy train he yelled:
Is my ass coughing?
Being with my own children when they were young, I got better at knowing what they liked to do and what they were able to do.
When I had to take care of other people’s children or grandchildren, it got a little trickier. Can they run on narrow bridges without falling into the water? Can they swim? They can certainly climb a tree, but can they get down when they discover how high they have climbed? Can they cross a street without causing a traffic jam?
In Sweden summer was so loved and awaited. As recently as the 1960s and ’70s all kids until maybe school age – seven years old – ran around naked all summer. No clothes, no shoes, nothing. That is, if you lived in the countryside as we did.
Today you would certainly think twice before letting your naked five-year-old out of the house, but no one thought anything of it then. In fact, people thought you were strange if you put swimsuits on your children:
‘Whatever for? What have they got to hide?’
Today we put bikinis on toddlers. It is the natural thing to do.
But I remember when we moved to the United States and my younger daughter (six years old) refused at first to wear a bathing suit. As a result, she was not allowed to go in the water. It was a hot summer. She longed to swim. Finally, she agreed to wear a bikini. As she had never worn one before, she couldn’t really handle the garment: the straps kept coming off; the top flopped down. She didn’t care, but everyone else did. She was teased. She hated that bikini.
The year before we left for the United States, this same little girl, who loved to be naked and loved to dance, had seen a documentary on Swedish National Television that made quite the impression. It must have featured naked girls dancing. A few days later my husband and I hosted a dinner party for some important people. We were having cocktails and introducing our five children to the guests. They asked my little chubby five-year-old daughter what she wanted to be when she grew up:
The guests fell apart in laughter and couldn’t wait to hear the future plans of the rest of the kids. It seems all of them watched too much television – even though we just had one channel.
My son must have seen a show about people who stayed in bed all day, didn’t have to do a thing, and were fed and taken care of by lovely women in uniforms. ‘And what do you want to be, young man?’
Now even my grandchildren are grown-up. They are young adults and it’s so wonderful to be with them when they have time, even if they no longer blurt out funny, unexpected things. Instead I get to hear about all the exciting things they have in store. About schools, jobs, parties, hobbies, friends. And also about worries, joys, future prospects, and dreams.
So, how do you keep young people around you?
There is one very important rule – treat them as you want to be treated.
I know I have heard this somewhere before, but really.
Don’t tell them about your bad knee, again. Don’t guilt trip them about not calling enough.
Just ask them questions. Listen to them. Act interested even if you are not.
Give them food and tell them to go enjoy their lives.
If you do these things, they will keep calling and visiting.
They will equate your place with a good place. Especially since their parents probably have less time than you do to talk to them.