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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning’ on Peacock, A Show About Embracing Life By Throwing Out Your Crap

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The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

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Peacock‘s foray into the home organization show game is The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, a funny, bold new series executive produced by Amy Poehler. Based on the Swedish concept of minimizing one’s belongings before you die, the show introduces us to three organizational experts who help Americans declutter, sometimes to prepare for death, but mostly in order to enjoy the rest of their lives. At its heart it’s an organization show, but it’s also much funnier and more R-rated than anything you’ll watch on HGTV.


Opening Shot: An older woman with bright red hair takes a giant drag off of a joint, surrounded by a room full of crap. Sorry, not crap, souvenirs of her life. Including tons of assorted decorative penises. This is Suzi Sanderson, she’s 75 years old, and her house is about to get death cleaned.

The Gist: When you’re making a show like The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning — based on a popular book by Margareta Magnusson — casting is everything, and Suzi Sanderson is probably the greatest person that Peacock could have found to kick off this new cleaning and organizing show, because she’s one of those women who has not let her years get in the way of her fun. She refers to herself as a “horny old broad” and better still, a “turkey vulture” which she says is a woman 20 years older than a cougar, and she’s still very much on the prowl. Also, as we mentioned, her home is full of penises. She’s full of life and humor but, she explains, she’s a prisoner of her own possessions and no one else wants the many unique treasures she has collected over her lifetime. That’s where our team of Swedish death cleaners comes in. Ella is the organizer, Johan is the designer, and Kat is the psychologist. (The show has imported the cleaners to America so they can work their magic stateside. Suzi lives in Kansas City.)

For the first step in the death cleaning process, Ella helps Suzi decide what items she’s comfortable giving away, and what are her non-negotiables: her memorabilia from her trip to Cuba, precious photos, a life-sized mannequin named Carlos that she drives around with. Then Johan helps clear out and renovate her space. (When he learns she has a vast collection of costumes from her showgirl days, he kinda takes over Ella’s turf though because he wants a peek at her old, glorious clothes.) And then Kat sits with Suzi to talk through her memories and help her let go of certain things in order to make room for the future. There’s crying, there’s cleaning, then, at the end, comes the big home makeover.

Photo: Peacock

What Shows Will It Remind You Of? The origins of this show are based in shows like Hoarders, where we’re exposed to (a primarily American phenomenon of) people who just have too much stuff, but this series is nowhere near as extreme as that. Ultimately, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is more like Tidying Up With Marie Kondo and its follow up, Sparking Joy, where organizer Kondo helps people minimize what they own by only keeping the basics.

Our Take: The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is very much a show about the psychology of “stuff.” Like Marie Kondo’s book and shows, this is a show that uses organization and design as the lens through which we view what is most essential to us, so we can understand what it means to declutter our physical and mental spaces and only keep what makes us feel good.

The three hosts are each charming in their own ways; jovial Ella seems truly entertained by Suzi and her fellow hosts, but warm and instructive when she helps Suzi narrow down the things she wants to keep in her possession. Johan is dry, with a sense of humor that seems bold for a mainstream TV show. Kat, the psychologist who helps Suzi wade through her feelings and understand that her possessions are memories of the past which prevent her from moving forward, is the most straightforward and serious. And Amy Poehler, who narrates the show, acts as our guide, providing translations of Swedish words and funny quips along the way.

The more subtle aspect of the show though, is its commentary on our culture of consumption. The series makes it clear that Americans love to buy stuff, and then we become weighted down and burdened by all of our belongings. We’re used to living in a disposable culture and the idea of reusing or repurposing things has all but disappeared. Johan takes Suzi to a creative reuse store where old things are salvaged and resold, and her mind is blown, but really, we should all be seeking out this kind of store to give our old things new life, and to buy someone else’s old stuff before we buy something new. It’s just a more sensible approach, but not one we’re comfortable with in the States, for some reason. (Johan points out that only 1% of waste in Sweden ends up in landfills, a staggering and honestly aspirational number.)

While it’s always exciting to see before-and-afters on design shows, as someone who is passionate about reducing waste and consumption, I find it exciting that a show can pass along that particular message, while also being thoroughly entertaining, funny, and non-preachy. Though the end result of Suzi’s home makeover is nice, we’re not here for the stunning design, the real “after” of it all is Suzi herself, and how she becomes lighter and more free as a result of un-tethering from her belongings.

Parting Shot: The cleaning crew takes Suzi to a local drag bar where a group of queens perform a fashion show wearing Suzi’s old showgirl costumes. After, she sings a bunch of songs for the audience herself.

Sleeper Star: All three of the death cleaners are likeable, and I really love Ella’s sense of humor and style, but Johan has a bluntness that I can see becoming very shareable content (ew, yeah, I said that). At one point, when Suzi, a former showgirl, is describing herself, she says that she has “the least amount of talent” but “the best presentation,” to which Johan savagely responds, “You’re like Madonna! The body, the movement, but no voice.” Later, he jokes that he wants to design Suzi’s house to make it “fuckable,” and declares, “Make America fuckable again!” Really, if you’re gonna co-opt the former President, I feel that’s the only acceptable way to do it. During the show’s final moments, Johan, whose bio tells me he’s a drag performer in real life, also performs on stage wearing Suzi’s old showgirl costumes. Into it.

Most Pilot-y Line: “You heard me right, ‘death cleaning.’ Cleaning out your crap so others don’t have to when you’re dead. It’s a very Swedish thing,” Poehler explains right up top.

Our Call: STREAM IT! The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning works because of its cast. Less of a home makeover show and more of a soul makeover, the show doesn’t have big “move that bus!” reveals, but the emotional reckoning the clients often have at the end of each episode is just as moving and satisfying. And because many of the clients are older or dealing with death in some way, the show toes a line between both optimism and closure that no other design show on TV does.

Liz Kocan is a pop culture writer living in Massachusetts. Her biggest claim to fame is the time she won on the game show Chain Reaction.