The gentle art of Godfrey Riddle’s grief-pit cleaning

Peacock's new home improvement show The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning filmed a whole season in KC. Godfrey Riddle's episode will break your heart.
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Riddle on The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. // Courtesy Peacock

Editor’s Note: S1EP5 “What Lies Beneath” is streaming on Peacock now, at this link.

Godfrey Riddle is not the kind of person to make you ugly cry. But that changes this week when Riddle reveals the vulnerable side–his basement–located underneath his bubbly, energetic personality. 

Announced in 2022, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is Peacock’s latest home/life/spiritual improvement show, and much like its Netflix peer Queer Eye—from the same production company—an entire season of the show is dedicated to sending these life coaches into KC and features the stories of local people who need help with an overwhelming mess. 

Swedish Death Cleaning began as a bestselling book in 2017 by Margareta Magnusson. The tenets of its teachings boil down to decluttering items so loved ones won’t carry this responsibility when you’re gone. Additionally, it allows the participant to recognize the essentials in their life. While simple on the surface, their practical application into the lives of a person who has formed emotional attachments to objects can mean pulling teeth emotionally.

Produced by Amy Poehler of Parks & Recreation, this show is moving. These coaches are named and their skill sets are to organize, design, and uplift Riddle. With those skills in hand, the hosts are transplanted to the City of Fountains to tackle our American need to grasp material items tightly. 

Episode 5 of Season 1, entitled “What Lies Beneath,” opens with a mischievously grinning Godfrey Riddle, before a haunting music sting hits and the show suggests Riddle is hiding a terrible secret. 

For those who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting the man, Riddle is someone we’ve profiled in The Pitch several times over the years, for his charitable clothing brand, Civic Saint, and his non-profit work at Rightfully Sewn. Civic Saint is “designed to uplift those advancing the Black Lives Matter, Equal Rights, and Voter Rights movements” –and Riddle can be found wearing his designs during the show. He’s a renaissance man of kindness, but for whom the Powers That Be have never gotten the message, and the last few years have brought a flurry of Job-ian trials and tribulations that would have broken a lesser person. But not Riddle, who we can only assume awakes each day like the Energizer Bunny, with his single-minded dedication to—and love for—the people of Kansas City.

Within the episode, Swedish Death Cleaning’s hosts show up at his house to assist with the death cleaning process. What seems like a mere basement declutter is a heartache of a task. The hosts find out Riddle inherited items from both of his parents, who passed away unexpectedly, making his journey emotionally challenging.

However, the hosts provide other methods to celebrate Riddle’s parents and turn the basement into a space that evokes memories instead of sadness. 

Riddle sat down with The Pitch ahead of the show’s premiere—this Thursday, April 27 on Peacock—to discuss how the show came into his life, what he learned from it, and so much more.

The Pitch: Could you walk us through just how this came to happen?

Riddle: So the casting team for Swedish Death Cleaning reached out in January of 2022 on Instagram, and I legitimately thought it was a scam because it went to my message requests. And I was like, and they start off the message if memory serves started with something to the effect of you know, ‘Amy Poehler is doing a show in Kansas City.’ And that was like ‘BS, Amy Poehler is not doing anything in Kansas City.’

so we set up a quick, like interview like this. And the gentleman very quickly checked out to be legit, And it all checked out. And ultimately, he found me because I’d had a few articles published about civic saints. 

And I was like, you know, this sounds like it’d be a good fit. I’ve got all this stuff in my basement for my parents, my grandfather, my uncle, and I’ve just been sick and busy, and I just haven’t had the emotional or physical capacity to work through it. So the long and short of it is four months later, we got approved, and we filmed in August of 2022. 

Did having people with an outside lens view your basement make it feel worse than you originally thought? 

So I will be honest, I knew it was bad. I didn’t think it was like a catastrophe. I thought, you know, this will take a few weekends of work, if I do it all by myself or my brother helps me you know, it’s going to be hard work. But as we started to go through, and, you know, they showed up, you know, that experience reduced, like start stress wedding. That was really what it felt like because I began to see, you know, maybe this isn’t normal. Or maybe, I don’t know, maybe you could use this help more than you think you need it.

like, we had this ongoing joke throughout the show that my house was kind of like me. So on the outside, I’m very well put together the upper levels of my home, for the most part, are well decorated, I think they’re made for me, so who cares what anyone else thinks? But then the basement was my working subconscious, where all of that grief and trauma literally and metaphorically lived.

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Riddle on The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. // Courtesy Peacock

Now that you have created this new space, how do you live your life differently? 

Yeah, it literally feels like I can breathe again, I feel lighter. That was really the emotional sense, or what I felt in my body the minute the process was done. It just feels like I can actually stand up and put my shoulders back and just be myself again because I don’t feel the weight of the literal physical space and having all of that work before me. And then having all of that emotional work tethered to it, I finally had the time to process to the best of my ability and incorporate those emotions.

If you had a friend or a relative who wanted to start the process of Swedish Death Cleaning, what would be your advice to them? 

Start slow is the first thing that came to mind. I think it is really the key to the process. Yeah, it’s like the three S’s: start small, sort, and go slowly. 

Even in that limited timeframe, I felt like there was ample time for me to sort through every single item and create piles that I could then slowly move through and revisit to decide, do I really want to live without this? Or do I really want this to be in someone else’s life? Or do I just want to throw it away? 

And then the true practical tip that they gave me is to start with trash because trash is easy to identify. We literally found an entire box, and this is my mother, of just newspaper for moving. And I’m like wait, so you save a box full of basic trash? And then there was a literal box of trash that we did throw away. Just like empty cans and I don’t know. Someone clearly made a mistake in packing.

After going through this process, what does Swedish Death Cleaning mean to you?

One word: purpose. And a phrase: to pursue purpose. And memory and legacy. I think that’s how I would sum up the whole process if I had to, like, brand it. Just the serendipity of things that can be gathered. Often it makes me feel like even though my life journey has been a lot harder than I would have wanted it to be. And I would give anything to have my parents back even just for a moment. It is what is supposed to be—those little connection points or moments of serendipity. Just remind me that I am where I’m supposed to be. 

There’s about to be a rush of attention to Civic Saint. What is the best way for people to support your work over there? And are you ready for international attention?

Oh, God, well, you know, you can buy a shirt. Genuinely, I mean, that is a really great way to support because those proceeds, obviously, a portion of them are donated back into the community through my nonprofit partners. So not only does it help me pay for cancer bills and all of those fun expenses from that time in my life. It most importantly powers that good work. So that’s a really easy way for people to support and an even easier way is to just, you know, follow us, like us, tell someone who you think would care about us about our mission. 

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning premieres April 27 on Peacock. Riddle is the focus of Episode 5 “What Lies Beneath.” To stay up to date with Riddle on his ongoing work in KC, follow him on Insta and Facebook, or check out his company’s website here.   

Categories: Movies