"We are what we believe we are."
C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Swedish Death Cleaning

This armoire of mine needs a Death Cleaning.
 I've just finished reading The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson ( a no-nonsense writer and artist who is " somewhere between 80 and 100 years old".). Have you heard of this book?  It's fairly new, and with the catchy title and slim size, it's just the sort of book I felt like reading before I tackle a couple of problem areas in my house.

Death Cleaning is a term that exists in the Swedish language ("dostadning") as one word, and it seems like a term that has a fairly common usage.  In English associating death with cleaning is rather morbid and grim, but it seems that the meaning in Swedish is not quite so harsh.  I wish my Swedish friend Ulrike was here so I could ask her!

Swedish Death Cleaning is a thorough cleaning of all of your belongings, with a focus on passing on items that might be of use or of sentimental value to the younger generation.  This does not necessarily include children, the author talks of passing your useful furniture, kitchenware and tools on to young people who are setting up their first place if one doesn't have children.

It also doesn't necessarily indicate the final years, but anytime your possessions are starting to control you in a way that is exhausting you.  Is your home easy to clean and tidy?  If you often have items around the house that are "out of place" it might be time for a Death Cleaning.  Is your home inhibiting you from using it to socialize and have fun?  If you feel relief when a friend cancels dinner or an overnight visit because it means you don't have to go to the effort of tidying, then perhaps it's time for a Death Cleaning.  

 The author advises going room by room and taking as long as necessary, perhaps even a week per room, and then taking a rest before approaching the next room.  She herself took a year to Death Clean her family home after her husband died, and with five children raised in a country home, full of hobbies, a large garden, every kind of tool imaginable, art supplies, inherited furniture... it sounds like it was quite the task.

I like that her focus is one of generosity.  She was not preoccupied with selling items, but rather thinking of how the objects that had added joy to her life could then go on to add joy to others.  She told stories of the objects to the new owners, emphasizing the age and provenance of furniture and therefore connecting the new owners to the object's past.  She enjoyed helping younger people furnish their kitchens with the necessary whisks and dishes, and she left many of the tools in her husband's tool shed (which she called his "mansdagis", his "male kindergarten") to the new owners of their house.  She also left all of her gardening tools to the new owners, imagining them joyfully keeping up the work of her garden, which she had so loved.

The author offers advice on ridding oneself of secret things before anyone else has to (perhaps unpleasantly) come across it.  The examples she gives?  Empty bottles of gin and vodka if you are a secret drinker, or the dildos you might keep at the back of your drawer.  Hilarious!

There is much discussion of what to do with all of the accumulated paperwork and photographs.  As far as the paper, she highly recommends buying a shredder to just get rid of things. She loves her shredder!  The photographs are another story, and she does offer tips to digitize and organize photo collections, while also acknowledging that leaving behind albums of photos is not necessarily a bad thing: they don't take up too much space, and younger relatives will enjoy the memories they will evoke.


Where to begin?  Clothes!





The author has such a matter-of-fact writing style, I loved it.  Her advice for sorting through your clothes?  Make two piles: one which you want to keep, and one which you do not.  The second pile should be donated, and the first pile should be picked through for items that might need special attention in order to increase their longevity: mending or dry-cleaning.
Sensible advice!

I recommend reading this book if you have some problem areas of your home (as I do) that you need to tackle.  This has given me the push I need to organize my armoire full of dishes.  I'm going to pull out a couple of dish sets to box and label, in order to pass them on to my Rascals as they begin to set up more "grown-up" apartments.
I'm also going to tackle my basement storage room with the large, intimidating file cabinet with a new secret weapon: the shredder!
This book would also be useful if you feel you need to do a thorough de-cluttering of your entire house: go room by room and take your time, it doesn't need to be so overwhelming.

Do you think you might read this book?  I found my copy at the library, try yours, they might have it.
xoxDani

23 comments:

  1. Excellent! I'm currently cleaning out our basement, huge undertaking, but I took this approach, too. One room at a time. My husband is a jeweler and so two of the rooms are pretty much under his control, but I have been successful in getting him to take on the notion of 'less is more'. I sort of did it with a bribe: get rid of this old clutter and we'll buy you some updated EQUIPMENT and better (and more versatile) overhead lighting! It's working! But these things do not happen overnight, particularly when another person has their creative space there.

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    1. Vava I have to think that creative spaces and supplies are very difficult to deal with. The author of this book is an artist and she discusses keeping her brushes until "the end". She did give away her paintings though before she moved to her two room apartment.
      Hehe good bribe that would have been motivating! xx

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  2. I must get this book, Dani. My home is beginning to feel out of my control. I work so many hours and travel every week. Even though it is only me and DH, and he is fairly tidy as husbands go, the house is looking a bit neglected. I can't get it all done in one weekend like I used to. I love the idea of doing a room at a time and taking a break in between. That I can handle!

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    1. SD I think you'd love this book. It's a very calm and matter-of-fact approach, and with your time constraints you will need to approach a thorough cleaning slowly. It's so exhausting otherwise that you'll never want to begin! xx

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  3. Several friends and I are struggling with what to do about our mother's china. I inherited my great grandmother's Haviland in middle age, which I'd coveted for years. My mother's china is from the 1950s and isn't really to my taste, though she loved it and was so proud of it and often talked of passing it onto me. What my friends and I struggling with, is how to honor this china that our mothers loved so much, but simply isn't desirable to any of the younger generation. To dump it at Goodwill seems so disrespectful and sad. There's no real market to sell it, not that that feels right either. So, all of us have the various china sets boxed up in our pantries and basements. I know we're not supposed to conflate possessions with people, but when the departed mothers loved these things so much, it's hard not to. Any ideas?

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    1. Mary that is a tough one! The author of this book would say that finding a young person, however distant the connection, might be the way to pass it on and feel good about it. She does encourage donating items that might become surprise treasures to thrift store shoppers, but it seems she also had young people in her life to pass items on to.
      Could you and your friends somehow get the word out that you have these items to give to young people setting up apartments? 1950's sounds mid century which seems to be popular these days. I'm thinking about Facebook, or kijiji or Craigslist.
      If any other commenters have an idea please pitch in!
      xx

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    2. Thanks, Dani. I think forging a meaningful connection to someone would be ideal. In the meantime, I guess those boxes can sit in the pantry awaiting such a connection from the universe. I think the more meaningful lesson overall, is use your things, share them with others and talk about their worth to those in your life. I ate off my great grandmother's Haviland every Christmas for 11 years when visiting my favorite uncle, who was a bachelor and promised it to me when I was a teenager. My mother, on the other hand, rarely brought out her wedding china and I can't remember a single time we used it. Hence, I think my relative lack of connection to it, though I respect how important it was to her. I'm sure we probably did use it, and some photos bear that out, but I never connected with it the way I did my great grandmother's china.

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    3. Mary how lovely that you have this memory of your favourite Uncle and all of those Christmas dinners!
      I was given my Nana's china but I didn't keep it even though she was so dear to me. I knew I would never use it. I do have her mohair coat which is a much more special memory for me. I don't remember her ever using her china but she wore that coat to every party and every Christmas and to me it captures her personality and her love of life. Don't feel guilty about your mother's china, I'm sure you have other reminders of her that are more meaningful to you! xx

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    4. One of the challenges I had was that my mother always told me I would have her Spode china set which was used for special occasions but which always fascinated me because of the pattern, Shanghai, which had lots of bugs. The oldest pieces were beautifully enameled. She did not give this to me ever, even after my marriage (first and second) and I did not receive it until her death. By then, at 48 I naturally had china in fact numerous sets of dishes. So, this comment is not what to do about it after the fact of the death of one's mothers and grandmothers but about the possibility of passing on what one has while we are alive. As soon as my children (23, 17, 17) have any reasonable home situation, ie not a dorm room, not moving every 3 months, I am happy to pass down sets of dishes.

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    5. Margaret quite right! And funny you mention this because I was just thinking that my son is ready to have some nice dishes in his life, he's only 25 but has a lovely apartment and a serious job. He's a homebody too and loves to cook. I've given him plain white plates but it might be fun for him to have a patterned set. I'll be boxing up a dish set for him this week! My older daughter is in graduate residence so she's not quite ready but will be soon. Why wait? No sense things just sitting there. Thank you for your comment xx

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  4. I spent the end of last year going through my photos...non digitalized. Found a great app for iPhones (Pic Scanner) that does an easy, wonderful job of digitalized those photos. I used the company Artifact Uprising to make some photo books and some lovely card stock photos for the kids. I had a friend who lost or had damaged all their photos in a fire. Digitalizing and putting on the cloud solves that problem...we’ll worth the effort.

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    1. BB this is a great tip and one I will use! Thank you xx

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  5. It sounds like my Swedish grandmother could have written that book. She was very practical. I just sorted through all of my clothes and makeup. I love culling. It's my go-to for relaxation. Xx

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    1. Jen you'll probably find the author's voice very familiar then! Funny she reminded me of my father-in-law, Poppa. He could have written this book. The way he de-cluttered and moved out of his giant house to an apartment was so methodical. xx

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  6. It sounds like a primer for those who have never decluttered...I have and yet I still want to read this book! It sounds interesting...

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    1. Hostess you'd like it, you'd get a big kick out of the author! xx

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  7. The title of this book keeps popping up in various places. I think the universe is trying to tell me something! Thanks for the recommendation and your thoughts on the subject. I will check my library.

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    1. Jeannine it's a very simple book, really. But it's charmingly written! Let me know if you do read it, I'd love to know what you think of it. xx

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  8. there has been lots of buzz around this here so while i didn't buy it the book only bc i didn't have to reading all the articles! in the past few weeks i have actually done a lot of paper work and filing and shredding. what i will say is that as a i am not a natural declutterer and not very meticulous that i found this soooo draining and energy intensive. honestly. i am still not done and i am trying to focus. i will use any excuse not to do it which is why i have had to really practically stop social media and any other time vacuum. ps shredders are the thing. though i keep having to let mine cool down so it seems i need a professional shredder LOL

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    1. Naomi here we have shredding trucks that come around and shred massive amounts of files! My hubs has it come to his office very occasionally, though as you know with the law it's all about keeping the paper, even in this day and age. Our small shredder overheats and gets jammed too, and of course the staples are little devils!
      It is very draining I agree. I absolutely detest going through all the files etc, I'd rather declutter anything else. Good luck to you! xx

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  9. Hellooo to my favorite blogger! I read your post briefly on Tuesday & immediately put a hold on the book at my library. I received a text yesterday that it's ready to be picked up. The timing couldn't be better. We sold our home and closed escrow yesterday! We've lived in it for 18 years and raised our two boys in this home. We did a rent back through the end of March & and are looking for a new home. I've been busy with my brand new paper shredder this past week, ha! And I've started clearing out the attic. I honestly don't know how I have been managing to do it all, but somehow we do, don't we? I honestly don't know how I have been managing to do it all, but somehow we do, don't we? I will be picking up my copy of the book today. I will let you know how it goes! I also would like to share with you my recent purchases on eBay. Which I will do in your most recent post. Thank you for the tip!!

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    1. Alicia wow this is big news! Packing up and looking for a new home, I wish I lived closer I'd be there in a flash to help you. Are you downsizing in a significant way? Have you read the book yet? It actually is great timing for this book because your situation is the perfect one that needs a calming voice to encourage you to go room by room... oh my, wishing you all the best energy for the next couple of months as you deal with this. So exciting though too! xx

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  10. Hi Dani :) Thank you for your cyber-offer of help; you're just the all hands on deck type of friend I like!
    We ARE downsizing significantly (gulp) but we are looking seriously at a neighborhood that is going to put us that much closer to the beach. Fingers & toes crossed our deal goes through! As it turns out it wasn't Magnusson's book that was ready for pickup...so I've yet to read it, but your post has been very helpful. I may just order it from Amazon...I think it will be a good investment. In the meantime, I am going room by room. I hope you're feeling better! Best, Alicia :)

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