Out with the old year, but not out with the old stuff. Yet.


‘I’m so not ready for Swedish “death cleaning”, thank you very much’

As if The Holidays weren’t bittersweet enough. (You know what I mean: You’re happy because it’s Christmastime, but then Christmas is over and you’re smack-dab in the middle of that weird Week-Before-New-Year’s and everyone is telling you they’ll “see you next year” and you’re deciding whether to put away the decorations now or wait and be confronted with them when you walk back into the apartment after your trip to Panama.) Or wherever. You get my drift.

And as if all this Seasonal Sturm und Drang weren’t bad enough, the other day I innocently opened the Times to find a review of this new book called, I kid you not, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.

I have Amazon Prime and could have this book in two days. But hey, two days from now might be too late

Apparently, the Swedes have been doing a decluttering thing called “dostadning”, or “death cleaning” for ages. But this Swede Chick wrote this book and now she’s out-Kondo’ing Marie with her take on getting rid of stuff. If you need a little reminder, Marie Kondo is the one who had everyone (including The Child) tossing their stuff and turning her pages a couple of years ago. Her deal was to get rid of anything that doesn’t “spark joy”.

Well. Margareta one-ups Marie by suggesting rather strongly that we get rid of stuff so that our survivors don’t have to (gulp) deal with it when we die. Wow. Leave it to the Swedes to base a lifestyle on guilt instead of joy.

But she doesn’t mean we should distribute our belongings to our near and dear now instead of making them wait to inherit. Oh no. She suggests that it might be better to throw your stuff out than give it to your kids. She asks — reasonably, if depressingly — “If you can’t pawn off your stuff on family members when you’re alive, why would they want it when you’re dead?”

Sheesh. She must have some pretty sorry stuff. As for me, I kind of have the opposite problem. I actually have some not-all-that-expensive-but-still-pretty-nice stuff. Take my clothes closet. (No, don’t; I’m still using it.)

At least The Child thinks my closet stuff is pretty choice. Until I caught her at it, she was rifling my wardrobe right and left. I had no idea that, say, my one-of-a-kind brocade top I bought on a trip to London had gone to a party without me. It was only when she quite naively posted a photo of herself on Facebook partying in my duds (a purple silk skirt, it was) that The Child got busted. (I guess she forgot that it was she who set me up with Facebook in the first place.)

The Child unwittingly pre-busts herself by setting up my Facebook account. I ended up giving her that stripey orange sweater

Well, in my defense I can say that I didn’t get too mad. In fact, I gave her the skirt. Eventually, even the brocade top. Not because I’m super-nice — or, sorry Margareta — because I’m “death cleaning” (ouch, it hurts even to type that). It’s because I have this rule about myself and my clothes. I don’t ask myself if a particular item “gives me joy”. No. I ask myself if it “makes me look ridiculous”. Much better test.

As far as Stuff That’s Not Clothes is concerned, I’m not ready to give any of it up. Those platters and wine goblets and that “nice china” cluttering my shelves? Guess what? I use it. All the time. I never ever “save something for Company”. After all, who’s better Company than me? Even when I’m all by myself, I whip out the silver. (The other benefit to actually using your silver, by the way, is that the more you use it, the less you have to polish it.) So there, Miss Give-Your-Stuff-Away-Because-It’s-Just-Sitting-There Swede.

My Good Stuff gets trotted out for some people (besides me), like at this early Tree Trim gala. Some day all this will be yours (to sort out), O Child. Oh, you’ll have to wait for that velvet top. I still wear it. A lot

All I can say in closing is that I am super-glad The Dude didn’t get me this book for Christmas. (Can you imagine giving this book as a gift? Those fake grape leaves my sister-in-law got me that one year — which you can read about in ‘Is that stocking half full, or half empty?‘ — are looking pretty good right about now.)

Nope. As you may recall from that same post, I got ‘gifted’ another nice piece of jewelry. Which reminds me. According to my fellow Swedes and their “death cleaning” credo, “when surfaces clear, serenity settles in.” Well. All I can say is that the more cluttered my dresser top — and my wrist — the more serene my household feels.

Of course, The Child will end up getting the jewelry, too. Someday. And yes, she’ll have to sort through it, poor thing. In the meantime, I’m still considering giving her those spiffy Marc Jacobs boots she’s been eyeing. Maybe next year. That is, if I’m still alive enough then to realize that I finally look ridiculous in them.

New York City. January 2018

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16 thoughts on “Out with the old year, but not out with the old stuff. Yet.

  1. Losing the Plot


    I haven’t given this a lot of thought, but I would have thought that dealing with the deceased person’s possessions would help the grieving processes. I worry that the more we package and remove ourselves from the death of a loved one, the less well we are able to cope long term with the loss.

    However, that’s very serious, when there was a lot of humour in your post, I enjoyed it a lot

    • So glad you enjoyed the post. Even gladder that you weighed in with such a wise comment. I hadn’t thought of that aspect of dealing with the death of a loved one. I don’t know if you’ve read anything by my Favorite Scandanavian Besides My Mother, but Karl Ove Knausgård, in the very first chapter of My Struggle, speaks about our tendency to erase every trace of death from our lives. I’m secretly hoping The Child lingers over every spoon and fork and trinket and thinks of me. xo

      • Losing the Plot

        Not familiar at all, but the same thought resonates, it struck me first after the death of my father in law, just how separated we become almost immediately after death. Almost like we become embarrassed by the whole affair.
        I don’t know enough, but my gut feeling is uncomfortable- I suspect it’s not good overall.

        Good post!

  2. Unbound Roots

    So, my parents moved out on the old family farm a few years ago. When they moved, their square footage was cut in half. They gave some special family heirlooms to family members who wanted them, but for the most part, they donated things, BECAUSE… get ready… they didn’t want anyone else to deal with their things after they died. Yep! You know us. A healthy dose of Swedish blood here. I have to say, their small farmhouse looks cozy, clean, and simple. Visiting there always feels comfortable. Great post! 🙂

    • Ah yes. You know me well, Ms. Unbound (!) My humor is my armour. I am actually quite touched by the whole notion of clearing up before checking out. Bless those Swedes. And ‘tack’ for your lovely comment. xoxo

  3. “Who’s better company than me?” Love that! And so true. That makes me want to pull out my wedding dress and just wear it for the heck of it. Granted, I bought it for $20 on Amazon (second wedding and all that) but still. Why make it precious and for special occasions only? Let’s live before we get to the business of dying, eh?

    • ‘Let’s live before we get to the business of dying’ — genius! So glad you ‘got’ my post. Actually, I’m glad that you read it! Thank you, dear Angela, for your wise words. xoxo

  4. Alice, I actually had to go out today and buy a few dishes because I gave away a set so my son and his wife would actually have dinnerware to put on the table. I have purged so much I have had to replace stuff. Sure enjoyed this piece and your perspective on death cleaning.

    • Hi Friend Judy! Apologies for the late reply. The Dude and I have been stalking the birds in the wifi-less wilds of Panama. Yes, purging can be cleansing for the soul. I’ve actually been clearing my bookshelves — donating duplicate copies of, oh, Ullyses, which have been sitting there accusingly for years. Oh, and happy New Year!

  5. Ruth Meisenheimer

    Loved this one, Alice. We Germans are just like the Swedes, it seems. And being Lutheran doubles the guilt trip! I have been tossing right and left … I had a lot of stuff that made me look rediculous. So now, I have my boots, tights, and long baggy sweater on! ??. Don’t tell anyone how old I am!

    • No WAY would I tell anyone how old you are, Ruth! That’s the Swedish in ME. Incidentally, when people were rude enough to say to my mom ‘how old are you?’ she would say ‘why do you ask?’

    • Ruth – There’s no Swedish in me either, but lots of German. Before I got to your comment, I was afraid there really was no commonality between the two! Also, I am not Lutheran, but my Jewish guilt tells me to saddle my kids with the “joy” of cleaning out all my stuff after I’m gone. After performing this task for my Mom, who is still very much alive and fought tooth and nail to keep way too much of her stuff in the process, I guess I’m left with trying to figure out what to leave for them, if or when, ya know…

      • Ah, Jewish Guilt! Living in New York, and having pals of many friendly persuasions, including Jewish, I can dig what you’re saying. Also can relate to parents trying to hold on to their stuff. In my case, it was my late lamented Dad. We actually caught him dumpster-diving a couple of times when we Kids were helping clean out their house for their Big Move West. Can’t really blame him; he had a pretty neat past, and he wanted to hold on to it.

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