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

Is that stocking half full, or half empty?


‘The Philosophy of Gift-giving. It’s all how you look at it.’

One of the few times I saw my mother weep was one Christmas when she opened a gaily-wrapped package only to discover that my well-meaning father had given her an electric toothbrush. “It’s the latest thing,” he protested as he tried to comfort her. It didn’t help when he pointed out that it came with different heads, one for each member of our family.

Poor Dad. He was one of those well-meaning people who give gifts that they really want. He loved gadgets; ergo, Mom got gadgets. I think it was the next Christmas that he gave her the electric knife.

My Mom later told us about a Christmas when she was very little — a Christmas when she really really wanted roller skates. There was a largish, heavyish roller-skate-appropriate box under the tree that looked promising. But her Uncle Warren Who Liked To Tease (didn’t everyone have one of these?) kept telling her it was a hair ribbon. Poor Mom.

I’m not sure if this was the Christmas Of The Electric Knife. Or the Christmas Of The Electric Toothbrush

Continue reading

Many happy returns


‘Observing Boxing Day, the American Way’

Yes, yes, I know. ‘Many happy returns’ is something you say on someone’s birthday, not Christmas. But yesterday was ‘Boxing Day’ (and, incidentally, Monday, which is when I start pondering what the heck I’m going to write about on Tuesday).

I sort of knew that December 26 was a British Holiday that originally had to do with boxing up Christmas goodies for the servants. Who had to work (duh) on Christmas Day (see Holiday episodes of ‘Downton Abbey’ for colorful detail) so they did their celebrating the day after, with the help of said donated largesse from The Master.

But — voila! — when I looked up ‘Boxing Day’ on good ole Wikipedia, there was this secondary explanation:

In modern times, it has taken on the meaning of boxing up unwanted Christmas gifts and returning them to the shop.

Yesterday I also happened upon an article in the Wall Street Journal about stores gearing up for our kind of Boxing Day. Apparently, about 10% of all gifts bought in stores are returned, and 30% of gifts bought online are. But guess how most are returned? In stores. So the smarty-pants stores stock up on stuff that you might really like in exchange for That Thing Uncle Joe Got You. Continue reading

The gift that keeps on giving


‘It really is the thought that counts’

First, I must extend my heartfelt apologies to The Child for using that photo up top from a Christmas-morning-in-her-early-teens-when-she’d-dyed-her-hair-an-unfortunate-hue. But it’s the only picture I could find of her actually presenting us with Christmas Coupons. So I simply could not resist.

As for the Christmas Coupons themselves, here’s one I had the foresight to save. Too bad it has, alas, expired.

I don't have a photo of The Child presenting me with this, but she was not a teen, and had normal-tinted hair at the time. I'm thinking maybe 8 or 9

I don’t have a photo of The Child presenting me with this. But I’m betting she was 8 or 9 at the time, with untinted hair and pretty impressive cursive

The Child came up with the idea of Christmas Coupons when she was barely able to scrawl with a Number Two pencil on lined paper. Instead of going to the Ben Franklin store to buy her Mommy a teensy vial of Evening in Paris (like I did for my mom, and which she probably still has), The Child would inscribe small bits of paper with promissory notes, usually for personal services. (Her foot rubs were in great demand, by her Dad anyway; I’ve never been able to let anyone anywhere near my feet.)  Continue reading

It’s a wrap


‘Yet another Christmas has come — and gone.’

When you were a kid, did you have an Advent Calendar? If you did, you got it around the first of December, hung it somewhere handy, like on the fridge, then every day you opened this little numbered door to reveal a gift or an animal or an ornament. Whatever was behind that little door didn’t really matter. It was just fun to do, and added a sort of ‘countdown drama’ to your already-overexcited anticipation of Christmas. (BTW, I just googled ‘Advent Calendar’ and guess what? It was invented by Lutherans.)

[I remember that The Child had a particularly clever Advent Calendar (a gift, natch) made of felt with little toys and ornaments that stuck to it with velcro. It’s buried somewhere in a bag full of (now underutilized) ornaments, ready to be unearthed and pressed back into action at some future (extremely hypothetical at this point) grandchild-populated date.]

But even if you weren’t a Little Lutheran armed with an Advent Calendar, waiting for Christmas was a pretty exciting time. We Henrys got so jazzed that we called December 23rd ‘Christmas Eve Eve’ and sometimes even December 22nd was dubbed ‘Christmas Eve Eve Eve’. But that’s nothing compared to one of my Facebook friends who posted on June 25 that it was ‘just six months until Christmas’. Now that’s a person who’s really got her Christmas Countdown down. Continue reading