October 10, 2017

"The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning."

I'm reading about that book here...
In Sweden, people start the process as early as their ‘50s, slowly but steadily decluttering as the years roll by...

“My motto is, if you don’t love it, lose it. If you don’t use it, lose it,” [Margareta] Magnusson tells me. (She loves a motto, the book is full of them. My favourite, when discussing how to deal with your secret vices, is this gem: “Save your favourite dildo, but throw away the other 15!”)

Death cleaning isn’t the story of death and its slow, ungainly inevitability. But rather the story of life, your life, the good memories and the bad. “The good ones you keep,” Magnusson says. “The bad you expunge.”
And here...
This reminds me of some appearance Alan Alda made in which he was talking about how his wife would say to him, "We're getting old. We should clean out the closets," and he said, "I don't get this. I say, we're going to be dead, and there are going to be people cleaning out the house after we go. What do we care? Screw them! Let them clean out the closets."
And I'm preordering it on Amazon...
In Swedish there is a word for it: Döstädning, “dö” means “death” and “städning” means “cleaning.” The idea behind death cleaning is to remove unnecessary things and get your home in order as you become older. But this word also can be applied whenever you do a thorough cleaning, to make your life easier and more pleasant. It does not necessarily have to do with age or death....
It's important for people to do this so that someone else doesn't have to. Quite aside from the burden on whoever it would be who would do this for Dead You, it's an invasion of your privacy, and even if you think Dead You cannot experience an invasion of privacy, you are experiencing it right now by thinking about it.

I like that it's presented as Swedish. I've been through the Marie Kondo books, which present de-cluttering as Japanese. I see immense procrastination potential. To read the book is not to do the thing, and there are so many countries in the world. From what sparks joy (Japanese) to you're going to die (Swedish) and onward.

65 comments:

rehajm said...

Now that Marie Kondo has a child she's a hoarder.

rehajm said...

My wife has piles and piles of decluttering books. They do not spark joy.

MadisonMan said...

it's an invasion of your privacy

Speaking as someone who cleaned out his dead brother's apartment: yes yes yes. There are things you cannot un-see.

We hired someone to clear out my parents' home -- but Dad was still alive. Still, they left a wicked lot of stuff to sort through, because not all can be sold, which had to be done when the house was sold. When Dad died, there was very little left to clear away from his apartment. His parents spoke Swedish at home, by the way.

traditionalguy said...

I call that downsizing. Smaller house with a living area all on one level, containing smaller pieces of furniture and fewer closets. The recycling effect hits Good Will and raises the style level of poor people all over town. The surprise to me has been my children have no interest in the old stuff. They want to do it all their way.

Kate said...

When my mother passed, Death Cleaning for her became my life. I was on board with this book before it was even written.

And Alan Alda, in case I had any doubts, is a real d*ck.

MadisonMan said...

The easiest way to downsize, btw, is to move across an Ocean. Just don't put your whole house into a storage locker -- unless it's full of great stuff that then shows up on that TV show where people bid on storage lockers whose owners have stopped paying for them.

My wife and I have a mountain of junk to purge from the basement. So I'll read a couple books on how to do just that.

Oso Negro said...

I think some sort of cosmic cultural waves got crossed up - "what sparks joy" should have been the Swedish lady's 15 dildoes. I note that Althouse demurely slipped past those.

Schorsch said...

This book seems precisely the kind of clutter no one needs. What more do you need to know than the summary? If my parents are reading this, don't waste one moment discarding things on my account. Live your lives, and spend time with family.

Expat(ish) said...

My mom was in the hospital for some minor heart surgery (!!) (she's fine, thanks for asking) and I needed to find the title for her car so I could get her some new keys.

Holy crapola, total time sink, even though she had four folders labeled "car receipts" going back at least a decade.

She apologized and said she would "try to get to it." Which in my family is like saying "bless your heart" - it doesn't mean what you think it means.

I told her that after she "passed" I was just going to throw everything away that wasn't furniture or jewelry and then apply for duplicates of anything that needed a title to be sold.

She thought that sounded fine.

-XC

Roy Jacobsen said...

My wife and I have had to clean out the house one of her uncles lived in after his death, and now we're going to have to do it for one of her aunts. Emptying out a house someone has lived in their whole life makes you wish that they had been Swedish instead of German.

Etienne said...

The problem I've found, in declutter is finding someone to buy your old crap. I've decided to not worry about recovering on the investment.

At 63, I have resorted to just throwing it in a dumpster on the nearby military base. I have found a secret dumpster that I can load and not be seen.

If the squadron see's you using their dumpster they will get pissed, so you need to dump and go fast. But the secret dumpster I found has no one watching.

I sometimes find people dumpster diving in it, so I know a lot of the stuff never makes it to the dump. If I can, I will leave the box outside the dumpster, as a treat for the divers.

Last week I threw away about 10 VHF Amateur Radios. No one cares about analog radio anymore. The space in my garage is now sweepable clean!

Lloyd W. Robertson said...

I've had so many conversations about the need to de-clutter before death--even well before, if one intends to downsize or (as MadisonMan says) move across an ocean. I used to run with people who admitted they were keeping stuff "for the kids." I would try to cross-examine: do any of your kids actually want any or much of your stuff? I'm guessing there are a few items--at most, the kind of items that would fit in one load of a car. What about everything else?
I still tend to sympathize with the younger generation that gets stuck with emptying a house. But I certainly sympathize with the procrastinators as well.

jwl said...

MadisonMan

I was going to comment exactly what you said about moving across ocean to de-clutter - my partner and I moved back to Canada after a decade of living in England and we all we were allowed was six large cardboard boxes. That was about a decade ago and we have added very little to our home since. Having few possessions is good for our psyche, I don't really understand why.

Gordon said...

There is something Swedish about the concept. I have found this in the religious philosophies of the Swedes I have met. One should have charity toward others and help those in need, but at the same time there is a deep, abiding obligation to live your life in such a way as to not be a burden on others.

The idea that you should always have on clean underwear is just a variation on the theme. It's not so you won't be embarrassed. It's so the ER nurse don't have to be embarrassed for you.

Ann Althouse said...

Start trying to give the stuff away while you’re alive or offering to put particular things on a list for distribution after death. Then you can find out if the gifts are wanted and keep them only if you want them. Lots of stuff can be given to Goodwill or if it’s not good enough for Goodwill, you should starkly confront the badness of keeping it in your your house.

I know I have clothes that I keep because I like the feeling of well worn clothes but I know they’d go into the trash and not to Goodwill because they are too worn. Nothing wrong with keeping that.

BDNYC said...

Swedish Craigslist must be lit af.

Expat(ish) said...

@Ann - take your (clean!) old clothes to Good Will - they get paid by the pound and it gets shipped to the third world in empty containers for the local markets.

Then it get re-worn or recycled into new clothing.

-XC

Abdul Abulbul Amir said...

Fifteen!!!

Will Cate said...

You mean... downsizing?

LOL... the Swedes would call it "Death Cleaning," wouldn't they? Too perfect....

Scott said...

This is the first time I have ordered anything through an Amazon link on Althouse.

Caligula said...

"It's important for people to do this so that someone else doesn't have to."

One more thing to feel guilty about? The point of de-cluttering is to live better here-and-now. Stuff takes up space, physical space and mindspace, so if you're not using it by all means get rid of it.

But if you must have clutter that you don't want others to ever see, how about beaucoup virtual clutter on an encrypted hard drive? Yes, someone might be able to crack the encryption someday, but it's unlikely they'll ever make the effort.

Freeman Hunt said...

Isn't this what people do before they move into one of those assisted living apartments?

Freeman Hunt said...

One of our neighbors died, and it turned out that he was a hoarder but not of trash. Lots of brand new things still in boxes. An auction company was hired to clear out his stuff. Between his house and one storage unit, there were three big auctions. I assume the auctions went well because they held at least two of them on his property, and the neighborhood was full of cars. These were all day affairs, so free food was offered. He was a nice guy; I hope people are enjoying his things.

I write all that to say, don't worry about it too much. Your heirs can always hire people to deal with it, and the fees are paid out of whatever is made in getting rid of everything.

The Cracker Emcee Activist said...

Hopefully I'm not close to death but this was something I started thinking about in my early forties. The idea I settled on is not more things, but fewer, better, things. Within reason, of course. And yeah, before I buy anything that doesn't have an immediate purpose, I ask myself if my children would want it upon my demise. It's not the only criteria for a purchase but it certainly makes it a more thoughtful process. And I always have a Goodwill box going.

Freeman Hunt said...

Children are like volcanoes that spew clutter instead of lava and ash, nearly to the same effect.

Freeman Hunt said...

A lot of parents declutter by dumping all of their old stuff onto their adult children. I guess turnabout is fair play.

ken in tx said...

I feel exactly like Alan Alda does in this case. Since my wife retired, we have moved three times in the last five years. I lost my house, hot tub, hangar, plane, man cave, office, recliner, barber, liquor store, church, men's group, choir, and now we are doing it again at our lake house, to facilitate remodeling. I wish my wife had never retired. She gets bored if there is not some new havoc going on.

Freeman Hunt said...

ken in tx, this is completely off topic, but what are some history and geography books you'd especially recommend for students? (Because I'm collecting clutter for the students in my house to auction when I'm gone.)

tcrosse said...

Erma Bombeck said that the kids aren't really gone until all their stuff is out of your basement.

Sebastian said...

"even if you think Dead You cannot experience an invasion of privacy, you are experiencing it right now by thinking about it"

Only if you let your mind be cluttered by needless thoughts.

Really, Dead You cannot experience a damn thing. What you experience right now is just what you experience right now. Speaking for myself, postmortem privacy means nothing, but planned kindness to heirs and survivors matters in the here and now.

Of course, you can allow troubling thoughts to disturb you, if only to spark debate on the blog. But you can also clear out the mental clutter and keep only the thoughts that spark joy.

Freeman Hunt said...

"even if you think Dead You cannot experience an invasion of privacy, you are experiencing it right now by thinking about it"

This makes me think I have boring clutter. There's an opportunity there for a magazine article, "Spice Up the Clutter in Your Closet! 23 Ways to Turn Up the Heat in Your Disarray."

LilyBart said...

I think its a natural impulse for a lot of people as they get older to want to shed the things they've collected over the years that are just cluttering up their lives now. Feels good.

LilyBart said...

I love Phil's "screw 'em" comment. He always presented himself as a caring person, but he doesn't give a damn if he leaves a mess for someone else to clean up. Typical lefty!

LordSomber said...

The Man Show's "Rest Assured" post-death cleanup service would make sure all your p0rn was cleared out before your family would find it.

Big Mike said...

My sister died suddenly and unexpectedly in her sleep about a half a year ago. Her daughter and my other sister cobbled together an obituary, but it was maudlin and very incomplete. As soon as I returned from the funeral I grabbed my CV and wrote my obit, with instructions where to send it in case I go the same way. We moved a year and a half ago so there has been some decluttering. Also our son, who will be our executor, knows how to reach our lawyer, where the local Goodwill is, and where there is a store that buys and sells used furniture. Wife and I are careful to keep the house very marketable and relatively clean and uncluttered. It won't be easy for him, but it could be worse.

When you enter your seventies you have to think of these things.

rhhardin said...

If they want to inherit the house, they can do the work.

Birches said...

My grandma did that for 30 years and she was a Mexican.

Chris N said...

I wonder if there isn’t some casual link between this and their current immigration policy.

Henry said...

My wife and I are pretty ruthless with getting rid of stuff. The kids can be appalled -- especially about getting rid of books. We have a pretty simple rule: everyone has one bookcase. That's how many books we own.

Now my parents were pretty average. They accumulated stuff, but weren't packrats. My father is the type of man who never bought anything for himself he didn't need, but never threw anything away. In his view, broken tools can always eventually be fixed and construction debris is spare material you might use again some day. When it came time to sell their house I was able to take several loads of trash and scrap material to the dump, but there was tons left over. I tried to interest my nieces and nephews in owning an heirloom tool. What else do you do with a shoebox full of screwdrivers? In the end I should have trusted my dad. He cut a deal with the new owners that they would take the basement as is, get some good quality tools in the process (they especially needed gardening tools), and decide for themselves what to do with the baseboard radiator remnants, sash weights, bureau of screws, pipe clamps, axe handles, and leftover house paint.

Henry said...

Children are like volcanoes that spew clutter instead of lava and ash, nearly to the same effect.

HAHAHA! That is so true. And they keep getting bigger and growing out of stuff

Just keeping three kids in bicycles means at least one bike a year. Luckily, my daughter is fine with a boy's bike (her older brother needs a new one before spring). And at the tail end, just throw an old bike on the curb and someone always takes it. We did it for them.

Henry said...

Correction. My parents were in no ways average. But they ended their days as homeowners with an average amount of stuff.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Death Cleaning is a good term.

I recently finished purging my closet.

I've been retired from my business now for about 7 years. (Was a financial planner/investments/stocks etc). My closet was full of 'work' clothing. Dressy pant suits, skirt and jacket suits, dresses, jackets, high heels, fancy blouses etc. All work office stuff. Plus some items that were older and really!!! out of style. In addition since retirement, I have lost some significant weight and those 'work' outfits are two sizes, at least too large. (Turns out that being retired is a much more physcially active and less stressful lifestyle. Yay!!!!)

So....knowing that: 1) I am never going to wear stuff like this again and 2) I never want to fit into those clothes again......I made a big pile, boxed it up and gave it to Goodwill.

I bet they thought that someone had died given the quantity of clothes and shoes.

In a way, someone had died. My old work persona and my heavier persona. I don't miss either of them.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

This is the nice thing about being estranged from one's parents. I don't give a damn what happens to their stuff. My ass-kissing brother can have both the lovely house with the postcard view of Mt. Rainier and the work involved in emptying it out.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

The stuff we have now is primarily books, inherited furniture, my modest collection of quality kitchen stuff, and kid stuff, but even then we don't have a lot. The amount of crap some people shower their kids with....my oh my. Our kids are not spoiled for material stuff; kids in big families rarely are.

We'll get rid of the kid stuff as time goes by, and then all that will be left will be a few boxes of neatly labeled mementoes (already begun; the neat boxing and labelling that is), some of the books, the Le Creuset and Kitchenaid, and the furniture. Won't be like when my grandparents died and there were boxes of cancelled checks and paid utility bills dating back to the 50s.

Lyle said...

It's a matter of opinion. Alda's opinion is as valid as Althouse's or AlthouseMeade. There kids that demand their parents adopt this death cleaning philosophy for their own selfish reasons. To each their own.

mockturtle said...

A good argument for a small--or even tiny--house is that there is simply no room for a lot of stuff. I have found that the bigger the house, and the more storage space, the more accumulation. After living in a small RV for a few years, I found that my small winter house has far more cupboards than my possessions require. It's a struggle to accept that empty spaces are OK.

Many of the possessions that were stored and which I hauled to AZ in a Uhaul trailer last month were family items now stored under the bed. I pared my book collection from about 1,000 to a mere 100--all fitting into one modest bookcase. Books and paintings are my only real concession to materialism.

Be said...

After cleaning out my mom's place, had a heart-to-heart with my father about *never* putting me through what she did in terms of executing an estate. Apparently, my mother thought that the ceiling to floor collection of smoke-damaged Pillsbury Dough Boy memorabilia was going to pay off the defaulted mortgage / etc.

So far, Dad's been pretty good about things. Is it the Scandinavian origins? If so, I probably take more after that side of the family.

Lyle said...

My parents own lots of stuff. I don't think it is right to demand they do anything. I like the plan of uncluttering for myself, but I won't ask that of my parents. It is for the living to organize things after a death.

Ann Althouse said...

“I write all that to say, don't worry about it too much. Your heirs can always hire people to deal with it, and the fees are paid out of whatever is made in getting rid of everything.”

My mother said she would haunt us if we handled her things like that after she died. We did everything ourselves, either keeping things, throwing them out, or giving them to Goodwill. Basically, exactly what I intend to do with my own things when I declutter.

We wouldn’t bring strangers into the house to go through our possessions, especially not for any kind of estate sale with lots of people looking through stuff.

Lyle said...

Not a garage sale family?

Barbara said...

I'm doing this but I didn't know it is a "thing." It's giving me a whole new perspective on the acquisition of stuff in the first place and daily I'm asking: Have I thrown away anything at all in the last 32 years?

Richard said...

Obviously de-cluttering makes a lot of sense if you have piles of stuff that you are not going to ever use again. However, I don’t go along with the idea that you should be obligated to leave this life with as little things as possible so your children shouldn’t have to waste their time cleaning up after you are gone. I bet the kids won’t mind having to clean out their parent’s bank accounts, IRAs and retirement accounts.

Assrat said...

It's a melancholy thought, but one that needs to be addressed. I suppose that I can put my porn in a labeled trunk, so all they need to do is wheel in a forklift and haul it to a dumpster. It should fit.

William Chadwick said...

This reminds me of the concept of the "Porn Buddy"--a friend (usually male) whom another guy entrusts to go into his home in the event of a sudden, unforeseen death; gather up all the porn stashed in closets, etc.; and get the porn to a safe, undisclosed location before the wife or girlfriend finds it.

robinintn said...

I loved cleaning out my grandparents' house. The photos, WWII letters, furs, a bolt of silk from their Nixon era trip to china, the library, hanging out with my dad, my stepmom, my brother, our kids talking about how great they both were...it makes me happy to think of it now.

Swede said...

All of my shit is epic.

Why would I deny my children the thrill of going through my stuff after I take a dirt nap?

OMG! Look at this pic of dad and _____! Are these real Krugerrands? Check out this box of ears!

Oh, to be a fly on the wall.

MadisonMan said...

@DBQ, I didn't realize you had retired retired. Congrats! I'm jealous. I like my job, but . . .

Not a garage sale family?

They are a lot of work. In this neighborhood, people just send out an email "Does anyone want (insert some random expensive thing)? It's at the curb for the taking" Furniture, skis, Bike racks, Burleys, the list is endless.

RigelDog said...

It's odd to be at a stage of life where it's about the letting go, and not the nest-feathering. It's melancholy, freeing, humbling.

Freeman Hunt said...

We have a magical curb. You put things you don't want on it, and they disappear.

Arthur James said...

Sorry Ann I wrote a long remark, will post in two portions

Arthur James said...

Interesting. I think when we go through our things, we reflect and reminisce. Then to throw them out is a process of detaching. Preparing. In Catholicism there is a term for negative theology: Apophatic Theology. The premise is that an understanding of God is only accomplished through removal, rather than attainment. I am reminded of spending time with a Carthusian monk, a German fellow who entered the cloistered life when he was 29, in the 1950s. After high school, he went off to Montana, surviving as a trapper before experiencing a vision that called him to the religious life. He never told me what the vision was. As an electrician and skilled tradesman, I was enamored with the man for his German organization. His woodworking shop was brilliant and in precise order. His attention to detail was astounding. We would spend our time together with him teaching me how to make Rosaries. It was his latest excursion as the work was light and easy for the man in his late eighties. Everything he did was so precisely planned out, and yet not intentionally clever--just a way of being. Above everything was his healthy disposition. Why this article reminded me of him was due to the time he invited me to visit his room, his religious cell. The center of a Carhtusian cell is a wood burning stove, the means for heat and as one staying discovers a spiritual exercise in tending to a fire in one's most private of places. The smell of wood burning is omnipresent. Located in Vermont, a story in itself. The only Carhtusian order in the USA was gifted a Vermont mountain by an eccentric scientist, a chemical specialist involved in the advancement of the atomic bomb, and entrepreneur, an extremely wealthy man, Dr Davidson. On my first visit, arriving late, the monks had me stay in Dr Davidson's home. I walked into a time capsule. The home was the finest of homes for its time of closing in the 1960s. Nothing was disturbed. Steel kitchen cabinets, a huge fireplace, a painted portrait of husband and wife--a childless couple, and a balcony overlooking the Green mountains and lording over the local town. Anyway back to when the German brother invited me into his room. He wanted me to see the difference between the current wood burners being purchased and the originals. He still used the original wood burner. Keeping it clean and functional was his duty. Why attain a new wood burner when he started with one that worked fine? Anyway when we entered the area of his room, I sensed something was happening. I had to be careful and observe. First there is a small hallway, an entrance area before the room in which a monk stores his firewood. The organization and precise stacking of my German friends collection stunned me. I commented that there were so many planks, not split logs. He told me they came from a building, the original monastery that was tore down due to insurance complications--to eliminate the building meant no need to pay insurance.

Arthur James said...

It was not sentimental that he cut the planks up for burning rather utilitarian. Then he opened the door to his room and we entered. I nearly passed out from an overwhelming sense of something. He spoke to me about the small size of the wood burner and I listened, yet my peripheral vision was my focal point. I was taking in his room, stunned by the lack of things. The man was in his eighties and had nothing, and I mean nothing. His bed was neatly made. On his desk were a few books. In his private prayer area was a few books. Aside from that there was nothing. I could not believe someone could live in a space absolutely devoid of possessions. I could not discipline myself from wandering about the room observing. I told the brother to excuse me. I walked about taking in his room. He pronounced my name clearly and announced to me that he was ready to die. He told me he appreciated his life and everything he experienced, yet now he felt it was time to move on. There was another German monk, a machinist and fellow skilled tradesman, whose shop I also admired. I learned that he had passed away several years prior. I thought this brother misses his German brother and now his body pains him so he seeks the comfort of death with a peaceful mind. Anyway this became long. The article was interesting and reminded me of this experience.

ken in tx said...

In response to Freeman Hunt, I would stick with the basics like Churchill's "History of the English Speaking People." and H.G. Wells "Outline of History" Although it is not history or geography, Tomas Sowell's "Basic Economics" is a good book to have around. Older geography books are all out of date and newer ones are all politically correct and focus on the evils of colonialism, global warming, and western imperialism.

Bad Lieutenant said...

He told me they came from a building, the original monastery that was tore down due to insurance complications--to eliminate the building meant no need to pay insurance.


Vintage wood like that can fetch a great premium. My cousin just redid the kitchen in her country house with these gorgeous, I dunno, 8-12" wide boards, to match the living room. Had to go to Mass. for them. Musta cost a fortune.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

"I don't get this. I say, we're going to be dead, and there are going to be people cleaning out the house after we go. What do we care? Screw them! Let them clean out the closets."

What a very Boomer thing to say, said by a very iconic Boomer.