Swedish Death Cleaning
In a recent New York Times article, I ran across the phrase "Swedish death cleaning" which is a concept in Sweden: that after a certain age you should gradually own fewer things so that you are not burdened in old age and also so that when you die, your family is not burdened with mountains of stuff to go through. My 87 year old mom still lives in the home she and my dad downsized to about 10 years ago. When they downsized from a 2700 square foot house to an 1800 square foot house, my dad's rule of thumb was to look at 3 things and get rid of 1. It worked out well. Mom is alone now, and has been trying to go through stuff and get rid of things she no longer needs, but it is tiring work if you wait until that age. So the Swedish idea of starting earlier makes sense.
I've started trying to think in the spirit of Swedish death cleaning. I try not to buy physical books unless they are classic books that I will read many times or reference books or textbooks I need for teaching. Everyday good reads are purchased as e-Books. For every one new thing I bring into my house, I want to get rid of two things I don't use. For every dress I buy, two have to leave my closet. For every new kitchen gadget, two things have to go, and so on. But better yet is to not buy so many things. This is fairly easy for me because I hate to shop. By middle-age most of us have accumulated at least twice what we actually need, even if you don't shop that often. And I'm using the word "need" in a first-world sense. To think about what I actually need outside of the first-world bubble is sobering.
In this spirit, I downloaded a delightful little e-book: "The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning" by Margareta Magnusson, subtitled: "How to free yourself and your family from a lifetime of clutter." Although I think that people tend to be either organized or not by nature and a book won't change that, I enjoyed this book as a reminder of things I already know:
-- Having well-organized living and working spaces brings a sense of peace
-- If you are organized you can work more efficiently and not spend time looking for things
-- You can train yourself to enjoy looking at things in stores without feeling the need to bring them home
-- We are killing the planet by our consumerism: the idea that we have to have the latest things and styles
I already believe these things and try to live up to them but it was good to get a refresher. In addition, it was delightful to spend time with the author, who states her age as somewhere between 80 and 100. And to get a glimpse into another culture from someone who has lived through quite a bit of history. She tells a story of "death-cleaning" when her father died. He was a physician and they found a large block of arsenic he had kept since the war in case "the Germans would invade our country." Wow, not sure what the plan was but I try to imagine having to live through times like that. On a lighter note, she introduces some delightful Swedish words like "snickarbod" or a tool shed which she warns can turn into a man cave, or "mansdagis" -- a male kindergarten. Another great word is "fulskap" which is "a cabinet for the ugly." Some people use this as a place to store gifts too ugly to regift. Her advice is to just get rid of things you don't want and don't feel guilty about it.
The bottom line is you have to either control your stuff or let your stuff control you. It is a freeing feeling to get rid of stuff you don't need and only keep what is beautiful and purposeful.