Saturday, June 30, 2018

Döstädning: Long Live the Swedish Death Cleanse!

If you were wise enough to know that this life would consist mostly of letting go of things you wanted, then why not get good at the letting go, rather than the trying to have?"
By Miranda July (b 1974)
From her novel The First Bad Man
~ Thanks to Natasha for the reference! ~

For years I have had this Steven Wright quotation on a magnet in my kitchen but never thought to learn more about the author until my son Ben and his friend Mark took an interest a few weeks ago and filled in the gaps:
American Comedian ~ Steven Wright (b 1955)
Wright's droll observation echoes perfectly
the message of this concise and illuminating book
that my friend Katy shared with me last month:

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning:
How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter
By Swedish artist ~ Margareta Magnusson (b. 1930s)

Döstädning: this Swedish term combines death (dö) and cleaning (städning), but not in a sad way. Magnusson explains that this kind of deep cleaning does not have to be a morbid activity but just a natural and timely life passage. For awhile you need a bunch of stuff -- then, after awhile, you don't need it anymore.

Nor is the discipline of döstädning reserved only for right before or right after death. In fact, it can -- and should -- occur in conjunction with any transition that lends itself to downsizing: spring cleanings, rummage sales, whenever you move, and so forth. Magnusson's thesis is that starting at about age sixty - five we should all begin the ultimate "Death Cleanse" for ourselves. The practical outlook of this eighty - something author is a refreshing reminder of just how smart some old people can be. No, they are not all crazy and self - centered! Magnusson urges us to face reality and assess our belongings on our own terms:
"Some people can't wrap their heads around death. And these people leave a mess after them. Did they think they were immortal? . . . Do not ever imagine that anyone will wish -- or be able -- to schedule time off to take care of what you didn't bother to take care of yourself. No matter how much they love you, don't leave this burden to them" (2, 7).
Everything you get rid of now will spare your kids having to throw it in a dumpster twenty years from now! Plus, if there's anything they should actually want, they can have it now, rather than waiting until you are dead and they are old and the stuff itself has lost its value. For example, our kids needed bookshelves now, so I was happy to consolidate and eliminate. The shelves have a new home, the public library has a stack of books for the annual sale, and I have less clutter. Win - win - win!

No sooner had I finished The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning than I passed on a copy to both my sisters because it offers such an accurate description of our recent trial by fire, alongside of our three brothers, of sorting through our parents' belongings. As my little sis concluded: donate now -- no dumpster later! We learned our lesson!

~ See Also ~

A Gentleman in Moscow
By American novelist Amor Towles (b 1964)

Thanks to Elizabeth Barrett for suggesting this novel
and to Robert Kurtz for sharing this passage
and to Katie Field for giving me a lovely copy
for my birthdy (24 May 2019):
"Tis a funny thing, reflected the Count as he stood ready to abandon his suite. From the earliest age, we must learn to say good-bye to friends and family. We see our parents and siblings off at the station; we visit cousins, attend schools, join the regiment; we marry, or travel abroad. It is part of the human experience that we are constantly gripping a good fellow by the shoulders and wishing him well, taking comfort from the notion that we will hear word of him soon enough.

But experience is less likely to teach us how to bid our dearest possessions adieu. And if it were to? We wouldn’t welcome the education. For eventually, we come to hold our dearest possessions more closely than we hold our friends. We carry them from place to place, often at considerable expense and inconvenience; we dust and polish their surfaces and reprimand children for playing too roughly in their vicinity—all the while, allowing memories to invest them with greater and greater importance. This armoire, we are prone to recall, is the very one in which we hid as a boy; and it was these silver candelabra that lined our table on Christmas Eve; and it was with this handkerchief that she once dried her tears, et cetera, et cetera. Until we imagine that these carefully preserved possessions might give us genuine solace in the face of a lost companion.

But, of course, a thing is just a thing

"Recipes for a Tidy and Tasty Death"
By Dwight Garner

Downsizing The Family Home:
What to Save, What to Let Go

By Marni Jameson