Have you heard of “Swedish Death Cleaning”? If you haven’t, I urge you to do a quick
search and read up on it, but basically it is the idea that you go through all
the stuff you’ve been holding on to for years so that when you do die, you
haven’t left a mess of stuff for your family to sift through. The process forces you to acknowledge well in
advance of your absence that your children aren’t going to want all of your
stuff and you have the responsibility (burden? chore?) to dispose of it
appropriately. This is NOT Marie Kondo’s
“does it spark joy?”…no, this is, “Will it spark joy for the people who have to
deal with it when I’m not here to deal with it myself?” It’s really a game changer and really can be tackled by anyone, at any stage of life.
Let me back up, though.
This journey started BEFORE we became empty nesters. Our neighbors moved from a home where they’d
lived for two decades, where they’d raised their family and, while I expected
there to be a lot of stuff, I was actually stunned by the sheer volume of stuff
that came out of their house and it just kept coming. I was simply stunned. Yes, they’d lived in their house a few years
longer than we had lived in our, but still.
Did I have that much stuff filling the unseen corners of my home? That was the moment I started looking at my
own house and the things that filled it through new eyes and started getting
rid of stuff. The question I posed as I
looked around a room? Would I move this
stuff? Seriously, do I like it enough to
pack it up and lug it to a new home? As
you might imagine, the number of times my honest answer was, “Um, no,” was high.
We all have so much “stuff” these days and it can easily
cross into too much stuff. Take your
kitchen, for example. How much stuff do
you have in your kitchen? How many
appliances do you have that you NEVER use? I have a milk shake maker…I am
lactose-intolerant and I don’t like milk shakes! (My husband loves milk shakes, however, and
won’t let me get rid of it, even though he has never used it…we inherited it
and WE HAVE NEVER USED IT!) Bundt pan,
anyone? And when, exactly, was the last
time you made a bundt cake?
Do you have a springform pan? When was
the last time you actually made a cheesecake?
Also, how many cookbooks do you have?
Do you ever actually open them and look for a new recipe to try? Do you see where I’m going with this? Why do we have all of this stuff? What exactly are we saving it all for?
Anyway, I digress.
The point is, watching (and helping) our neighbors move, I was motivated
to get rid of a bunch of stuff even before the kids moved out. But that was only the beginning…
We were one of those families that held on to a lot of stuff
“for when the kids moved out”. They each took what they wanted and left the
rest behind. Yep, you read that
correctly: a bunch of stuff “for the kids” was left behind when the kids moved
out BECAUSE THEY DIDN’T ACTUALLY WANT IT. When
they had the option to take it or leave it, they left it. Your children aren’t going to value the same
things you do because, wait for it, they aren’t you. They grew up in a different era than you did
and they have different taste and different priorities. Think about it. When was the last time you heard of anyone
wanting the family china? I know of
people who are desperate to get someone to take one of the MULTIPLE sets of the
china they’ve inherited because they can’t bear to sell it or give it away
because it meant so much to Aunt So and So and it was so nice of them to leave
it to them. Their kids don’t want it,
their siblings don’t want it. Life is
different now and china doesn’t hold the same significance for this generation
that it did for previous generations and all the hoarding in the world isn’t
going to change that. Combine this with
the fact that modern households already have so much stuff and you can see the
beauty of Swedish Death Cleaning. With
this process, you have to get real and you have to make hard decisions.
The questions are:
Why do I have this? Do I use or
do I just want it? Will/do my children want it? If I’m “saving it for them”,
why don’t I just give it to them now?
There are no wrong answers. It’s
the process that matters.
So, how did it work for me?
(When in doubt, I did double check with my kids before getting rid of
something I really thought they could use.) The easy stuff first: Firstly, any furniture that the kids didn’t
take with them when they moved out and that we didn’t love or have a use for was
donated. This included art that was not
currently on the walls and various other decorative items I seem to always have
waiting in the wings.
Then, we got rid of “family with kids stuff” that didn’t get
taken…board games we weren’t fond of, extra bikes, camping equipment, sports
equipment, etc. My husband even gave
away his RC car to a kid who was thrilled to have it. (During this part of the process, one of my
kids did actually want the camping equipment we were getting rid of, so score
one for Mom.) Still, all of this was
pretty easy to deal with because we weren’t talking a lot of emotional
attachment to the stuff we were going through.
Not really attached to “Disney Monopoly”, you know? This part of the cleaning was much more a
process of considering, “does this serve a function in our current phase of
life?” The same went for a lot of files I had kept
over the years. Stuff like paperwork for
the purchase of our first house and tax returns for 30 years…why leave those
for anyone to deal with? Also, I didn’t
really need my kids pre- and post-orthodontic photos any more. Nor did I need their curriculum paperwork (as
a homeschooler, I did need this stuff until they transitioned to college and
the “official” records would suffice). I
scanned the stuff I wanted to keep and shredded everything. (My file drawers have so much room!)
Next, I tackled my sewing room and this is where it got
harder, partly because I still actively sew and partly because, “hey, I might
use it!”. Still, I got rid of patterns I
was never going to sew, because I’ve learned more about sewing what I wear
since I bought them. I got rid of sewing
books that had disappointed or just weren’t helpful to me. I even got rid of some fabric that I just
didn’t like and knew I wasn’t going to use for anything. I feel I made some progress here, but I think
as long as I am sewing, this room will be a work in progress.
Then came the emotional, tug at your heart strings
stuff. The photos and other keepsakes,
like stuff animals, yearbooks and various kids’ keepsakes. Additionally, I had somehow become the
repository of a bunch of stuff from various family members and I didn’t want
punt it down the road for my kids to deal with, so I dug in. First things first, I taped up empty boxes
for each of the kids and filled them with sentimental items I had saved over
the years. Mickey Mouse ears,
check. Cute baby t-shirt, check. Art that was sent home from school, check. Each kid got boxes of varying size, depending
upon whether I’d off-loaded any of their stuff to them earlier. (Charming’s box was pretty small, because as
my oldest, I’ve been handing his stuff off to him for years!) All in all, this was pretty straight forward
because I’d been pretty organized throughout the years. It was time for me to well and truly say
goodbye to this stage of life and by handing these items off to the kids, I was
doing just that. So, I packed it all up
and shipped it off to the rightful owners.
My children can decide for themselves if some art something or other is
still special to them or it isn’t and if it isn’t, then they can get rid of it.
Additionally, I have a cousin who does genealogy and I sent
stuff to her. (She was thrilled.) I have a half-brother who should have all of
the stuff associated with his father’s family that had somehow ended up in my
house. (Bet he’s not so thrilled, but I’m sure his wife is, so there is that.) This
stuff was sent to the people who should be the keepers of their heritage,
rather than having it tucked away in boxes in my closet. It felt so good to send it on its way,
knowing it was going where it belonged.
Then came the photos.
So many photos. So many
pre-digital camera photos. Boxes of
photos and boxes of negatives. Here is a
painful truth for you: You know how
you’re absolutely in love with your child and you just take photo after photo
after photo of the child being absolutely adorable while its sleeping or
sitting or eating? Yeah? Well, actually, no one is going to want to
sift through 600 photos of the same child at the same age doing the same thing
(which we know is just sitting there being adorable) in slightly different
positions. Man, I was in love with my
kids and when I went through the photos, I was immediately transported back to
that time and my heart swelled with the love I have for those children. But guess what? Some of them were still crappy photos and we
didn’t need 600 of them. Sooo, I set
about the task of curating the photos. I
was brutal. I didn’t give a photo a
second chance. If it went in the toss
pile, it stayed in the toss pile. I was
hard-hearted and I THREW AWAY PHOTOS OF MY PRECIOUS CHILDREN. There, I said it. I threw them away! But the ones I kept were the good photos, the
ones my children will be able to show their children someday, the ones that
will make THEM smile in remembrance. I
am also doing the hard work of scanning the photos I’ve retained into the
computer and labeling them with names and dates so the details won’t be lost. I’m doing the same with the photos I’ve
inherited, while I still remember who the people in them are. When I’m all done scanning everything into
the computer, I will send each child a drive with the complete collection. Photos of them, their siblings, their
ancestors, their previous homes, their fun vacations, the works. They’ll each have them all and again, they
won’t have to try to sort through this stuff on their own.
I still have work to do.
I have tackled the kitchen a few
times already…I still have that darned milk shake maker. I have some children’s books I need to pass
along to my youngest. I still have
holiday decorations to go through (seriously…I’m not creating a winter
wonderland for my kids at Christmas any longer, so I don’t actually want this
many decorations.) My goal is to make it
so that there are no closets full of stuff I haven’t looked at in years, no
surprises in trunks or bins, no cupboards I’m afraid to open. I really want to know exactly what we have
and why we have it.
The way I see it, this is not really about preparing for
dying, it’s about living deliberately.
There you have it: my take on “Swedish
Death Cleaning” or as I think of it, “Your Kids Really Don’t Want It”.