This is a time of year to relax with family and friends, catch up on sleep and “Stranger Things” and, we suggest, contemplate your death.
Not in a macabre way, of course.
We’re hoping that Americans warm to the idea of importing a Swedish tradition known as “dostadning” – or “death cleaning.” Which means that before you die, you toss your junk, declutter the house, and leave pristine surfaces and only the most prized possessions for your heirs. As death and taxes are inevitable, so is the imperative for someone to deal with whatever you leave behind.
Margareta Magnusson, the Swedish author of a new book, “The Gentle Art of Death Cleaning,” is blunt: If you can’t pawn off your stuff on family members when you’re alive, why would they want it when you’re dead?
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We love the idea of “death cleaning” – and so, eventually, will your kids. The author tells The New York Times that 65 is a good time to start the process, but hey, feel free to start anytime the urge strikes. Because, well, you never know.
Our first – and only – rule of “death cleaning”: Be ruthless.
Instead of pack-ratting stuff in the garage, basement, crawl space, attic and every available corner of every available room, steel yourself and toss. And toss and toss and toss. Give to charity. Donate to friends. Put it on the curb and wave goodbye and pray that someone takes it before you change your mind.
If you can’t bear to dump something, ask yourself: Have I used this in the past 10 to 20 years? Did I even recall it was in the storage room, the closet? If the answer to either of these questions is no, then chuck it. You can live without it. No one else wants it. Repeat that mantra.
We know there are sentimental types who think that every letter, every birthday card, every note, everything that they touched in their lives is somehow to be stored and treasured. Magnusson’s solution: Create a box or two of stuff that means something only to you – old love letters, birthday cards, etc. Label it: “To Be Discarded On My Death.”
Death cleaning needn’t be morbid or disturbing. Culling through your old photos, high school yearbooks and letters from friends can be delightful. Enjoy it but don’t get bogged down. Then be merciless about what is essential. If your must-keep pile requires renting a separate storage locker, you’re keeping too much.
Yes, Americans are addicted to their possessions. Hoarding is an addiction. That’s why there are videos, books and gurus waiting to advise on what author Marie Kondo’s book calls “the life-changing magic of tidying up.” Her pitch: If a thing doesn’t “spark joy,” trash it.
That’s excellent advice. We speak from experience. When the dumpsters fill, you'll be surprised how much lighter you feel. When surfaces clear, serenity settles in. Nothing to interrupt the eye or weigh down future generations. And you don’t have to be dead to enjoy it.