Monday, August 5, 2019

'The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning'

 With apologies to Margareta Magnusson, I have not read the book. 

Perhaps some of you have. I like the premise – decluttering your house so when you die, your loved ones’ job of sorting through your belongings is not more monumentally stressful than it needs to be.

I’d like to think I’m managing to do this without formal instruction. Not that I plan to expire any time soon, I just hate living with clutter. I find it physically and mentally draining to be surrounded by stuff that serves no useful purpose. I am a thrower-outer. The Farmer jokes if he hasn't used something in the last 15 minutes, I'll probably throw it out. He may have a point.

Over the last few years, I’ve done a couple of major house purges that have seen loads of stuff hauled to charity, garage sales, re-sale shops and the burn pile. I’m getting better at both eliminating old stuff and acquiring less new stuff in the first place.

The Farmer and I have been married for nearly 30 years and we’ve lived in the same home from day one. Stuff accumulates at a staggering rate. Every item in every drawer, cupboard and closet must have seemed like a good idea at the time one of us put it there.

It's useful. 

It’s valuable. 

We might need it some day. 

One problem with de-cluttering a house is that it’s really hard to give your stuff to anyone else because they're all trying to give away THEIR stuff. I think as a nation, more and more people are realizing we have too much stuff. The Marie Kondo trend of pitching anything that doesn’t bring you joy is popular right now. 

Relatives keep offering me things like furniture and other household furnishings. While I’m flattered they think we look like newlyweds with barely a toaster to our names, I don’t need more stuff. 

“You don’t want Great Aunt Sadie’s wedding china?” they say in hurt tones, as if my refusal has wounded them grievously.

Um. No. I don’t even use OUR wedding china. I don’t need six more boxes of it. Sorry, Aunt Sadie, please don’t come back to haunt me. Some people find comfort in having things just for the sake of having them, whether they use them or not. That's fine for them but it doesn't work for me.

One of the problems is we don’t have kids. (Actually that isn’t a problem, as far as I’m concerned but that’s another post entirely.) While many couples look forward to gifting their children the family heirlooms, when the Farmer and I take off for the big harvest in the sky, the task of dealing with our worldly possessions is going to fall to nieces and nephews.

The idea of someone sorting through all our stuff is enough to prod me into de-cluttering with enthusiasm. Sometimes I sort through a drawer and wonder, “Why the f*ck am I keeping this?” I’m sure the next generation to encounter it will see it as confirmation their aunt was batshit crazy. 

I’m off work this week, which is usually more work than going to work. But it fills me with a wickedly delicious sense of knowing someone else has to do my job so all the pre-vacation scrambling and post-vacation chaos is worth every minute.

One of the things I’m doing is a house purge. I’ve done them before and each one is has become successively easier. With less stuff in the cupboards and closets, it takes less time to sort through it. I’m getting rid of less and less each time, too, because what remains are the things I truly use and/or value. Since I’m the odd sort of person who likes having space more than she likes filling that space up with things, having storage that isn’t crammed to the gills is becoming a pleasant habit.

The first house purge happened about 20 years into our marriage. My father had died and the Farmer’s father had died and both of our mothers’ automatic response was, “Here – we want you to have his clothes.”

(I guess they both forgot we only have one closet on the first floor of our turn-of-the-century house. People back then didn’t have to worry about doing house purges because they didn’t even have enough stuff to need closets in the first place.)

Aside from a few pieces of outerwear, none of it really fit anyway but I understood where our mothers were coming from emotionally, so we took the clothes and shut up. And I started cleaning.

I sorted and pitched and tossed and downsized. I adopted the mindset of “If we were moving, would this item be worth packing up and hauling to a new house, then finding somewhere to put it?”

The answer was a frequent and resounding NO. 

I’m not a minimalist. I like my kitchen gadgets as much as the next girl. I like clothes and boots and books and houseplants and pictures and all the creature comforts. I'm sentimental. I have all my dogs' ribbons. I have my 4-H record book from 1984. I have my maternal grandmother's Depression glass and a vintage quilt hand-pieced by my paternal grandmother.

I also like to see the top of the dining room table at other times besides Christmas and I like my kitchen countertops to be a clear work area. Counter tops, like closets, are a rare commodity in this old house. I think this is a blessing in its own odd way because I’m not tempted to keep lots of useless stuff just because there’s room for it. There isn't. And if it's constantly falling on my head when I open a cupboard, I'm going to throw it out from pure annoyance.

I’d like to think if and when the Farmer and I ever move to a different house, every single item we carry through the door will be useful and necessary. It probably won’t be but it’s a worthy goal.

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