Dostadning: a hybrid of the words death and cleaning. It’s been a part of Swedish culture for generations.
“Swedish death cleaning” isn’t as morbid as it sounds. In fact, it’s actually quite a loving act. Swedish death cleaning or “dostadning” has been described as psychological minimalism. It is making a conscious and deliberate choice to properly and thoroughly downsize. I have very recently seen what happens when the decision is “no decision” and it’s heartbreaking.
I can’t imagine leaving all this “treasure” of mine to someone else to dispose of. As I approach 60, I have to be mindful that with no kids to help me sort this out later, I would be best served to start now while I am still of strong mind and spirit.
In the summer of 2015 we did a deep dive into our “stuff”. As it turned out it would be the first of many attempts and, although a painfully slow process, we actually DID part with a lot of unnecessary things. We used the (then very popular) “kon-mari” method and while it isn’t flawless, it’s helpful.
“If it doesn’t bring joy, let it go”.
It isn’t meant to be a “how-to” so much as a guide. What brings YOU joy will be very different than what brings ME joy. And what really IS joy when it comes to “stuff” ?
“It is not our memories, but the person we have become because of those experiences, that we should treasure. The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.”
― Marie Kondo
Amen to that.
Swedish death cleaning feels like relaxing into a simpler life. Rather than hanging on to what brings us some measure of joy, we embrace the idea of sparing those we love the burden of our “stuff” after we’ve passed. It’s a “tell the truth” moment. It goes beyond the question of whether it brings joy . It is another thing altogether. It is more: what would happen to it if I died tomorrow ? Will it make anyone happier because I’ve saved it ?
When we replaced all of our floors this past summer it was easy to let go of a lot of the bigger things: Twin beds in a kids room that no longer held kids, wonky chairs and a kitchen set (table and chairs) that neither of us had really liked from the beginning (2003; bought along with the house). It never brought joy, in and of itself, but we had some very special joyful meals with the kids around that table so it always “made the cut”.
For the most part, we replaced a few things and only brought back IN what we knew we wanted to keep. The rest has been staged in boxes in the garage. (Some of which I haven’t unburdened from the original cardboard in 40 years) It’s those boxes that seem to be in front of me these days.
Both cars fit into the garage so it’s not “out of control” but it is an ongoing thing. It is still what’s in front of me. It’s a process. Sort of like “journey vs destination” and we’re choosing the journey.
I recently shared this on Facebook:
“Here is why going through boxes takes me so long: This stub of a candle was one I held at a vigil the night John Lennon died. It was at Seattle Center by the fountain. There were just a handful of us and more who came later. We just held our candles and sang his songs in the glow. It was amazing. And I can’t get rid of the candle. My whole life is made of moments like that. Without the candle, the memory of that night might slip away completely and that would be a damn shame. A real damn shame”
I’d have never remembered that night without the candle. It had already begun slipping away like so many other things.
Here are a few other “impossible for me to part with” things:
My “running away” note is a classic. I just knew no one would be sad to see me go. Planting seeds for therapy even back then. My sister put it into a small frame several years ago and it’s one of my favorite things. There is still a little of that Bonnie Rae in me today. Is it because I won’t toss the note ?
How about the small juice glass that my grandmother would have her “medicine” in every night. Just a shot or so, never more. I didn’t understand back then why she might have needed it. I do now. I used to get apple juice in a small identical glass and sit on the couch and drink it with her. She had a way of making me feel special in those moments.
These are sweet memories and yet they bump up against the other truth that is in front of me : attachments.
I recognize that my attachment to “things” often translates into attachment to old feelings that come with them. That’s never a really good scenario. Think: baggage. It gives my mind another place to wander to. It is no better than wandering into the future. We miss so much by not appreciating what lies right under our feet.
Just because you are
seeing divine light,
experiencing waves of bliss,
or conversing with Gods
is no reason to not
know your zip code.
Be Here Now
Your life is right in front of you. With that in mind, I am more easily tossing things into the recycle. Some I let go because they don’t bring joy, some because they no longer serve any purpose and some because they hold memories that keep me connected to someone I was and not someone I am now.
“We love the things we love
for what they are” -Robert Frost
As a side note, I read Margareta Magnusson’s The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning this past week. It is sweet and anecdotal, but not really the guide I had hoped it would be. I found some suggestions helpful and I think I got the gist of it. My advice: You’d be better served to read lots of personal accounts until you land on one that resonates with you. Maybe I should write the book I had hoped to read …
There are no simple tasks when leaving people, places or things behind. Nothing about our lives is unremarkable. Some of the best advice I’ve ever heard has been this:
Most of us say about ourselves: “I have a hard time letting go.” Exhalation is the most complete expression of letting go, and we do it without thinking thirty thousand times a day. You know how to let go, and only you can do it. – Karen Maezen Miller
We intuitively know how to do this. We just need to get out of our own way.
( I remember a friend writing about this topic a couple years ago and so I revisited that post and wanted to share it here. It may be even more relevant for those who have had that task left to them by others. You can read Gretchen’s post here )