This gentle Swedish practice can help you de-clutter your life in the Driftless and make space for what matters most.
We're Midwesterners. We can do hard things. And we can do them together. Cue Amy Poehler and the increasingly popular and prolific topic of Swedish Death Cleaning. The radically thoughtful and completely kind home organization method rises from the Swedish concept döstädning, which combines the words death (dö) and cleaning (städning). While the idea is Swedish, it also has the added benefit of helping you get wonderfully koselig (pronounced koosh-lee), just in time for another crisp Driftless fall.
Sure. But. What is it?
While the hype is fabulous and magnetic, it really all boils down to this - Swedish Death Cleaning is just the process of removing unneeded extras thereby converting your home into an organized, calming place for you, and a lovingly appointed oasis of what's most important for your family once you've passed on. It's about object appreciation, honoring memory, deeply valuing your time and the time of those you love.
When we have less chaos, less clutter, less stuff, it eases the burden of labor (mental, physical, emotional) on the ones left behind to grieve and miss us. The process takes time. It requires reverence. It needs the kind of kindness that brings clarity. After all. It's an examination of the artifacts that make up a life. Above all, it requires us to be deeply kind to ourselves. If we're to enlist help in the endeavor, that help should be curious, careful, and very, very thoughtful. It isn't always easy to let go and move forward, but the freedom it brings is it's own art.
"Death Cleaning" sounds heavy. And it is. It's also not always about end-of-life. It's a process whereby we can care for ourselves and others in times of all manner of transitions, including a move, a downsize, or the end of a relationship. For me, my first foray into this process was wildly painful and took place as my husband was losing a battle to cancer. The pandemic was just beginning to end (beyond my family, what would our collective future look like?), and I had our baby boy on my hip while weighing each painful decision. But it was also a catharsis. A series of revelations. A permission slip to move into a new normal as I navigated the trauma and grief of it all. This post has wonderful tips in it and here's what else I'm saying, Driftless: If I can help at any way in your process, please don't hesitate. Let's get into it.
1. It's About Knowing When to Begin
Some experts say that 65 is an ideal age to start death cleaning, but earlier can be brilliant, and later can be right on time. Naturally, it's ideal if one is physically able to tackle the work but also have time to invest in it. However, enlisting the help of a professional can be instrumental while you save your physical energy and also help in the form of having a neutral third-party present to bring in some fresh emotional ease. Regardless of life stage, certain signs might be your indicators. When you're running out of space or don't feel like entertaining because your place is overwhelmed/overwhelming, it might be time to get going and liberate yourself from the clutter that's holding back the quality of your life.
2. Starting Simple Makes All The Difference
Hey, you! Take it easy on yourself! Starting with the small and impersonal, like recreational equipment or meaningless furniture items, (rather than the nostalgic), can get the ball rolling and help build momentum to absolutely obfuscate overwhelm. Focus on how the items you're donating or giving away can breathe new life into someone else's moment and free up yours for what you really want to be doing.
3. Determining The Discard Frees Up Your Dance Cart
When letting go is weighing you down, re-frame your thinking.
Let Abundance Be A Guide: Be honest with yourself about what's overflow or excess and ditch it. Don't overthink it, just write yourself the permission slip. Do you have 40 champagne flutes and no champagne? Fifty napkin rings when you never host a dinner for more than 12? Celebrate getting rid of the surplus.
If It's Meaningless, It's Costing You: Pssst. If you don't know what machine it came off of and it's been around for a decade? Toss it. Did you forget you had it? Has it just started to blend into the background of your days but it's contributing to your mental clutter? Release it. Make space for the new, or heck- make space for the sake of space. Space. Is. Good.
If It's Curation Would Make Someone Else Happy, Share It: If this is the case, taking the time to make a new memory with that person by giving it away to them in real time, while you can do so in person with love, will lift your heart and theirs. Give you both that experiential gift, which often winds up holding more meaning than the item itself.
4. Bringing In Reinforcements Allows Others To Ask For Help Too
Accountability partners, emotional support partners, professionals, the comedians in your world- all of these humans help lighten the load. Many hands make light work. What's more, is that engaging in this process with others can help build connection and even help bridge generational gaps. Making space for others in the process can encourage them to request items that they will cherish for years to come. Of course, being mindful of the time of your team is crucial, and again, bringing in a neutral professional can be a godsend in terms of physical labor, neutrality, aiding in appraisal of items, giving advice, and re-appointing the things you keep in a way that's functional, fun, and beautiful.
5. Let What Matters Most Rise To The Surface
In my opinion what's most primary to this end? It's not your "donate" box or bag, though that's huge. But the "discard" box is critical, because so many items don't serve as donations to others due to sentimental value or internal pressure. This can look like a child's surplus art work, or that pile of college term papers you always thought you'd need somewhere down the line. What about that 17-year-old rubber band ball you built at your desk in between meetings? Still. If you know that you'll ultimately, truly, and irrevocably be happier for keeping it, please know and take care of your heart and go ahead and hold on. Even if you put your "discard" box somewhere accessible so that down the line the ones that come after can inherently register that these things are more than okay to throw away, you've given them such a gift. Permission to let go. Permission to hold on to what's important so they have more room to hold onto you in the ways they need most - permission to make space for the beautiful artifacts that made up your life together.