"Save your favourite dildo, but throw away the other 15!"
October 9, 2017 8:40 PM   Subscribe

Let’s get it out of the way right now: Swedish death cleaning is a little bit morbid. The idea is that when people die they leave stuff. Lots of stuff. Reams and reams of it, piles and piles of it. And it’s friends and family that are left to dealt with this stuff surfeit, this surplus of minutae. That’s where Döstädning comes in. In Sweden, people start the process as early as their ‘50s, slowly but steadily decluttering as the years roll by.
"Death cleaning is not about dusting or mopping up," [says] Margareta Magnusson, the author of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, who is currently in the process of Döstädning and says she is between the age of 80-100. "It is about a permanent form of organisation that makes your everyday life run more smoothly."
posted by Johnny Wallflower (68 comments total) 77 users marked this as a favorite
 
My partner has been "lightening the load" for a few years now, I am beginning the process myself. It's not just about making things easier after you die, it's also that anything you haven't picked up in 2 years to use, you probably don't actually need.
posted by hippybear at 8:44 PM on October 9 [4 favorites]


Too bad Ingmar Bergman never got a chance to turn The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning into a film.
posted by roger ackroyd at 8:59 PM on October 9 [13 favorites]


My grandma has been doing this over the past ten to twenty years...it would probably work a lot better if she'd stop shopping though.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:22 PM on October 9 [23 favorites]


God, so jealous. I may literally be at the complete other end of the spectrum when my parents pass. Hoarding is just... bah.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:22 PM on October 9 [16 favorites]


My parents had been married for over 60 years and were both inveterate hoarders. We made dozens of runs to the Salvation Army and still had to spend hundreds to have the rest of the crap hauled away. People, don't do that to your kids...
posted by jim in austin at 9:25 PM on October 9 [11 favorites]


Ok, but what if you fuck up and give away your stuff and then just stubbornly don't die? Is there, like, insurance? Where they replace your stuff if you beat the over under (or send round an assassin)?
posted by axiom at 9:28 PM on October 9 [13 favorites]


This reminds me of some appearance Alan Alda made in which he was talking about how his wife would say to him, "We're getting old. We should clean out the closets," and he said, "I don't get this. I say, we're going to be dead, and there are going to be people cleaning out the house after we go. What do we care? Screw them! Let them clean out the closets."
posted by orange swan at 9:35 PM on October 9 [14 favorites]


My grandmother was incredibly organized, and started doing this in her late 80s. She was always a woman who had a keen drive to not be a burden, and she knew (having done the same, I'm sure, with her mother and aunts) the burden of dealing with What Gets Left Behind.

At first it all seemed morbid -- she'd point to something in the house and say, "Do you want that when I'm dead? Because if not, I think your sister does." -- and we'd demure and do the uneasy-did-she-just-say-that? laugh, but as time went on we realized she was serious, and we needed to listen. So we did. And ultimately, when she did pass, we all knew who was going to get what. "Clean up" was really minimal and eased things for my mom and aunt, who -- despite grandma being 92 -- were stricken at the loss of their mother.

Fun aside: She also kept a ledger of who owed her what, and how much they'd paid back. This included her children, who she had sometimes made substantial loans to. Not talking little loans of $50 or $100 -- she helped my mom with the down payment on her home in 1979, and fronted money for my uncle's business so he could buy machinery, afford rent, etc.

Said uncle is something of a...free spirit, let's say...and hadn't exactly been on the level with his mom-loan payments. My mother and aunt found the ledger and saw that he hadn't finished his payments, so it got taken out of his inheritance...per my grandmother's will.

Like I said, grandma was incredibly organized. And I know that all sounds a bit mercenary ("Her own children!", I'm sure some might say), but she made these rules clear from the start. If you were going to borrow her money, you were also going to pay it back, one way or another. Anyway, she was better than a bank -- no interest, and no losing your home or credit rating if you missed a payment.

But back to the "death cleaning": I got two clocks, some china teacups, and a couple other knick-knacks that a burglar wouldn't look twice at but that have immense personal value.

As my husband and I draw up to the peak of middle age, we buy "things" less and less, and go in for experiences more and more. We did a roadtrip for my birthday, a nice dinner for the anniversary. Stuff is stuff, and ultimately I end up looking at it and thinking, "Uggggh, someday I'm going to have to toss this or donate it because I sure as hell don't want to move it again."

Also, we are not Swedish. We are simply Ohioans who don't want to be a bother.
posted by offalark at 9:42 PM on October 9 [52 favorites]


As you get older, what do you truly need? Most of the clutter in our house is books. How many of those will be re-read again? When I'm 85 will I be picking up any of these books? I keep a copy of House Of Leaves, but that doesn't mean I'm actually going to read it again. (Once was enough jeebus the nightmares still linger.) Is it a talisman? A tantillization? A promise/threat? Why do I keep that book?

And so on for so many other things in this house. Why are they there? What do they mean? Are they flotsam and jetsam or are they symbols or are they truly treasured? Like, I have full hardcover sets of Donaldson's SF/Fantasy output. I have read them often and would likely reread them. Okay, great. The complete Far Side... Yeah, that comes out. Awesome.

But, like, Darkly Dreaming Dexter? upon which the television show was based? Why is that still on my shelf?

Etc etc all through the house. And then over again. And again.

It's both a housecleaning exercise and a personal inventory full of nostalgia quicksand and harsh self-assessment every round.
posted by hippybear at 9:42 PM on October 9 [10 favorites]


When I was younger, I desired many things. Watches, for example. I truly believed that I wanted to possess a rosé gold Vacheron Constantin, a vintage Rolex Submariner, one of those sweet, wafer-thin Longines for black tie events, an Omega Speedmaster, a vintage TAG Heuer Carrera, and a few other, more exotic, pieces.

The reality is that my trusty TAG Heuer 1500 has been on my wrist for 27 years, I still love how it looks and feels, and I've never needed anything else.

The thought of owning a lot of stuff makes no sense to me anymore. As Gauss said, Pauca sed matura.
posted by Cobalt at 10:06 PM on October 9 [3 favorites]


My wife’s grandfather, like offalark’s grandmother, was very organized about his passing (he was 98 when he left us this summer). He bought and paid for his cemetery plot decades ago. He’d made all the arrangements at the mortuary almost 15 years ago. He hadn't held onto much besides photos of his favorite grand, great-grand, and great-great grandkids (there were far too many to hang photos of all of them), so there wasn’t much to give away. Still, as the time approached and as the strength of his fading heart allowed, he shared his wishes about who should have his everyday rosary beads and who should have his TV.

The most important thing, Apa said three or four days before his heart finally gave way, was the $1500 he had saved just for the cleaning service to clear his apartment when he was through with it.

“That’s so thoughtful, Apa!” my wife said.

“Ahhhh, Mija,” he said. “You know your uncles. I don’t want to hear them complain about the cleaning bills I left them.”
posted by notyou at 10:09 PM on October 9 [51 favorites]


My grandmother did this. But as her mind deteriorated it became an obsession, and she started throwing out everything. For example, the gas covers from the kitchen stove, because "i only cook for me, i only need one".
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 10:43 PM on October 9 [2 favorites]


I just had to go through this with my dad, who died suddenly at 61. Going through the process certainly has me thinking about what I need to do, especially with anything electronic/digital/cloud-based. Getting important accounts transferred to my mom has been a pain, especially since he had lots of email addresses through his businesses, and he didn't use a password manager. Like, make sure you can get into someone's phone and a primary email account before they kick it. It's pretty obvious that we software people haven't done a good job finding solutions for a lot of this – but unsurprising given the field and its practitioners are so young.
posted by bonje at 11:36 PM on October 9 [3 favorites]


My mom is doing this in her mid-60's and it's such a relief. She's been a borderline hoarder for most of her life but has made a real change of life around *stuff* in the last five years or so. She pre-emptively gave me the waterford crystal she got as a wedding gift in the 70's and I've now drank out of it probably more than she did the entire time she owned it. I should rent her out to give talks about Getting Rid of Stuff to other baby boomers.
posted by Tesseractive at 11:50 PM on October 9 [1 favorite]


I've started this already at 45. I just look at so many things and think, why do I have this? Why do I need it? Like, my tea kettle doubles as a watering can. Good enough. I'm not buying another pen. Ever. Do I need 3 pie pans when I only ever make one pie at a time? I'm giving away everything I can part with. I know it's out of fashion to quote Fight Club but, "The things you own end up owning you" keeps running through my head lately.
posted by greermahoney at 11:56 PM on October 9 [6 favorites]


One day when I worked at an upscale sex toy store in Baltimore we received a large box in the mail. I opened it, and inside was a collection of butt plugs, dildos, vibrators and the like. All used. On top, on university stationary, was a handwritten note. I wish I had saved the note, but basically, it was the sweetest letter from a local couple explaining that they had enjoyed these toys immensely over the years, but over time they had settled on a few that were in heavy rotation and they thought that perhaps we might be able to use these some way or another or pass them on to someone else.

Please, if you’re doing your end of life cleaning, don’t send your sex toys back to the local feminist sex store. It was the sweetest gesture though, and one of my favorite memories of working there.
posted by jaksemas at 12:13 AM on October 10 [48 favorites]


Marie Kondo, as interpreted by Ingmar Bergman.
posted by acb at 12:34 AM on October 10 [15 favorites]


thank you for the word. coming up on my 55th birthday and - with no children or close relatives, realizing i need to de-stash, majorly. hope to live a lot longer but... if i start now, i will be clean and clear when i check outta here.
posted by lapolla at 12:39 AM on October 10 [2 favorites]


Mr Fish's parents back in Australia are in the process of moving to another state, and we field weekly phone calls about the Stuff. Would you like this, would you like that, it'd break my heart if you didn't take this, we'll pay for international shipping. Worse, Mr Fish's mother is a keen amateur painter, which I appreciate, but the paintings are decisively not to our taste... and yet she sends them to us. And marks the value on the customs forms at around four figures. And watches the package tracking like a hawk, and sends upset emails if we don't pay the considerable duty and taxes to collect said paintings immediately.

Mr Fish's parents are lovely in a lot of ways, but, egads, this attachment to stuff is such a burden.
posted by nerdfish at 1:51 AM on October 10 [7 favorites]


This house had six people living here just a few years ago, and now there's only me. A yard sale got the neighbors extreme bargains, and lightened my load considerably. Yesterday I took seven boxes and four bags to Goodwill, and it felt so good! Have four boxes of books ready to go to the library. Three boxes of things the grandkids might want. Give me another year, and I'll be down to only what I use and what I love. And I don't mind my kids taking the stuff I love a little at a time.
posted by Miss Cellania at 3:18 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]


I wish that my mom had done this. We ended up hiring a service to clean out my mom's house of all the junk she had accumulated over the years. She had been an antique dealer later in life and slowly the inventory had taken over her 10 room house and four car garage/barn and when she went into transitional housing, it was way too much for us to deal with without outside help. The service cleaned the place, triaged all the crap, throwing out what was junk and having an estate sale for what was sellable.
posted by octothorpe at 4:27 AM on October 10


Yeah, I dread the day (hopefully long off) when I and my husband will have to clean out our parents’ houses. My parents are starting to work on decluttering, but 30+ years of accumulation is a huge job. They’ve apparently reclaimed the bedroom that got filled with boxes after we kids moved out, though. His parents… well, the stash has grown so much that they’ve lost access to the stsirs to their bonus room.

Husband and I recently moved a long distance to a smaller place after 10 years in the same house. We got rid of probably 75% of our stuff before the move. We are proceeding to get rid of more, even now. We know we won’t be in our current place forever, and the big move taught us the value of traveling light.

I guess that last sentence also describes death cleaning.
posted by snowmentality at 4:37 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]


So. I just found out my wife is Swedish, thanks Metafilter!
posted by ouke at 4:54 AM on October 10 [2 favorites]


My problem is that a good part of my junk is also the junk left behind by my mother and my father-in-law. On my mother's part, a whole lot of it is stuff she got from her mother. Most of it in the form of very old photographs and negatives. As hard as it is, emotionally, to get rid of books, old photos are even harder. To me, they are historical artifacts, views of a long-ago world which should be remembered.

Yes they could be scanned, but that doesn't make trashing the originals any easier. A scan on a screen just doesn't have the same impact as holding the actual object. And, once they're scanned, then what? Someone will have to tend to the files over the years, making sure they aren't lost or degraded by the vagaries of the march of technology.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:38 AM on October 10 [2 favorites]


Having gone through two big moves that required enormous amounts of purging, I am done with stuff. I just came to realize what a waste of money, time, and emotional effort goes into having things, as I watched it all turn into a big pile of trash. We could still get rid of things, especially once our daughter goes off to college, but the days of having stuff for the hell of it are done.
posted by briank at 5:48 AM on October 10 [4 favorites]


I started doing this, sort of involuntarily after a divorce because my new place was so tiny. I thought I might sell a bunch of the better stuff on Kijiji -not so much for the tiny amounts of money I was asking but so that the stuff would go to people who had a use for it. I found that there was too much pointless chat involved, so nearly everything extra went straight to my building's garbage area or the thrift shop. It felt good to let go of the emotional investment.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:49 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]


Thorzdad, same here. You might grab a few attractive old suitcases and put everything in them with some of those little damp-rid sachets you get in electronics packaging. That's what I do with the impossible-to-throw-away archives-of-my-ancestors stuff I may never look at again in this life but nevertheless must store forever. You can then stack the suitcases and use them as a bedside table or an end table. Voila, furniture! It's not impossible that you might open one or two of them now and again and leaf through the stuff. I do now and then and find little cool things. Like I found a picture of my mother as a toddler that nobody knew about because at some point in the 1950s my grandmother put it behind another picture in a frame and forgot it was there. I had it restored and copied and the copies framed and it made a nice group mothers day gift for my mother, my brother, and me.
posted by Don Pepino at 5:52 AM on October 10 [11 favorites]


This is appealling. It is philosophical in the old classical sense of being a preparation for death. The hard part about getting rid of posessions is letting go of the self that you imagined the posessions would enable you to become. Admitting that they did no such thing and getting them the hell out of your house. Doing that near the end of your life could be profoundly liberating and promoting of acceptance.
posted by thelonius at 6:05 AM on October 10 [10 favorites]


I think this obsession with getting rid of "stuff" is a reaction to living in a world that's largely filled with low-quality junk. Nobody seems to make much of a distinction when it comes to "stuff".
I have a 475 year old book in my house. It's in terrible condition, written in German, and I'm sure I'll never read it. But it's survived for nearly five centuries and at the moment I'm its caretaker.
I have around 40 typewriters. I have a 700 pound printing press. These are interesting objects that were well made and have a pleasant resonance in my living space.
I like my stuff.
posted by crazylegs at 6:09 AM on October 10 [20 favorites]


Marie Kondo, as interpreted by Ingmar Bergman.

I will go willingly, Death, if you can organize my top dresser drawer.
posted by condour75 at 6:17 AM on October 10 [9 favorites]


Too bad Ingmar Bergman never got a chance to turn The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning into a film.

I wish he had. I'd love to have it on Blu-ray.

he said, "I don't get this. I say, we're going to be dead, and there are going to be people cleaning out the house after we go. What do we care? Screw them! Let them clean out the closets."

Hawkeye is wise. I declutter as the mood takes me, but eff feeling compelled to get rid of anything. Strangers can take it or put it all on the curb when I'm gone. I don't care. Me, I'd love to come across an estate with the kind of stuff I've got for the taking.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:23 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]


My parents are in their 70s and are trapped by their stuff. They are hoarders who fairly desperately want to move to a condo, but every time they get close to making an offer they realize they will have to get rid of their 4 bedroom house full of stuff and they stop.

My sibling and I and our spouses have donated weeks and weeks of effort to trying to help them, and last year my BIL drove three literal metric tonnes of junk to the trash depot for them, and that was just the outbuildings and the attic. I sat with my mother, who goes to church once a week and otherwise is dressed casually, and looked at her 52 blouses, and explained that I, who had a business formal job at the time, only own 6 actual button-up-the-front blouses. After 45 minutes of agony she downsized...to 37 blouses.

In summary, I think I will start this Swedish tradition today.

It is a strange thing though; I have been eyeing my Penguin Classics library, meticulously collected for me and future generations, and I realize that my son will probably carry 20 favourite books and a cloud-accessing device with him forward. And that this will possibly mean that he makes radically different real estate choices than my husband and I who originally house shopped in a suburb where we could afford a house that our bookcases fit into. (He probably will also have to because Toronto.) My books are pretty much my mother's blouses.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:25 AM on October 10 [11 favorites]


In the last five years my mobility has been increasingly impaired by a chronic health condition. I have found that getting rid of stuff, improves my quality of life. Having fewer things to walk around or trip over, makes my life so much easier. I can't move stuff around very easily, so rooms with a lot of stuff in them are exhausting to be in. So I continue decluttering. Our house looks great!
posted by elizilla at 6:27 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]


Both my mother and my mother-in-law were guilty of SAVING EVERY FUCKING THING without the slightest care about who cleaned it up. Moving my m-i-l from senior housing to assisted living she'd just wave her hand at the mess and say "maintenance will clean it up". And when she moved from assisted living to the nursing home, she had a screaming fit at my sister-in-law for trying to pare down her closet.

Narrator: she never wore any of it again

I just turned sixty and though we pared everything down to the nub to move from one state to another, I have noticed a growing accumulation. I continue to acquire more books and CDs while my wife buries us under an avalanche of Christmas decorations, Halloween decorations, and tchotchkes innumerable. I look around my office right now and it is just way too cluttered. We have no children. I think once I get over this flu bug I'll buckle down and get started. If I can get rid of my stuff it will be half the battle.
posted by Ber at 6:29 AM on October 10 [2 favorites]


Mr Fish's parents back in Australia are in the process of moving to another state, and we field weekly phone calls about the Stuff. Would you like this, would you like that, it'd break my heart if you didn't take this, we'll pay for international shipping.

Please, in your zeal to downsize, don't do this to your family and friends. Offer your things, but don't expect them to want them. When your family and friends politely decline, out them on freecycle, Craigslist, eBay if they have monitary value, etc. Try to find homes where people actually want the things. Have yard sales. Use Sal Ar and Good Will as a last resort because they spend so much time sifting through trash.

If I sound bitter, it's because I'm trying so hard to get rid of my own stuff, and people I know are doing the same, only "gifting" me with items I don't want. Yeah, ok, it's out of your house. Great job. Now how long am I socially required to hang on to it before I can pass it along?
posted by greermahoney at 6:44 AM on October 10 [7 favorites]


Ok, but what if you fuck up and give away your stuff and then just stubbornly don't die?

It happens. I had a client once who was given a diagnosis with a fairly short timetable. Sold everything, got rid of everything, sold his house. And then he didn't die. He had to buy everything new again. And then he died, and still left a house and its contents to deal with.

I also came upon a guy who was clearly going to jail, and he got rid of his stuff and his apartment, and showed up in court ready to go. Then the judge put his matter over for a month on some technicality. The guy was pleading with the judge to send him to jail -- he made plans, after all. Nope. Judge wasn't going to send him there. You'd never seen such a dejected man in your life. He only wanted to go to jail, and no-one would let him.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:48 AM on October 10 [17 favorites]


Both of my (divorced) parents are hoarders. My mom's just the extremely cluttered type (I think no mental illness aspect beyond depression and severe adhd), but my semi-estranged father is at an easily-could-be-on-the-show, emotional-attachment-to-literal-garbage level.

I have so much dread about what will happen if he dies. I certainly don't want any of his hoarded junk, but I'm not sure if I'm legally allowed to just walk away from his house - I really doubt the equity in the house would cost the cost of clearing everything out and repairing all the structural damage from years of hoarding (not to mention his debts). Ugh.

Please don't do that to your kids. If you have hoarding tendencies, even if you don't think you're so bad really (they never do!! even the ones with dead animals rotting in their house!!) , get yourself the help you need, before it's too late.
posted by randomnity at 6:51 AM on October 10 [2 favorites]


After watching the news about California today, my husband and I commented on what we would take away from the house if we had to evacuate a fire. 90% of our music and photos are digital. With one or two exceptions, all my books are also in digital format. Clothes are mostly replaceable. The big stuff, like the bed my dad made for me when I was 3, and other bits of furniture are too big to move quickly. So after much thinking, I said I'd take a suitcase of clothes, our passports and birth certs, the small squirrel figurine carved by my dad, and my great grandmother's quilt. Everything else was replaceable, digital, or in a fireproof safe. Hubby, on the other hand, struggled to narrow the things down to a rational amount.

So we've got a ways to go before we can get tidy enough to die. But then again, we've got no kids, and we are both only children. So the state can auction our shit off, and it won't bother us in the least after we're gone.
posted by teleri025 at 7:02 AM on October 10 [2 favorites]


If you have hoarding tendencies, even if you don't think you're so bad really ... get yourself the help you need, before it's too late.

I think it's bad form for random internet commenters to diagnose "disorders" in the abstract, particularly when the presumed "disorder" is merely having more things than the random commenter believes is desirable. I feel certain that if the internet can learn to love furries, then the internet can learn to love people of whom Marie Kondo might disapprove.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:23 AM on October 10 [6 favorites]


I think it's bad form for random internet commenters to diagnose "disorders" in the abstract

How do you think they should be diagnosed? By trained professionals? Ridiculous.
posted by thelonius at 7:56 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]


Hawkeye is wise. I declutter as the mood takes me, but eff feeling compelled to get rid of anything. Strangers can take it or put it all on the curb when I'm gone. I don't care. Me, I'd love to come across an estate with the kind of stuff I've got for the taking.

I worked for a while buying LPs and books, often from estates, and trust me when I say that, unless you specifically WANT to get back at your children, elderly parents, etc., this is really an asshole move. The cost in time, emotional pain, money, and aggravation is higher than you might think.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:11 AM on October 10 [7 favorites]


My mother-in-law, who has hoarding tendencies, went through a period of trying to get rid of stuff before she went into an assisted living facility. But her idea of decluttering was to give boxes of stuff to my wife's sisters (we live too far away to be part of this) and tell them to "Keep it in the family." They ended up with all sorts of odds and ends they didn't want but felt obligated to hold onto at least for the time being.
posted by maurice at 8:14 AM on October 10


I periodically try to get rid of extraneous stuff. I get to feel good about my extra crap because my husband has me beat by a mile.* Still, as a knitter and weaver, I have reached that stage of yarn stash referred to as SABLE: stash acquisition beyond life expectancy.

*David collects swords. There are more than 100 at last count. I need to get him to give me the docent's tour and take notes this time, because if anything happens to him, I have no freaking idea what any of it is worth, or where it's from.
posted by corvikate at 8:29 AM on October 10 [5 favorites]


unless you specifically WANT to get back at your children, elderly parents, etc., this is really an asshole move

So now we've got "mentally ill asshole who needs help." I must say, it's remarkable how guidelines meant to help people feel better about their lives so quickly are turned into rules used to try to make other people feel worse. And all over some arbitrarily imagined amount of stuff.

How do you think they should be diagnosed? By trained professionals? Ridiculous.

Yes, that's very silly of me, isn't it?
posted by octobersurprise at 8:40 AM on October 10 [4 favorites]


Octobersurprise, hoarders don't seek help because a trained professional told them too, but because laypeople in their lives told them they had a problem. Hoarding issues are pretty obvious.
posted by orange swan at 8:44 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]


I think I may be weird, in that I would be genuinely delighted to go through my parents or grandmothers' house after they die and see all the things that were important to them and learn the archaeology of their lives. When we cleaned out my mother-in-law's place, I learned so much about her that I'd never known. Going through it piece by piece is something I wouldn't have traded, even if it was inconvenient at the time.

I hope my parents never learn about Swedish death cleaning, I would be so disappointed.
posted by corb at 8:57 AM on October 10 [6 favorites]


I've been trying to get rid of stuff for about five years, but it wasn't until last year, when a storm destroyed enough of the house that we had to pack every single room out so we could repair ceilings and walls and floors, that I realized how much stuff I had. So much stuff. I mean, we're middle aged, we have a four bedroom house, we've been given all the furniture of the great grandparents, plus china, plus silver, plus all this other stuff I do not have time to clean or dust.

I seriously had two 22 foot trailers, filled with stuff, and that was only a third of the house at a time. (Because insurance didn't pay for us to move out while we were under construction for a year. Which was nice.)

Some of the stuff I had were things museums wanted, which was fortunate, in that I didn't really have to "get rid of it", so much as it's now someone else's job to polish it. I can still look at it if I want to make the journey.

The hardest for me was books, but when I realized that we filled an entire semi tractor trailer with boxes of books...it was time to pare it back to a thousand or so, and perhaps let go of dusty, impossible to read, sci fi dime store novels from the 40s, or trade paperbacks of books I had on Kindle. Old hardback books though...I can't part with those. So, I still have more than a thousand books.

Right now, I only have one room left that still filled with boxes from the storm pack out. Today's goal is to try and inventory what's in there, and decide if I even want to unpack some of them, or just take them straight to the donation bin.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 9:06 AM on October 10 [4 favorites]


My daughter went to visit with her Swedish grandmother back east, where this grandmother was over from "the old country," to visit with her sister. My daughter commented the place was like a hotel, barely anything on the walls even. The rooms were spare and there was nothing personal to view. She said they were very quiet and it was a long weekend.

I shrank my stuff to an 8'X20' foot storage unit, last year. This had very little quantity stacked, but some. I took a 26' Penske and moved it out to California. I was wondering if it would fit into a ~600 sq foot studio, but I realized 8'X20'=160 sq feet. There is some storage here, in closets, so there was some outside stuff, bbq, firewood, etc. This works. However the amount of things I have here is too much for here, and certainly too much for anyone to deal with in my absence. I, however, live a regular city block from a huge thrift store that has a truck, and picks up. Not a lot of them do that anymore.

Your best friend in the decluttering world is the thrift store, and the giant plastic urban garbage can. Oh yes. I bought a couch for here at an estate yard sale. It was so close by, I contemplated what it would take to put it in my van, vs just rolling it over on a dolly. So I rolled my couch 6 house lengths, and a neighbor kid helped me put it in my place right away. I went back for my car and the cushions.

I have a plan, unless I am squashed like a bug somehow, which almost happened in an intersection recently. I can still drive out of almost anything. The plan is a family trust, should I have anything to entrust, and a strict removal of anything personal, and anything that can't bring a few bucks at a yard sale. Currently my whole wardrobe would fit into the urban garbage can. The tools and art making supplies, and work surfaces need a work space. Anyway, that is my three cents, in deflated, elder currency.
posted by Oyéah at 9:28 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]


My parents (mostly my dad) did this. And even then, we had a garage full of stuff to give to charity. We did find some interesting things. A shoebox worth of nail clippers...really...there must have been 100 of them. Picture frames. Iron toys (none old or antique). Bicycles. Books.

Thanks for the reminder. I really need to start clearing out my own home!
posted by byjingo! at 9:46 AM on October 10


Hoarding issues are pretty obvious.

So obvious they can be diagnosed over the internet, apparently!
posted by octobersurprise at 10:07 AM on October 10 [2 favorites]


I'm an only child of parents who are...not minimalists, and I've told them that if they haven't downsized or decluttered by the time they shuffle off I'm just going to burn their house down instead of going through everything all on my own. They probably think I'm kidding
posted by superfluousm at 10:10 AM on October 10 [7 favorites]


I feel like the nature of "stuff" is changing, now that we no longer need physical books or movies, clothing is far less formal, and everything else is 2 days away from Amazon. I'm pretty sure I could fit everything I actually care about in the back of a small car these days. In a few decades I wonder if the pendulum will have fully swung and most people will basically just have clothes, cooking implements, maybe a few toys for kids, and their phones/laptops for all work and entertainment.
posted by miyabo at 10:20 AM on October 10 [2 favorites]


I have now, on multiple occasions, become the person tasked with closing down completed lives.

I did it in the aftermath of my father's death and the consequent rushed sale of my childhood home, which happened when I was in my twenties and was not emotionally prepared for the weight of loss that comes from having to complete that chore with the vultures of the banking business looking over my shoulder.

I did it for a friend whose wife of many years died suddenly, after which he walked out of the house they shared with the clothes on his back, leaving everything behind including one very angry, aggressive cat, which he tended to faithfully on his way to work each morning. His wife's room was left exactly as it had been on the morning she'd died, with the little TV still running, the blanket turned back where she'd climbed out of bed, and the water glass from the night prior evaporating away until there was just a chalky shadow in a room full of TV noise, and I had to dismantle that whole world when he received an unrefusable offer to sell the house.

I did it when a poet mentor/antagonist on the same level as the greatest Beats died after a long adventure with lung cancer, which he'd survived, only to die bleeding from a lower orifice, collapsing on the old wooden music stand I'd had to repair for him dozens of times prior, in what I took as one last jab in my direction. I ended up in custody of his archives, his garbage, his detailed collection of life's work as an artist, and horrifyingly, just this year, I was informed that I'm the legal owner of his estate and his legacy...oh, for fuck's sake. Of course, I know for certain, now, why Baltimore's "Poe Toaster" never appeared in 2010, which is worth a wry, knowing smile on my part.

I did it when my best friend from high school was unexpectedly shot to death by a gun being carried in a laundry basket on the floor above where he was on a couch watching TV, despite the fact that we'd had a major set-to in 1986 and had only spoken twice in twenty-seven years. His friends and family called me in, knowing that I was still versed in the significance or lack thereof of his meticulously organized, but impossibly immense, collections from that era and not knowing that the process of being in his house night after night for almost a month would be therapeutic to unraveling a knot of long-buried feelings and regrets on my part. We were peas in a pod as curators of our own personal histories before the break, and going through hundreds of boxes of things that were oddly familiar, despite that fact that a whole generation had passed since I'd seen them, was like being caught on a broken time machine hurtling uncontrollably into the past.

I hauled mountains of things my friend had loved to the dump, and hauled huge collections of things without either huge resale value or value to his friends and family to thrift stores and donation sites. I kept private things, like the profile of me he'd written as a class project in 1982 before I'd even started thinking of him as my best friend, and the series of science-fiction comics we'd written, drawn, and surreptitiously published using the school's photocopier and his ability to create a distraction of a useful length with the librarian, and I kept his Lithuanian translation of a Richard Scarry book among a smallish box of the other things that I saved for myself out of the whole overwhelming mass of things that he'd thought important enough to keep, which fit neatly on the passenger seat of my truck.

In the attic, he'd carefully recreated his childhood bedroom in a tableau of ugly, strangely nautical-themed heavy wood furniture, and I was both knocked out by the reverberating familiarity of the arrangement and how it reminded me that I, too, have that instinct to enshrine the details of my passage through time and space because—well, I wasn't entirely sure. I kept the ship's wheel, the bumpy plastic relief map of the United States, and the desk lamp, and the rest lurked in my basement after being rejected by every thrift store until the day I hauled it all up to my cabin in West Virginia, doused it in gasoline, and sent it on its way.

In the end, when I unloaded the last bit of junk from the basement and laid it out in the trash heap on the curb outside a house I'd never once been in while my friend was alive, I walked through the place, looking around with a bit of pride that I'd left it as a blank canvas, cleaned and neutral to the uses of the next inhabitant, noted that I knew that this was the last time I'd ever be there, and closed the door. Something about that process, though, both brought me comfort and a sense of how things in the world fit together and reminded me of something all the Eastern philosophy I'd spent decades studying hadn't made visceral for me thus far.

It's all just stuff.

When I was young and was in love with the film Harold & Maude, I'd never understood what Maude meant when she waved a hand at the contents of her little train car home and said that these things were "incidental, not integral," but in my mid-forties, after I'd had to let so many people go, and after I'd dismantled a few more or less complete home environments, it reached the marrow of my bones.

It's all just stuff.

I can delight in the pleasure of materiality in things, and in the joy of finding and collecting, but it's all just stuff, just weight we carry and, eventually, leave behind us like the superstructure of coral reefs and empty shells rolling in the currents on the sea floor. In the years since cleaning out my friends house, I feel the weight more and more, and the responsibility of leaving behind a footprint measured more in poetry and intangibles than in "valuables."

See, a funny thing happened when my friend died—in the sudden, inexplicable silence afterward, a whole network of people were out there, and most of them were people I'd never met, but as we coalesced into a force working to help his family clear his accounts, we built new connections. Four years later, I have a whole collection of dear friends because we all found that what our friend had loved about us, we loved about each other, too, and as his physical things dissipated into the world like the shadow of his physical self, we told stories, and shared feelings, and filled the spaces left in our loss with new faces. We all took home little boxes of memorabilia, but—

It's all just stuff. It's incidental, not integral.

Since then, I've been shedding that weight of ownership, realizing that what I really need to be happy comes down to things that are useful, exceptionally beautiful, historic, or laden with meaning that we'll need to reference while we're here, even if we know that most of that stuff will end up in the garbage one day.

It's all just stuff.

Sell a thing and replace it with travel, or with a dinner party, or with a day spent with friends, laughing and telling stories, with space to move and air to breathe and a relief from the weight of owning and it'll last, even after we're gone, when our friends and loved ones come together and find that what we loved about them is what they can love about each other, and that chain of connection is more real than any of the things we'll ever have, and that love, joy, wisdom and care will count long after we're all just empty shells, rolling in the currents on the sea floor.

Now I just need to decide what to do with thirty-seven manual typewriters. I'm keeping the Hermes, though.
posted by sonascope at 10:28 AM on October 10 [62 favorites]


Walking away from an apartment full of stuff and crap and riding off into the sunset was one of the most liberating, freeing things I've ever done in my life.

For a nearly two years everything physical I owned in the earthly world (including shelter) fit on my bicycle, and it was fucking glorious. As it is now I've already acquired too much crap (mostly clothes and one stupendously oversized "laptop"), and it's a mild source of irritation that my crap no longer quite fits on my bicycle.

Sure, it was also hard and terrifying and I didn't really have a choice. If I had had a choice I probably would have chosen the easy route and I'd still have too much crap - too many books, too many random art projects I'll never finish. A lot of stuff that is essentially trash to anyone else, but for some reason it isn't for me. And some of this stuff had been hauled from move to move over thousands of miles.

And there are things I miss that I left behind. A couple of books from my grandfather, mainly. A few different items of clothing.

But all in all I can barely even remember 90-99% of that crap. In the 2-3 week process of going through that crap and picking out the essential things, my belongings were essentially whittled down to a functional capsule wardrobe, the best of my pocket tools and gadgets, the best of my limited camping gear, the most essential few books (left with a friend), my bicycle, my (then tiny) netbook laptop and data, my phone, and me.

Even with my bicycle, I outweighed my belongings. When I set out my bike and belongings was probably around 100-120 pounds, depending on food/water on the bike.

It's really difficult to articulate how awesomely transformative this is, because the results and set and setting are complicated. It wasn't just liberating, it was mentally and spiritually transformative in ways that go far beyond a simple "you are not your belongings" or even "you are not your net worth, either".

In the process of trying to think about what I actually needed I also seemed to also find more of my true self and I found it greater than anything I could ever own.

Yeah, that's sounds like some trite, syrupy crap a monk would say. I wasn't expecting it to be this way. There's no noble purpose, here. I didn't know what I was doing, I was just trying to survive.

Somewhere along the way I seem to have thoroughly broken my drive to acquire too much crap, or really anything at all. I'm dirt poor, pretty remarkably happy and content and the only physical objects I have any want for right now at all is a newer camera, but it's not the same sick-feeling acquistional lust I used to feel about other things.

It's different because the lack of this theoretical new camera doesn't make me feel bad or inferior for not having it - and that's a key difference. The desire isn't for the camera itself, but the kinds of photography and the specific projects I already have in mind for it as I begin to push the limits and boundaries of the camera I already do have and love.

Another valuable part of this process I've discovered is how much more you can value other people, and to really recognize how much more important they are than things.

That in the process of stripping down ones baggage and belongings (and/or life) down to the bare essentials and letting go of this Victorian/Western thought artifact that your belongings/estate somehow add to your value as an entity, you naturally stop judging others by that same metric.

This isn't something I did much of to begin with, but it is almost inescapable in the US and much of the developed or developing world.

And we all have way too much crap. We don't really need this much crap. We would all generally be better off without most of this crap. The rest of the planet would be better off without most of this crap, too.
posted by loquacious at 10:28 AM on October 10 [15 favorites]


Every flipping time I see a fascinating comment that says so much but leaves me wanting more I scroll down and then say OF COURSE.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:31 AM on October 10 [5 favorites]


I feel like the nature of "stuff" is changing,

This is essentially my current real world experience. At this point I can carry the physical things I really care about in my pockets, and it's mostly data and pocket tools and my camera.

And of the data, a lot of that is backed up online anyway.

Not everyone can do this but my "kitchen" is essentially a custom camping mess kit. Titanium cup, stainless steel fork and spoon, two bowls, a large metal plate, tiny little homemade alcohol burning penny stove so light it makes hardcore backpackers green with jealousy. I basically haven't actually cooked all summer. I mainly eat fruits, nuts, veggies, jerky, oats, peanut butter and sandwiches and stuff. I basically eat like a backpacker and it doesn't really bother me or bore me.

I've been staying at my friends place for almost two years now, and I didn't even plug in the mini fridge I'm allowed to use until this summer, and it was mainly because it was so hot that I wanted cold water and ice. I'm probably going to clean it out and unplug it for the winter soon because I don't really need it or use it much. Apples and bread don't really need a fridge, I don't eat/buy frozen food, I don't have a microwave, and the most cooking I really do at home is maybe making or heating up soup or oats, or coffee or tea if it's cold enough to want a hot beverage.

Yeah, it's super minimal but I love it. I frankly hate washing dishes and dealing with them, and food is, frankly, kind of a boring chore even as much as I love to cook.

When I do get the urge to cook something I go to the local soup kitchen and cook food or make soup for a bunch of people and use their kitchen. Someone else usually jumps in to do the dishes when I do that, which is fine by me.
posted by loquacious at 10:50 AM on October 10 [4 favorites]


the water glass from the night prior evaporating away until there was just a chalky shadow in a room full of TV noise

what a vivid, haunting image
posted by thelonius at 11:00 AM on October 10 [10 favorites]


[One comment deleted. octobersurprise and people responding to that, enough -- the linked book isn't about hoarders. This thread doesn't have to be a fight between "everyone is a hoarder yes every single person" vs "nobody should ever intervene with a hoarder." There's a more interesting conversation to be had if we don't attribute needlessly-extreme positions to each other. Non-hoarders can still have issues with stuff, and talking about that is okay.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:18 AM on October 10 [8 favorites]


A good friend and roommate passed in 2003 and I was primarily responsible for helping his family sort through the cleanup/sorting of his areas of the house. My mom passed in 2006 and I was primarily responsible for the cleaning and sorting afterward. My stepdad passed in 2012 and I was again responsible for handling the aftermath.

It's terribly draining work, emotionally, at a time when you are already dealing with your own baseline grief. I decided that I'll never leave that to my friends or family to have to deal with after I'm gone. So I started my own winnowing shortly after Mom died.

Now, for every closet I clean out, every box I take to Goodwill, every garage shelf that gets sorted, or every box of old papers I'm able to eliminate, I send my sister (who's also my executor) an email with the good news! :)
posted by darkstar at 12:14 PM on October 10 [4 favorites]


Most of "us" will be robots in a service closet, to de-clutter for upper echelon meetings, then back to roboting.
posted by Oyéah at 12:48 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]


thirty-seven manual typewritersOh my God! Do you have a big old fifties Adler with pica type?
posted by Oyéah at 12:55 PM on October 10 [2 favorites]


I'm torn by this.

On the one hand, a great deal of my stuff is now digital.

On the other, my library of 3100 or so books... replacing them with digital versions will be both expensive and not always possible. I see myself dying surrounded by them, all of these glorious, Borgesian catacombs of worlds and work. Marie Kondo can bite me.
posted by doctornemo at 12:59 PM on October 10 [6 favorites]


Marie Kondo really does not understand book people.
posted by thelonius at 1:16 PM on October 10 [12 favorites]


I started this myself, well before hearing the Swedish word. My plan for thinning my collection of books: every time I get a box from Amazon, fill it with unneeded books and take it to Goodwill.
posted by yclipse at 1:27 PM on October 10 [4 favorites]


That in the process of stripping down ones baggage and belongings (and/or life) down to the bare essentials and letting go of this Victorian/Western thought artifact that your belongings/estate somehow add to your value as an entity, you naturally stop judging others by that same metric.

I find very appealing the Chatwin-esque notion of owning very few, but exquisite, things. Probably couldn't do it, but it's very appealing. I like to dream of chucking it all and living in a perfectly curated, tiny space in Berlin or Japan. I'm envious of any one who can do that. Yet I see no evidence that abandoning possessions necessarily makes anyone less likely to judge others on that basis.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:34 PM on October 10 [3 favorites]


When I went to request this from my library, the website said they didn't have it yet but put me on the waiting list... and recommended that in the meantime I read a book on how to buy stuff at rummage sales. Not helpful, library!
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:59 PM on October 10 [7 favorites]


I find very appealing the Chatwin-esque notion of owning very few, but exquisite, things. Probably couldn't do it, but it's very appealing. I like to dream of chucking it all and living in a perfectly curated, tiny space in Berlin or Japan.

Eh, in my case it wasn't really like that. I mean the most "exquisite" thing I might have owned in this necessary exercise in minimalism was my bicycle and maybe a really good multitool, and my ability to tie a few decent knots for a tight rainfly. Oh, I also had a really good down sleeping bag and hammock, those were both pretty unique and high quality pieces of gear. Everything else was pretty much common grade tools and kit.

The perfectly curated, tiny space was a thing, though, but in the for of about 10x20 feet under a sturdy rainfly and a hammock in the forest, and it was really kind of amazing to be able to have everything just so and within reach. Sure, it's not a Berlin microstudio, but I probably liked it better.

Yet I see no evidence that abandoning possessions necessarily makes anyone less likely to judge others on that basis.

Oh no, not as an absolute.

I was speaking personally, for one, but I've also spoken to others who have expressed the same or similar sentiment both about finding it easier to move into post-materialism but that the clamoring for things - you know, this whole Story of Stuff we're talking about whether it's hording or compulsive shopping that's a product of our culture, of marketing, and our own brains - that trying to move away from that helps with not judging oneself and therefore others by, say, the clothes they can afford to wear.

But these are the people who would lean that way anyway, sure.
posted by loquacious at 9:27 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]


My mom, in the months before she died of cancer, sold all of her huge stash of yarn, all of her patterns, all of her knitting machines. The point was so that they would go to someone who could enjoy them, and the rest of us wouldn't have to deal with them. It was amazing. She had my dad give my brother and me each a check for half of the money she got for her stuff, thousands of dollars. I used my half to help buy my kid a used car to commute to college with.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 5:25 PM on October 11 [3 favorites]


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