The Things You Can’t Take With You

“It’s almost like a biological thing to do,” explains the Swedish ambassador. The Swedes call it dostadning or “death-cleaning.” It’s another part of the new American fad for “de-cluttering,” and maybe also the new reflections of aging baby boomers who now realize their lives are getting closer to ending. The latest entry is an upcoming book from “80-ish” Swedish writer Margareta Magnusson, reports The Washington Post.

She’s more relaxed about it than “Japanese item-control diva Marie Kondo.” The story offers some of her rules:

Don’t start with your photos, as you’ll get bogged down in your memories and never accomplish anything. Make sure you keep a book of passwords for your heirs. Give away nice things you don’t want as gifts, such as china or table linens or books, as opposed to buying new items. Keep a separate box of things that matter only to you, and label it to be tossed upon your death. It’s okay to keep a beloved stuffed animal or two.”

Magnuson notes that death-cleaning is open-ended. “You are never ready with your death cleaning because you don’t know when you are going to die. So it goes on and on.”

Earlier this year, a writer in Forbes explained “the hard truth that others in their 50s and 60s need to know: Nobody wants the prized possessions of your parents — not even you or your kids.” The head of something called the National Association of Senior Move Managers calls disposing of a parents’ things “the biggest challenge our members have and it’s getting worse.” She explains: “This is an Ikea and Target generation. They live minimally, much more so than the boomers. They don’t have the emotional connection to things that earlier generations did. And they’re more mobile. So they don’t want a lot of heavy stuff dragging down a move across country for a new opportunity.”

The article offers eight tips for what it calls “home unfurnishing,” that is, what the Swedes more honestly call “death-cleaning.” The last one:

Prepare for disappointment. “For the first time in history of the world, two generations are downsizing simultaneously,” says Buysse, talking about the boomers’ parents (sometimes, the final downsizing) and the boomers themselves. “I have a 90-year-old parent who wants to give me stuff or, if she passes away, my siblings and I will have to clean up the house. And my siblings and I are 60 to 70 and we’re downsizing.”


SOURCES: Jura Koncius, “Americans are pack rats. Swedes have the solution: ‘Death cleaning’,” published in The Washington Post, 13 October 2017. Richard Eisenberg, “Sorry, Nobody Wants Your Parents’ Stuff,” published in Forbes, 12 February 2017.

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