If you’ve been with me a while, you may recall a post last year in which I talked about the need to do some decluttering. I planned to incorporate the KonMari Method™ because I’d had luck with it in the past. I did make a good-faith effort and, while a fair amount of progress was made, it wasn’t nearly as much as I’d intended. As we all know, life gets in the way…and then TV gets in the way…and then computer games and books and gazing up at the clouds get in the way. It’s a marvel we (I) ever accomplish anything at all.
Before the ball dropped last week, I’d already decided 2023 would be the year I stopped coming up with excuses for not getting things done and just bloody do them. One of those things was thinning out the ridiculous amount of stuff I have. It would be one thing if I wore all the stuff, read all the stuff, and utilized all the stuff. But I haven’t in a long time, and I don’t expect to in the future. While Marie Kondo’s tidy-up method may have served me well in the past, I realized I needed something a bit less delicate this go-round.
Enter Swedish Death Cleaning. Yes, yes, I know it sounds horribly morbid – and it can be, depending on how you choose to look at it. The main idea behind SDC is to avoid leaving behind a boatload of belongings that nobody wants or needs when you finally cross over. I mean, clearly, the last thing your grief-stricken loved ones will want to do is slog through a basement/storage unit/attic full of worthless stuff and try to figure out what to do with it while still honoring your memory. I know from experience that it’s a gut-wrenching endeavor because it can hurt to part with anything. My mom’s been gone nearly 23 years, and I still have trouble discarding random little slips of paper that have her handwriting on them. They serve no purpose anymore, and there are some I can’t even decipher because, when she was in a rush, she had a habit of reverting to Speedwriting (a type of shorthand). All those symbols and squeezed-together letters are about as easy to read as hieroglyphics. Still, tossing any of those notes still gives me a painful twinge.
The ironic thing is, Mom wouldn’t give two hoots whether I hung onto that stuff or not. She was wise enough to know that that sort of thing has a way of becoming a little albatross around the neck and, the more stuff there is, the fatter and heavier that blasted bird gets.
But I digress. I was talking about the macabre moniker for this type of cleaning. It’s about more than simply preparing for your demise, so I’m approaching it in a more palatable manner. I’m doing it as much for myself as I am for my family because, while I don’t like the idea of them being burdened with my leftover stuff, I also don’t like being mentally encumbered by things I’ll never again use or need. Even if I have an out-of-the-way place to store them, I know they’re there, and I know that someone down the road will have to deal with them when I’m gone. My family may not care…but I care. I plan on being around a long time, and I’m selfish enough to want to live clutter-free while still enjoying the things I do use or truly treasure. Believe me, when my time comes, there will still be plenty of junk my family won’t know what to do with.
That being said, I understand why some of my family members find the term Swedish Death Cleaning so off-putting. It doesn’t exactly elicit a sense of joy. So, in an effort to respect their feelings, I’m using the same initials but referring to my SDC journey as Spiritedly Ditching Clutter. It’s the same method of clearing things out, has a more lighthearted title, and nobody gets hurt.
Fun fact: My husband doesn’t like the new name I came up with because he thinks it’s too hard to say. I just told him not to say it. (But between you and me and the fence post, he’s not wrong. That’s why I only use the initials.)
Margareta Magnusson, the author of the book that in the remainder of this post shall not be named, suggests doing your closet first. (By the way, I guess I technically started with my bookcase because I downloaded the book to Kindle rather than buying a hard copy. That one little step saved several square inches of shelf space. Go, me!)
Anyway, the closet is a logical place to start because most of us don’t attach a lot of sentiment to our clothing. And most of us have way more clothes than we need or, in some cases, even want. Our want for them just apparently outweighs our willingness to tackle the job of sorting through them. I happily discovered that, once I started on my own clothes closet, it became easy to be almost ruthless. Margareta basically has you ask yourself just two questions as you assess each item:
- Will I use it again?
- Will it make someone else happy?
By keeping those questions in mind, the job became much less daunting. I set out three boxes (Yes, No, and Maybe) and one large trash bag. After quickly determining where an item should go, I moved on to the next. I was more motivated by the thought of a tidy closet than I was by the delusion of ever again fitting into the cute little shirt I’d kept on the shelf for more years than I care to admit. And, the more items I set aside to toss or donate, the lighter I felt. Sure, I was still too heavy for that cute little shirt, but that was no longer the point. My spirit felt lighter. Once I was done, I stood back and gazed into my finished closet, basking in the fruits of my labor…just like I used to do as a kid after I finally did a deep clean on my pigsty of a bedroom.
Since decluttering isn’t the only thing I want to accomplish throughout this year, my plan is to go about this SDC project slowly…one area each month. January has been reserved for the closets in the house. My clothes closet is already done, and the others shouldn’t take long. My husband doesn’t share my hoarding instinct and, since we downsized and had to learn how to maximize every inch of storage space, none of our household closets have gotten too out of hand. It’s mainly my personal spaces that tend to wind up looking like the aftermath of a nasty storm.
My SDC challenge for February will be the room that serves as my office and crafting area in the garage. At first glance, it looks pretty good, but it’ll probably take the entire month to complete. I have file drawers filled with old pictures in that room as well as a cedar chest chock full of papers and other bits and bobs that belonged to my mom, my dad, and my brother. By tackling this area so early in the year, I’ll be running counter to Margareta’s advice. She strongly suggests doing that sort of cleaning last because it tends to dredge up countless memories – both good and bad – and it’s important to give yourself time to feel whatever emotions arise. I’m allowing myself the whole month, though, so I figure it’ll be fine.
Margareta mentions you may come across things that are very dear to you but won’t be of value to anyone else. She says you should designate one box for those items and clearly label it “Throw Away.” You’ll be able to look through the contents and revisit those memories any time you like and, after you’re gone, your family will see that label and know they don’t even need to open the box. They can just chuck it into the trash. (You know they’ll open it, though, because curiosity is a relentless motivator. Still, you can rest easy knowing you did your part in trying to save them a bit of time and effort.)
Besides the sentimental stuff in my room, it also houses my desk, craft cabinets, and rarely used exercise equipment. So, when I start decluttering in there, I plan to employ the same brutal approach I used in my closet as I went through my clothes and boxes of miscellaneous whatnots.
What helped me most was keeping in mind something I recently heard in a video by The Minimalists. One of them said, “We hold on to things just in case…the three most dangerous words in the English language.” That designation may be a bit extreme, but I understand what he’s getting at. It’s been my M.O. for as long as I can remember…always afraid to part with something, no matter how insignificant, just in case. I would rationalize I might need it at some point in the distant future. Cleaning my clothes closet resulted in one full bag of trash and three full bags of items to donate. That proved to me how rarely just in case even happens.
The minimalist in that video also mentioned the importance of being sensible about what you consider precious. He said that, if everything is precious, then nothing is precious. It reminded me of something my husband told me years ago about a coworker who wanted to make everything a priority. He tried to explain to this person that, if everything is earmarked as a priority, then nothing will be a priority. Using that premise, I know I can hang onto what I consider precious as long as I don’t try to convince myself that everything is precious.
While there isn’t anything particularly earthshaking or original in Margareta’s book, it’s sort of like that old saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” For whatever reason, this student feels ready, and the three major principles I’ve taken away from her method are:
I’m fully aware I’m in the honeymoon phase, but I’d like to believe this is something that will eventually become second nature. Margareta talks about making SDC a daily habit because, if you’re consistently mindful of what you bring in and what you take out, you’ll never have to do a major purge again.
I really, truly want to put that last part into practice. Considering my hoarding tendencies, only time will tell. For now, though, I’m cautiously optimistic…and even a little excited…to see where this journey takes me.