Category Archives: Home Life

Döstädning (a.k.a. Death Cleaning)

“Will anyone be happy if I saved this?” – Margareta Magnussen

As an octogenarian mother and grandmother, Margareta Magnussen faces the end of her life with concern for the state of her affairs when she departs this earth. She does not want to be a burden to her loved ones. In that spirit, she took up the mantle to encourage the elderly to clean house in The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter.

Having participated in my mother-in-law’s estate by marriage and attended to my parents’ estate as executrix, I’m keenly aware of the effort involved in finding new homes for decades’ worth of belongings. While it would have been efficient to rent a dumpster and be done with it, I don’t want to add unnecessarily to our land fills while there are things that continue to have useful lives. But it takes time to process all that stuff in an ecofriendly way. (I’m still in the midst of it!)

Recognizing the time commitment, Margareta suggests that we launch döstädning at age 65. We set aside time regularly to slowly and unobtrusively rid ourselves of things we no longer want or use (and may not even notice we have). We take all due moments to relive the memories that the items may conjure up and say good-bye to them. We let friends and family have first crack at taking them on and share any stories that may go with them. We extend our network to third parties through direct sales, auctions, or charitable donation. And we sustain motivation by looking forward to a finish line in which our lives are simpler and less cluttered.

A phased effort takes a seemingly overwhelming task and chunks it into manageable efforts. Initial phases focus on areas in which there is little to no sentimental attachment – e.g., storage areas, garages. It develops organizational skills and knowledge of outlets for recycling all the while building confidence in the task at hand. The items that remain have a defined use and a logical place for residence.

When going through clothes closets, the easy discards include items that do not fit, have no anticipated use, or have exceeded their useful life. What remains should look good together and find expression regularly in the day-to-day or special occasion wardrobes. If lacking powers of discernment, competent stylists can lend a hand.

Memorabilia can be a stumbling block if allowed to derail progress on the downsizing effort. I’m not partial to things, but I’m highly attached to pictures and the memories they carry with them. Technology provides an enticing solution. I digitized the family’s prints and 35mm slides, and cleaned them up using PhotoShop. The resulting quality far outpaces the originals, and I’ve decluttered a good deal of closet space to boot. I also find that I look at the pictures far more often than when I housed them in boxes and albums. I’ve just made sure to have back-ups in my safe deposit box and cloud-based storage!

I chuckled when Margareta covered the topic of things you would never want your children or grandchildren to know about. While she cited the example of sex toys, I hearkened back to my mother-in-law’s hope chest and the discovery of her old journals. Her daughters delighted in reading the entries aloud. Not sure I’d want others sharing my private thoughts…

Part of döstädning entails training oneself to be a window-shopper instead of a consumer. There can be joy in imagining what it would be like to own something in lieu of succumbing to the temptation to buy it. Most of us just don’t need to own more stuff and may get little use out of impulse purchases.

I’m ready to start another phase of döstädning in league with my husband. While this activity falls way outside his list of pleasurable things to do, I’m encouraged by his willingness to declutter and find peace in a future state of minimalism.

Tidying Up

It’s that time of year again – Spring cleaning! And given that we’re under quarantine due to COVID-19, we have plenty of time to dive right in!

This year, I decided to avail myself of the one of the world’s leading experts on the subject, Marie Kondo. Her book – The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing – presents the basic principles behind her renowned KonMari Method.

She begins by admonishing readers to take this exercise seriously; half-hearted cleaning won’t get the job done thoroughly and completely. She also advocates a two-step process: discarding all non-essential items, and then figuring out where everything should go.

clean closetTo get into the right mind set for discarding, it’s helpful to set a clear intention for the exercise. It goes beyond the simple, “I want a tidy home” or “I want less stuff.” We’re challenged to explore the reasons why tidiness and having less stuff matter. For me, it’s two-fold. On a practical level, I anticipate that my husband and I will downsize substantially in the coming years, and we can’t take all this stuff with us. But on a deeper level, I realize that the old stuff needs to be cleared out to create space for the next chapter of our lives to unfold.

The KonMari Method proceeds from the assumption that we choose what we should keep rather than what we should discard. In particular, we place each item in our hands and ask, “Does this spark joy?” If it does, keep it; if not, discard it. She tells us not to be distracted by thoughts of being wasteful. An item may still have a useful life or contain helpful information. But if it doesn’t engender a sense of enthusiasm when held in one’s hands, it can be thanked for its service and released to a new home. (She even suggests giving a celebratory send-off to things that will depart from the house!)

The KonMari Method processes items by category, not by room. She reasons that most of us spread items across multiple rooms. Unless and until you can see everything that you’ve got in one place, it’s hard to make rational decisions about what should stay and what should go. She always follows the same sequence when working with clients:

  • Clothes, in the following order: tops, bottoms, clothes that are hung, socks, underwear, bags, accessories, clothes for occasions, shoes
  • Books, in the following order: general, practical, visual, magazines
  • Papers, keeping only those currently in use, required for a limited time, and required indefinitely
  • Miscellaneous, in the following order: CDs/DVDs, skin care products, make-up, accessories, electronic equipment, household equipment, household supplies, kitchen goods, other
  • Mementos

The final category proves the most difficult and is saved for last. By the time people reach this stage, they have gained confidence in their ability to discern what truly matters in the here and now, and what has come to the end of its useful life. As she says:

“Truly precious memories will never vanish even if you discard the objects associated with them… No matter how wonderful things used to be, we cannot live in the past… [Moreover], by paring down to the volume that you can properly handle, you revitalize your relationship with your belongings.”

Having identified what you love and what you need, the next phase entails finding a spot for everything while making the habit of using all of it. (Dust is a sign of stagnant energy!) Clutter accumulates when it’s too much effort to put things away or it’s unclear where they belong. By taking the time to store things in a logical, convenient, consistent manner, it’s easy to maintain the system and forestall backsliding. She’s big on storing clothes vertically in drawers so you can see everything at a glance. She also creates compartments in drawers to create space for specific items, often availing herself of empty shoe boxes and other small containers.

The KonMari Method goes beyond establishing a tidy house. It’s an act of restoring balance among the people, their possessions, and the house they live in. It helps us focus on what we want and need in our lives and diminishes craving for worldly possessions. And, of course, it encourages us to devote our time and energy to that which lights us up.

Feng Shui: The Art of Placement

In traditional Chinese thought, a life force or chi animates all living creatures and inanimate objects. This vital energy flows through each organ and system of the body and is influenced by neighboring chi. The proper movement of chi and blood within the body achieve health and balance.

Ancient China provides a practice to harmonize an individual’s chi with its surrounding environment: feng shui. Terah Kathryn Collins has adapted this wisdom for folks like me in her book, The Western Guide to Feng Shui: Creating Balance, Harmony, and Prosperity in Your Environment.

When friends first introduced me to Terah’s work, I was intrigued, but skeptical. How could placement of objects in my home, garden, and workplace have any bearing on my health? Then again, how could it hurt?

Feng shui creates space for energy to flow. When space has too much stuff in it, the chi can’t move freely. And when stuff sits around and gets dusty and unkempt (reflecting disuse), the chi stagnates. The solution? De-clutter! (I can definitely get behind that… and not just for Spring cleaning!)

Once all the old junk is out of there, feng shui seeks to strike a balance between yin and yang energy in each space. Yin represents the feminine, soft, cool/dark, earthy energy. Its elements are curved, rounded, low, small, ornate, wide, horizontal, floral. Yang represents the masculine, hard, warm/light, ethereal energy. Its elements are straight, angular, high, large, plain, narrow, vertical, geometrical.

Feng shui also seeks a balance of five essential elements: earth, metal, water, wood, and fire. The elements may be represented themselves (e.g., logs in a fireplace), be a part of another object (e.g., wooden furniture), or be represented by another object (e.g., a work of art, or a mirror for water). These elements bear a relationship to one another that could be disrupted by imbalance. For example, one of the ways I “balanced” the heat from our fireplace was to place a picture of a cool, snowy mountain scene above the mantel.
the five elements

When placing objects, each space (e.g., house, room, back yard) gets divided into 9 equal sections, or baguas. Each represents an essential are of one’s life. Objects placed in those areas draw attention to positive results that one hopes to achieve. For example, my garage occupies the lower right section of my house. Since I’d like some adventure in my life, I added travel posters to the garage walls. It makes me think of weekend getaways and proves to be far more appealing visually than blank walls.
the bagua map

When applied over the shape of a house or room, certain areas of the bagua may be missing or short-changed. That imbalance exerts a negative influence on that area of one’s life. To compensate, one either places an external anchor to “fill out” the square or amps up the associated baguas in other rooms. For example, if a house shortchanged the Love and Marriage bagua, one might place a bird feeder in the corner where the bagua would have come to fruition and place relevant photos of oneself and one’s mate in the Love and Marriage section of each room.

I followed the template when we moved to Oregon. At the time, the stock market had taken a nosedive, and we both needed jobs. So, I paid particular attention to the Wealth & Prosperity and Career baguas. Within months, our financial fortunes were moving in the right direction.

I’m still rather skeptical when in comes to conversations around the mystical aspects of feng shui. I’m far more pragmatic and down-to-earth than ethereal in my worldview. But I think there’s something to be said for intentionality in all areas of one’s life, and feng shui provides an outlet for its expression.

Terah’s book is chalk full of good information, concrete examples, and hints and tips for correcting imbalances and making the most of one’s living and work spaces. I refer to it periodically and find the content quite engaging.

I’m Putting My House on a Diet

I am at an age where my peers and I are dealing with the passing on of our parents. This sorrowful period brings with it the responsibility to find homes for all of their belongings. While selected treasures comfortably fit in our ofttimes overstuffed residences, there’s still quite a lot to be processed and moved along to other owners. This activity has elevated my consciousness regarding our stuff.

my houseI’ll confess that having a fair amount of space in our home makes it easy to accumulate excess baggage. Our ample closets and storage help us avoid the difficult decisions about what to keep and what to let go. So, we put things in boxes, close the doors, and forget about them. Two self-funded cross-country moves helped us trim back on things. And yet a quick peek into our cubbies provides a reminder of how many possessions never see the light of day.

There is a practical dimension to combing through our belongings and purging what we don’t need. We plan to downsize in our next move. I don’t want to face the gargantuan task of sifting through all this stuff amidst a move, especially given the time and effort required to find good homes for everything. (I really don’t want perfectly usable items to wind up in land fill!) I also want to spare our executor the unpleasant task of dealing with excess belongings once we move along to the next emanation.

There is a financial dimension to the task of paring back. I’ve made a little bit of money selling items through eBay, Craig’s List, and yard sales. I’m not convinced that the proceeds merit the effort required to offer them up. The real benefit comes from taking a hard look at everything and taking note of how many purchases failed to deliver value. That realization helps me curb the impulse to spend.

There is a spiritual dimension to the process. According to the Chinese metaphysical art of feng shui, all matter radiates a living energy known as Ch’i. This energy finds resonance in the thing itself as well as the reactions, emotions, and memories that we bring to it. Feng shui practitioners leverage these invisible energy forces to harmonize individuals with their surrounding environment. In The Western Guide to Feng Shui, Terah Kathryn Collins tells us:

“Items that have unhappy memories or feeling attached to them, or that you simply don’t like, do not carry the vital Ch’i that is supportive of you. The fastest way to transform the aliveness of these objects into something that is fresh and welcome is to let them go. Sell, throw, or give them away! Your junk is put back into the flow, and may very well become another person’s treasure. The Ch’i has an opportunity to be recharged or recycled, while you enjoy the lightness of being that comes with lightening your baggage and surrounding yourself with things that have positive, happy associations.”

I put that concept to the test in a recent decision to replace a dining room set that I’d inherited 30+ years ago from my grandmother. I never liked it. I told myself that it was good furniture, and its presence meant that I would not have to buy a set myself. But after living with it all these years, I finally decided to get something that reflects my husband’s and my tastes. I’m excited about the new set and felt great about donating the old one to ReStore.

Meanwhile, I’ve started the process of going through the house room-by-room to identify things we don’t use or need. It’s tedious. Some decisions are easy; some aren’t. I may not be as ruthless as I ought to be on this go around. However, I’m planning on putting the house on a diet regularly to keep it – and us – in great shape!