At our recent “House” It Going?, we discussed all things ORGANIZED. Everyone came with great ideas, questions, tips, and a few secrets. I think it’s safe to say that we all left the discussion wanting more.
What better time to get organized than now, the middle of Winter. Us Portlanders know how epic the summers are and the last thing we want to do is sit inside sorting through stuff. So take advantage of the bleak winter weather and get organized!
If you are having a hard time getting started, I’d suggest reading the book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson. It is a charming “how-to” book on the Swedish concept of döstädning, which translate to death cleaning. It is a quick read and wonderfully entertaining, and most importantly, leaves you feeling inspired to get organized.
Death cleaning is the process of decluttering, organizing and simplifying so your death isn’t such a burden on the family and friends you leave behind. It may sound a little morbid, but Magnusson makes it clear that death cleaning isn’t just for people in their older years, but is for anyone, at any age. Starting the process of death cleaning at a young age will help you to be more mindful of what you accumulate and cherish the things you already have. As Magnusson writes, “Sometimes you realize that you can hardly close your drawers or barely shut your closet door. When that happens, it is definitely time to do something, even if you are only in your thirties” (2).
Death cleaning is different than a regular cleanup. It’s not about mopping and dusting. Death cleaning is a process that involves more time and is a “permanent form of organization” (3). Death cleaning isn’t sad or lonely, but rather, liberating and meant to make life easier and less crowded.
Start with attics, basements or storage units. A lot of stuff in these spaces is forgotten about. Once you start digging through it, you realize it’s stuff that won’t be missed if it’s gone. It’s a good way to get the death cleaning momentum going.
DON’T start with photographs, letters or personal papers. As Magnusson says, going through stuff like this can be fun but also very sad. You will most likely get stuck going down memory lane and never get around to organizing anything else.
CATEGORIZE! Magnusson suggests putting all your stuff into categories. For example: furniture, clothes, books, linens, kitchen stuff, etc. When you set out to death clean, pick a category. It will make the whole process easier to tackle and incredibly satisfying when a category is complete. One of the best categories to start with is clothes. Clothes gets lost in closets that are too packed. Start with pulling everything out. It’s important to get a visual on the amount of clothes you have. Make two piles: pile one to keep and pile two to giveaway. A good rule to live by is if a new item of clothing enters your closet, an old item must go.
Give everything a place and when you use it, return it back to that place. Get hooks for keys and jackets, and baskets for gloves and hats. For all those cords and chargers, I keep them nicely rolled up in a bamboo box on my side table so I know exactly where they are. Get in the habit of returning your stuff to its designated place and you will be amazed how well your home stays in order.
What to do with all the stuff you are getting rid of? Magnusson suggests piles:
Throwaway– Make sure it’s stuff that can’t be salvaged and is really broken. Try to make this pile the smallest. Less waste in the landfill!
Donate– Find a local donation center. We are big fans of Community Warehouse for home goods. You can often find donation boxes in many of your favorite stores, and some reward you with a discount if a donation is made.
Sell– Buffalo Exchange and Crossroads are two places I’ve personally sold clothes to. Plus, for clothes that these places don’t take, you can donate them to the rotating charities they support.
Give away– make a pile of things you still cherish but don’t necessary need anymore. Invite your friends over, give it to a family member, etc.
The Secret Box– Some of us at “House” It Going? shared a secret, “The Secret Box.” Mangusson also has a secret box that she calls her “Throw Away” box. It’s a box of personal things that no one else has access too… let your imaginations run wild. Magnusson literally labels her box “Throw Away” and has informed her children to throw away the box immediately upon her death. One of our “House” It Going? guests actually has a designated person, with keys to the house, who’s job in the event of his death, is to rush to the house and dispose of the secret box. Whether you have a secret box or not, it’s important to keep the things you feel most connected too. Death cleaning isn’t all about ridding yourself of stuff.
To reiterate, death cleaning is for anyone, regardless of age. However, if you or your parents are like Magnusson and getting older, death cleaning can be a hard topic to discuss. After reading this book, I couldn’t help but think of my own parents. They are in their 60s and super healthy and fit. As much as I don’t want to think about it, they are getting older. I’m lucky that they live a pretty simple life and actively discuss downsizing. I know my mom will have everything in order by the time she reaches her final years. She is where I get my obsessive organization from (both a blessing and a curse). For those of you who’s parents are getting older but not making the steps towards downsizing, Magnusson offers some “gentle” ways to remind them. Start with some simple questions like,
“You have many nice things, have you thought about what you want to do with it all later on?”
“Is there anything we can do together in a slow way so there won’t be too many things to handle later?” (32).
Whether your parents respond or not, it is important to start the dialogue. Offer to help. Get the grandkids involved. Do your best to make it fun and as less stressful as possible.
Death cleaning can be incredibly rewarding and freeing, whether you are in your 30s, 60s, or 90s. It is a great reminder to slow down the consumption and think about what you really need. Recycling and donating excess stuff is not only good for the planet and people in need, it makes you feel good too. Try it!
“Life will become more pleasant and comfortable if we get rid of some of the abundance.” (14) – Margareta Magnusson
Written by Abby