Random Ephemera

Swedish Death Cleaning: Lessons Learned and Living Life in Reverse

Life goals.
Life goals. Photo by Susie Tommaney
I've mined those open/closed wounds, explaining why I've become a huge fan of Swedish death cleaning, or döstädning, the process of slowly decluttering so that your death isn't a burden for those you leave behind.


As a three-time winner of being left to clean up a messy estate, I tried to find a thoughtful and caring middle ground along the spectrum of possibilities. There are certainly faster ways, including hiring an auctioneer, holding a garage sale, or engaging the services of a junk hauling company. There are slower methods that involve trying to get the best price for each and every object, though that could easily become an all-consuming endeavor.

What I have learned is that, fast or slow, the recently deceased would never have been happy with the outcome no matter how it was handled. I can always imagine enraged scowls from the great beyond. "You didn't get the best price. How could you just throw that away? Why aren't you paying for air-conditioned storage?"

So one of the lessons I've learned is that if you're a collector, and you continue to enjoy those objects on a regular basis, then you've found a nice balance. But there are way too many of us who hold on to objects in hopes of eventually selling them for a good profit; please know that you are the best person to make that sale so best get started now. Same goes for dream hoarding: it's time to sew that quilt or begin that craft or woodworking project.

The other lesson I've learned is that I don't want to leave my own messy estate behind for somebody else to clean up. It's a process, to be sure, letting go of hopes, dreams, memories and souvenirs on micro and macro levels. I fast-tracked that mission by giving up a 1,700 square foot condo in The Galleria in exchange for a 700 square foot shack in the country.

click to enlarge Buh bye, Galleria condo. - PHOTO BY TK IMAGES
Buh bye, Galleria condo.
Photo by TK Images
click to enlarge Hello minimalism. - PHOTO BY ROGER CHAMBERS, MARKET REALTY
Hello minimalism.
Photo by Roger Chambers, Market Realty
I call it living life in reverse. After spending years accumulating property, furniture and objects, it's freeing to begin to let things go. Gone are the books and videos; I can always read on my Nook device or watch on Netflix. Gone is the collection of blue glass; the decor looks wonderful in the windows of the new diner down the street.

I'm still holding onto a few things that feed my soul: foster dogs, paintings, and Euro-style board games. I'm not living the minimalist life just yet; still in the process of disseminating a trio of estate matters, but at least I have a mission.

I'll know when I get there, too. The goal is one plate, one coffee mug, and one set of silverware. 
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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney