It’s a word in Swedish that means something like “death cleaning”. I say something like as it seems probable that there are a whole lot of cultural connotations with the word that don’t properly come into English. If they did, I probably wouldn’t feel the need to qualify the two-word translation with the next whole paragraph, and I likely still only have the basic gist of things. My background is half-Scandinavian, but not Swedish.
Döstädning is the idea of recognizing your own mortality and doing what you can to lessen the amount of stuff you leave behind for the people you leave behind to deal with. A big chunk of that is downsizing and organizing your belongings, but it also entails making sure your affairs are generally in order. It’s not just about cleaning the crap out of your house.
Although that’s where I’m starting.
We have a lot of stuff built up in this house and, in some part due to COVID, there are five adults currently living here. Be careful how you read that last sentence and don’t bring any baggage into it – I love having my children at home. Three of the worst days of my life will be when they move out permanently, not even coming home for summers during post-secondary education. COVID will someday be over. They will all return to or go on to some form of post-secondary education or not based on their own choices and preferences that may or may not be away from this house, and they will all build lives of their own where I’m only peripherally involved. I’d like that periphery to not be too far out, though.
In the meantime, we’ve built up two decades worth of accumulated stuff in this house, never mind the stuff we moved from the last one instead of getting rid of, and in spite of two purges in the last two years, I still feel like the house is crowded with possessions and things we don’t really need or use. Plus, I have plenty of paperwork and things in the background, some of which only I understand the workings of (that’s always a problem if someone else has to deal with it), and there’s the question of what happens to the literally millions of words I’ve written if/when something happens to me.
Photos, writings, online backups, social media accounts. An updated will. What I’d like to see happen for my funeral (not that I’ll be able to appreciate it). An obituary, because I’m thinking that’s something I’m uniquely qualified to write and it’s a stress no one who’s taking care of things at that point will need.
Generally speaking, your death is going to a difficult time for your loved ones. Why make it worse by leaving them a disorganized mess and a house full of things to throw away.
So though Döstädning itself may only be a fad on this side of the Atlantic, it’s actually a reasonable idea in a society where we’re living longer and have more of a chance to accumulate stuff, real and virtual. We also have more time to deal with that stuff if we want to. But we need to want to.
50 might be a little early to start death cleaning, but not too early, I think. I look around and see how much of what I have can be compressed into a smaller space or removed. And then I think about the organization I’ll need to do in the background and the documents I need to prepare or have prepared.
Not going to be a quick and easy process, but I’ve got the rest of my life to take care of it, however long that happens to be.
Stay safe and be well, everyone.by