Leave it to the Swedish to come up with a house cleaning method that fits somewhere between a Bucket List and Final Wishes. In her book, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning,” (January 2018, Scribner), artist/author Margareta Magnusson makes a case for take-no-prisoners decluttering to spare your heirs from sorting through your linen closet. Or your sex toys.
After handling the death cleanings of her mother and husband, Magnuson details her experience of sorting through her own stuff to save her relatives the burden. Granted, the title of the book is daunting. Death and cleaning, two things I instinctively avoid, but having been responsible for clearing out my parents’ condo, I know Magnusson is on to something. All those things you think your adult children will cherish after you’ve gone on to that swanky Amanpuri hotel in the sky? Fuhgeddaboudit! It will all go to Goodwill, or if your heirs are the entrpreuniral kind, your grandmother’s sterling will live in infamy on Ebay
Why do this?
After some thought I chose to rebrand Magnusson’s thesis; decluttering isn’t about dying. It’s about living the best possible vision of your existence. There are huge rewards to getting into the declutter habit.
“Decluttering reduces stress, creates energy and gives you a sense of control,” says Yasmin Goodman, founder of Organized at Last! “It gives you greater freedom and ease in your life and more time for the people, places and things you love and enjoy.” It also gives you more closet space. Nervous about having a professional organizer in your home? Goodman provides virtual decluttering services via her website.
Don’t confuse clutter with cleanliness. Even if you have The Cleaning Service of the Stars, they are not going to comment on your “Mystery Drawers.” You know the ones, filled with broken pens, lipsticks Revlon discontinued during the Reagan Administration, scrunchies (although they are making a comeback,) etc. When I recently tackled mine, it was like opening an Egyptian tomb minus Harrison Ford and the great soundtrack.
How to start
Evaluating the relevance of every tchotchke you owncan be draining. To avoid being overwhelmed, declutter just one room per day. Spread the process out over a week or month.
Magnuson suggests starting with clothing. She claims she was able to whittle down her wardrobe to two dresses, five scarves, a jacket and two pairs of shoes. Europeans! They don’t understand why Carrie Bradshaw needed a closet the size of Saks’ shoe department. Trust me. Save your clothing for last because it will take the most time and soul searching.
I say, start with your bathrooms. Toss all outdated meds, mummified toothbrushes and prehistoric cosmetics. (Old makeup, especially mascara, is a veritable Petri dish of germs.) If you have duplicate hair products, just keep just the ones you use daily. No one needs an armada of shampoos or conditioners.
Next, tackle your linen closet. Everybody has good and not-so-good sheets and towels. You know, the ones with snags, stains and monograms of spouses past. Ditch them. As the saying goes, if not now, then when?The same goes for those Tampax boxes you haven’t needed in five years, corroded bottles of Calamine Lotion and a vaporizer you haven’t used since your kids were, well, kids.
When I decluttered my kitchen, I was shocked to discover that I had over four sets of dishes and I don’t even keep Kosher. For decades, I have been carrying around – and never using – my grandmother’s Haviland china. I really didn’t like the ditsy floral design, but hadn’t been able to part with it because of the memories. Now, with tough love, I carted the china, along with Belgian crystal dessert plates, off to a consignment shop. Goodbye Grandma, hello more kitchen space!
As you declutter, you will need to distinguish between functionality and nostalgia. You can press a rose between pages of a book for twenty years, but not that cocktail dress you wore to your son’s Christening – especially if he now has his own law practice. Which brings us to decluttering your closets. I suggest you invite a friend to assist you, or hire a professional organizer. Otherwise, you will end up weeping over a size two vinyl mini skirt. One rule of thumb is to ask yourself if an item brings you “joy,” a la the now infamous Marie Kindo. My rule? If I have not worn it in two years, there isn’t any joy in fighting for hangar space so out it goes! Do this annually and the happy effect is like doubling your closet space.
If you or your partner have a home office, the concept of decluttering might trigger a migraine or a divorce. People whose desks resemble the Escher pencil drawing tend to insist, “But I know where everything is.” Do you really? Organizing those piles and keeping your financial and professional records in order will make you, your accountant and the IRS happy. If you are holding onto receipts and checkbooks from more than two years ago, may I suggest a bon fire? Or a metal or plastic storage container. Be sre to avoid cardboard file boxes as they are the devil’s motels for creepy crawlies.
Hire a Pro
“Hiring an organizer can save you time, aggravation and money,” said Annie Kilbride, owner of Life Simplified. “It’s an investment in your home and your quality of life.” If you think your home is a disaster area, check out the sobering Before and After photos on Kilbride’s site, as well as the free downloadable checklists. Just glancing at her Spring Cleaning checklist made me crave a nap and a glass of Merlot.
Like most diets, decluttering is not a one-time activity, rather, it is a way of life. After you have done your initial assault on clutter, schedule five minutes a day or one hour a week to do a mini search and seizure of your entire home while listening to the soundtrack of
A Star is Born. The results will make you Gaga.