The smart reviews that tell me what the chattering classes are reading, have publicised the publication of a book by one Margaret Magnusson on the Swedish art of Döstädning, which means “Death Cleaning”. This does not mean taking a bath before you snuff it, in the spirit of my mother who always advised clean underwear in case I was run over by a tram, when such cleanliness would preserve the family honour; nor does it mean the cleaning of my abode by my next of kin after my death. It is in fact the daily practice of keeping nothing that might be a burden and/ or an embarrassment to my family after my death. Around the age of forty I should begin to clear out such items so that I can die with a good conscience knowing that my treasured collection of Japanese erotic drawings has been safely donated to the Church of Scotland Naughty Ministers’ Archive.
I find this very Swedish in its orderly rationality, and also in its benign assumption that I would want to spare my family either work or embarrassment. I might guess that far from neing embarrassed by post- mortem revelations, they would in fact be entertained by finding me the same in death as in life. Were they shockable I might still want to tease their sensitive souls with the letter which proves my missionary great grandmother had an affair with a Congolese cannibal, from whom we are all descended.
Of course the death cleaning is also meant to apply to possessions which are no longer useful or desirable, as these will simply add to the labour of those who are clearing my house post mortem meum. It is suggested that unwanted books might be regularly given to friends or neighbours. Mmn? Would this really be an act of charity, or might it be the end of decent relationships. After a while, seeing me coming, they would turn off the TV and hide in the cupboard under the stair, whispering, “Oh no! First it was ‘Teach Yourself Origami” then it was ‘ Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason’; what on earth can it be this time? The ‘Complete Artichoke Grower’?”
I can see that the Swedish art might be useful with certain bits of furniture. Not that my house is over-stocked with these. My wife will bear witness that I have asked disapprovingly, “Do we really need chairs in the lounge? Can’t we move them from the kitchen if we have visitors?” But from time to time we have been given furniture by dear ones which turned out to be worse than the gap they filled. Like the “champagne chesterfield” donated by my mother which turned out to be a very big beige sofa made by Wartime Replicas Ltd. It sat in the lounge, large and unloved, until the cat peed on it and it had to be put down.
I suppose that döstädning arose because Swedes are dutiful consumers, making purchases at the rate approved for socially responsible capitalists, from art and music shops, from Habitat and Ikea, and from intelektual bøkstøres. Without doubt this might require fairly regular uncluttering. It seems not to have occurred to them that you could decide not to clutter things up in the first place; refuse to consume anything other than food and drink, and purchase mainly items that you needed and that might last.
Nevertheless I suspect I have not heard the end of death cleaning, and that people and publications which are attuned to the Zeitgeist will talk about, and perhaps start doing it. Just at the very time when Government cuts have minimised our recycling services. At the risk of sounding smug, I ought to leave my readers with some genuine wisdom on this topic:
25 ( Jesus said) “Therefore, I tell you, don’t worry about your life — what you will eat or drink; or about your body — what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds flying about! They neither plant nor harvest, nor do they gather food into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they are? 27 Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to his life?
28 “And why be anxious about clothing? Think about the fields of wild irises, and how they grow. They neither work nor spin thread, 29 yet I tell you that not even Shlomo in all his glory was clothed as beautifully as one of these. 30 If this is how God clothes grass in the field — which is here today and gone tomorrow, thrown in an oven — won’t he much more clothe you? What little trust you have!
31 “So don’t be anxious, asking, ‘What will we eat?,’ ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘How will we be clothed?’ 32 For it is the pagans who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. 33 But seek first his Kingdom and his justice and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Don’t worry about tomorrow — tomorrow will worry about itself! Today has enough problems already!
People who follow this teaching would not need döstâding.
This struck close to “home” for me. I worry about how much work everyone will have to put into clearing out my books, CDs and DVD/Blu-ray discs! Which is why I’m trying to do more downloads rather than physical purchases. The downloads can just live in limbo for all eternity in my computer or iCloud and no one might even attend to them. But physical books, music and movies are a different matter. I pity my wife and whoever helps her with my “death cleaning” – because I don’t have the stomach to do it myself before I die.
Why do most people assume they’ll go first?
Indeed. My wife keeps asking me why do I assume I’ll go first. Of course she assumes she’ll go first! Funny, isn’t it?