Getting One’s Affairs in Order

On our island, across Puget Sound from the coronavirus epicenter, normalcy and strangeness coexist. Grocery store shelves emptied (but only briefly), patrons at the gym wipe exercise equipment with newfound diligence, and schools make plans to close. I’ve heard of just one confirmed case of COVID-19 on the island, but, given our close relationship with Seattle, it’s just a matter of time.

A few weeks ago before all this started, my old friend who lives on Bainbridge told me that she was in the midst of serious dostadning  (the Swedish word for “death cleaning”). My friend’s an orderly person, not a hoarder of the useless, so I couldn’t imagine she had much to do. We laughed about some of the items encountered, and moved on to discuss the political frets of the week. That was a lifetime ago.

Yesterday she sent a link to a poignant but realistic essay by Mary Pipher, “If I’m Going to Die, I Might As Well Be Cheerful About It.”

My old friend also told me how thankful she is that the coronavirus, so far, had not come for children – or even their healthy parents. I think of that with each piece of grim news – how terrifying to be worrying about the children or their parents – and I, too, am grateful.

And, as the acknowledged target demographic for this virus – being aged and having compromised lungs – it’s probably time to pay attention to what one would leave behind.

Recently, two different friends, after experiencing the sudden loss of their partners, strongly advised to organize what each of us knows – to share knowledge about passwords, bank accounts, bills, tv remotes, repair people, on and on – the unnoticed details of daily life. Oh yes, I thought, and then did nothing.

But now, gathering all this information seems an urgent task – not technically dostadning – but another way to make things easier for the left behinds. And be cheerful about it!

“Dostadning” – The Doing

We’re moving!

Sort of. What was an idea for a couple of years – a dream or dread depending on attitude toward change – is suddenly a reality. In mid-April, a moving van will come and take many of our belongings to a little house in Winslow on Bainbridge Island.

“Sort of” because we don’t have to clear out everything by then. To start, we’ll take what’s needed to make the Bainbridge house comfortable, leaving bare bones here till the end of the summer. This house is small, but that one is smaller. And the accumulations of 12 years here, on top of what we brought from Alaska, won’t all fit.

From Margareta Magnusson’s “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning,” I know that’s a good thing. Last fall I wrote about Magnusson’s book before it came out, and now have read it twice. Enlivened by Magnusson’s little ink drawings, it’s a charming, humorous, practical, slim tome by a wise woman aged “between 80 and 100 years.” As she considers disposal of all the possessions cluttering our houses – and making them home – she admits, “my vice is really things.”

Magnusson says the idea of spending time with objects one last time and then disposing of them isn’t sad to her. But when it is, she remembers: ”I really do not want to give my beloved children and their families too much trouble with my stuff after I am gone. That is why I want to tell others about death cleaning, and how wonderful it can be.” Dostadning describes “a permanent form of organization that makes your everyday life run more smoothly.” Who doesn’t need that?

So after these years in the woods on the bluff we move to a town – within walking distance to restaurants, movie theatre, bakery, grocery, library, clinics – and will have close neighbors. My brain is full of plans of all sorts, lists, decisions, the complexities of privilege and possessions.

I debated long about how to keep “Her spirits rose…” going in the midst of it. Because I am both excited about the move and daunted, I think I need to keep doing what I do – write about it, draw about it.

Thank you to you faithful readers, I appreciate you! More to follow…

 

“Dostadning” – Death Cleaning

A friend recently hired a professional to help organize her house, not because she was downsizing, but because, as the expert suggested, she needed to “right size.” My friend liked this guidance through finding order in her home, discarding and shredding some things, repositioning others.

So there’s a word for such activity in Sweden – the country of hygge brings us dostadning, a word which combines death and cleaning – not scrubbing the bathtub, but a gradual, before death clearing out of possessions. According to the buzz of articles surrounding artist Margarita Magnasson’s book, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How To Free Yourself From a Lifetime of Clutter,” dostadning is a common practice in Sweden.

The book won’t be released until January 2 but this Washington Post article gives the flavor (don’t miss the video of Magnasson encountering her daughter’s storage unit). Magnasson says this is an ongoing endeavor, suggests 65 as an appropriate age to begin, but admits it’s never finished.

Billed as not so rigid as the KonMari approach (you know what she’d do, making quick work of everything with black plastic trash bags), I’m curious about Magnasson’s method of dealing with copious, accumulated “stuff” in a house.

Because Magnasson is an artist I wonder if she addresses the particular muddle created by art-making, the tools and supplies, but also sketchbooks, drawings, unloved paintings that might live under some of our staircases (not naming any names or making any admissions).

Few words are less enthusiastically embraced than death and cleaning, so I do admit that reading this book – even writing about it before publication (!) – might be just another way to avoid actually doing the dostadning!

 

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