I know many people look at January as a fresh start—the beginnings of new habits, the shedding of old ones, and the promise of a brighter, shinier version of themselves—that is, if most things stick on the list of I’m-serious-about-it-this-year resolutions.
But January has adopted a new meaning for me over the last couple of years simply because I’ve taken over a task no one at work is terribly thrilled to be assigned.
I’m absurdly delighted when faced with the challenge of organizing—of tackling chaos and wrestling it into neat rows of tidy “make sense” portions. Cupboards, pantries, file cabinets—I’ll orchestrate any item with the same military fervor Captain von Trapp had for queueing up offspring.
The snag is that my goods to groupify are not errant children, and the gap left in their absence does not allow me to tenderheartedly sigh and roll my eyes with slight amusement that a bottle, a case, or a barrel of whiskey has wandered off and is likely still up in its bedroom, wholly caught up in a drossy bit of literary drivel.
Instead, there are a couple of weeks of high anxiety, raised eyebrows, and countless vexed but ludicrous searches that include scouring closets, lifting stacks of paper, and requesting people empty their pockets. In the end, most of those absent cannot be categorized as truly AWOL—more like absent without the official paying attention to her spreadsheet.
Sometimes we just have too much stuff. Or perhaps, in my case at work, we have too much stuff that isn’t bolted to the ground behind barred holding cells.
Coincidentally, my library sent me a book suggestion at precisely the same time I was fretfully reckoning inventory. It is called: The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.
Disturbing, for sure, but curiously poetic, perhaps.
After reading a review of the book, I’m not sure I’d categorize it as art, or event gentle, but cleaning before you kick the bucket with the bucket you’re soon to kick is pretty accurate. Maybe it’s a Swedish translation thing?
Maybe the meta quality is what appeals to me but being as practical and word obsessed as I am, I would likely change the title to If You Can’t Eat It, Drink It, or Read it, Toss it.
Or better yet, How to Start Losing Your Shit and Have People Thank You for It.
And again, having been raised in the hard-nosed and utilitarian kingdom of the Mid-West, my people would definitely see value in this idea. Of course, many of them are Swedish, so we’re tilting the scale a bit here too.
As I see it, January is a month where myriad people try on the activity of shedding. Whether it’s weight, bad habits, or toxic relationships—why not start combing through the clutter too, right? Dostadning is the Swedish word that blends death and cleaning, although maybe there should be a “pre” thrown in there for good measure and clarity. Hard to reach corners are even harder to reach from the inside of a coffin, right?
And even though I’m a massive fan of spring cleaning no matter the season, the Swedish concept adds a new layer of consideration and thoughtfulness to the activity: do it now so your kids don’t have to. Although, in my case, it might be better stated as do it now because your kids won’t—they’ll just “accidentally” torch it and take the insurance loss.
I don’t want to leave my offspring with feelings of resentment once I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, and I certainly don’t want to leave them with a dozen boxes of high school memorabilia, drawers full of obsolete electrical cords from my Commodore 64 and Atari 7800 console, and that shed full of traffic cones, chamber pots, candle nibs, and “Do Not Disturb” signs from every hotel I’ve ever visited. I’d prefer to leave them each a heartfelt hand-written note, their favorite meal prepared and labeled in the freezer, and enough Tupperware with matching lids to last a lifetime. I imagine with this type of forethought, they would at least raise a toast to my ability to properly assess their busy lives and needs.
So, I have decided to start dostadning this month. I will work to rid myself of files, of furniture and of films that only run on archaic VCR players. I will purge my closet of garments from junior high, my drawers of mismatched socks, and my cabinets of the grass clippings that were once pungent herbs. I no longer need bed linens for bed sizes I do not possess, prom dresses from the 80s, or floppy discs that still might hold banking data from banks that have long ago shuttered.
Hell, I may even shed three letters from my name, as they’re superfluous as well.
It’s the act of tidying up that aids the pursuit of simplicity—of giving space to only things that still serve you. Yes, it’s the Marie Kondo-ing exercise, and it likely exists in every culture.
No doubt we can all see the benefit of lightening not only our daily load but also the hefty responsibility we pass on to those we leave behind. There is also no doubt that my employer would prefer I not classify missing valuable liquor as the gentle art of Swedish death cleaning, as he will quickly Marie Kondo my ass right out of employment and feel sparkling joy in his own act of KonMari.
For now, I’ll keep working at hunting for the full bottles, and tossing out the empties.
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