Now comes death cleaning.
It isn’t enough that funeral directors want us to “prepay” for services, or that elder law attorneys tell us, quick, get affairs in order while we still can remember the names of our children, or that afternoon TV ads scold the poor souls who shamelessly fall down basement stairs without wearing an electronic emergency pendant. Subtext: Look at the trouble you’ve made for everyone now!
But death cleaning?
This involves tossing just about everything but the salt and pepper shakers and maybe a few pairs of socks so that loved ones don’t have to do it — you know — later on.
It is an idea with urgency — a thing.
There’s even an international bestseller on the subject.
Put on your list, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter,” by Margareta Magnusson.
“ … generating a lot of buzz,” exclaimed the publication Family Handyman. “ … marvelous philosophy,” swooned Real Simple magazine.
At the local library, a worker describes Magnusson’s 2018 book as a “hot number” favored by seniors eager to “get rid of their excess now and not annoy ungrateful heirs.”
The worker confided that after her mother-in-law died 15 years ago, she had to wade through stacks of receipts from Arnold Constable, the Fifth Avenue department store with branches in Hempstead and Manhasset.
Arnold Constable! The place went out of business in 1975. Magnusson was onto something, no question.
But who knew there was a Swedish approach to getting rid of cherished belongings — threadbare flannel shirts, a 1967 covered-bridge calendar, badly scratched Kingston Trio LPs?
Already, the Swedes have contributed to the world fermented herring, caviar in toothpaste tubes and the odd practice of hopping like frogs around the midsummer maypole.
If they also have a knack for downsizing before it’s too late, attention must be paid.
Magnusson, who cites her age as “somewhere between 80 and 100,” gets right to the point.
“Some people can’t wrap their heads around death,” she declares. “And these people leave a mess after them. Did they think they were immortal?”
Elsewhere, the author instructs: “ … make your home nice and orderly when you think the time is coming closer for you to leave the planet.”
Not exactly a sentimentalist, Magnusson is correct.
Dreading your own eternal liftoff is perfectly normal. Making others unload that vintage pair of wide-wale, olive-green corduroys is something else.
“Your loved ones will not be happy people when they have to do your organizing for you,” Magnusson warns.
OK, I’m ready to start.
I see three shiny ties that could go — though, wait a minute, I want to think a little more about the one with big bright red and yellow geraniums — and, if pressed, could consider surrendering the rust-plated mystery tool inherited from my father sometime around 1963.
My devotion to flannel shirts has been noted, but maybe I could part with the stalwart Black Watch plaid with a big Clorox splotch. Let me think it over.
For more than 50 years, I worked at newspapers from Colorado to New York and have cartons packed with stories — “clips,” as they’re known in the business.
You couldn’t pay me to read the stuff, but perhaps the four children will want to spend afternoons memorizing pieces like the one in the defunct Albany Knickerbocker News about a rural minister who grew a 113-pound pumpkin? I’ll ask.
I can tell you for sure, I’m not giving up my collection of miniature Volkswagen buses like the ones we drove in the old Flower Power days of bell-bottoms and tie-dyes, or the chain saw I found at the recycling center that sooner or later I’ll figure out how to start, or the tortilla press from when I thought it was counterrevolutionary to buy anything in a plastic pouch.
Tossing nonessentials isn’t a bad idea, and Magnusson has plenty of company telling us to get busy. Library shelves are jammed with minimalist manifestos. Suddenly, it’s cool to live with less.
One author, Marie Kondo, has a kind of spiritual guide to decluttering, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” — another giant bestseller — and just recently Newsday ran a big exploreLI article with a headline that demanded, “Clean Out, then Clean Up.”
I want to make it easy for survivors, really. It’s the right thing to do, but not easy. Accepting mortality is tough. Deep-sixing the Kingston Trio may be asking too much.