What I Learned About Swedish Death Cleaning After Experiencing My Own Loss

As I stood atop a makeshift ladder, an old door atop two sawhorses, with a mask over my face, pulling down pieces of wood that were covered in dust that may have been there from the 1920s Dust Bowl, I found myself resenting my grandparents and their parents for holding onto all this junk. I then promptly felt guilt and shame for thinking such a thing while also knowing the resentment was, and is, in many ways misplaced grief. Indeed the emotions are as layered as the dust that was raining down on my head from the eaves of the garage of my grandparents’ house in southwest Kansas.

Along with my mother and aunt, we are döstädning – death cleaning, in Swedish.

It’s the latest idea and trend in organization, coming from Margareta Magnusson’s The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Make Your Loved Ones’ Lives Easier and Your Own Life More Pleasant. The principle is that people who are aging should begin to clean their homes and rid them of unwanted items in the hopes that when they pass away, their families will be spared the task. It follows neatly in many ways after the organizing trend started a few years ago with Marie Kondo‘s book The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up.

And it’s an activity I’d never thought about doing, much less considered giving it a name, until my father passed away unexpectedly not so long ago.

At the time that he died, I wanted to hold onto every single scrap of anything about him – if I could’ve bottled the air he’d breathed, I would have done it. Every letter or note or even text message, I was sure I needed to hang onto forever and always. As if holding on tight enough would mean he wasn’t gone from my life. I couldn’t fathom getting rid of anything of his. And he may have had the same idea. His father also died relatively young and our house has boxes of ephemera from a generation past; my dad had never been able to go through and get rid of the condolence cards sent after his own father died. Both of us had fathers who died unexpectedly when we were in our early 30s. With my mother still alive, there was no reason to cull my dad’s things, and with the shock of it, we just didn’t really do anything.

Then her father, my grandfather, died, and his house was left empty and needed to be cleaned out. That more pressing need has seemed to spur on my mom to look again at the collections of things her husband, my father, left behind. So we mobilized and are currently tackling the unenviable task of “death cleaning” in two places at once. And what seemed impossible slowly became possible – and even helpful. Here are some things I have learned, and am still trying to learn, about the process.

It’s ridiculously hard emotionally.

“Many adult children do not want to talk about death with their parents.” This. Most definitely this. I highlighted this quote in Magnusson’s book, and it’s so achingly true. It’s not something your brain wants to process, so it’s much easier to pretend it won’t ever happen.

I don’t want to envision going through my mother’s stuff, and facing down the one thing that we’ll all come to – death – is remarkably difficult. But if you bring it up when you can or think about it for yourself and your own belongings, you get a chance to think about what’s actually important and where you’d like treasured heirlooms to go. “Send that rug to Aunt Dottie, she’s always loved it,” and “It’s OK to get rid of that lamp,” etc.

I’m working to cherish the memory of loved ones without clinging tight to all of the stuff left behind.

I didn’t and don’t want to go through any of this stuff, literally and figuratively. It’s unfathomable still that my dad and grandpa won’t be coming back into the house, and surely they’d be asking where their shoes, hats, and books were if they did.

But wishful thinking does nothing, and I’m working to cherish the memory of loved ones without clinging tight to all of the stuff left behind. And it’s also OK to hang onto some special things as memory touch points.

I also had a share of irritation with the sheer volume of stuff and decisions to make, and then felt/feel guilt about that irritation. I know that the burden left behind wasn’t an intentional one, but it’s OK to feel tired and stressed with it all. Be prepared to be overwhelmed and uncertain.

Having gone through and done our best to organize the two-car garage, filled with old wood scraps, tools, buckets, and odds and ends from the past hundred years, my mother, aunt, and I were pretty much immobilized in physical and mental exhaustion, and it wasn’t long after sunset that we packed it in for bed. And that was just for the garage, where nothing had much sentimental value to it.

Many items are likely to spark memories and laughs and tears, some all at the same time.

And what I may have seen as ready for the thrift store or dumpster, others may not and vice versa. A tattered shirt or blanket may bring back all kinds of memories for someone else, and prying it from their hands because you think it’s trash isn’t going to help anyone.

The weight of making decisions on item after item will wear you out. That’s a large part of why Magnusson advocates for doing such cleaning not only before you pass (if you can), but to do it a room at a time, and slowly.

Stories. Ask for and find out stories.

The ideal way to go through the stuff and things of someone’s life is to do it with them or with those who know the stories. Before my grandmother passed away, she made notes on many of the handmade quilts that she had in her house, and those notes and stories make the quilts so much more meaningful.

But then there’s things like the 18-inch-braid of brown hair in a trunk in my grandparents’ basement. Whose was it? Why it was saved? Questions that no one has any answers for. We put it back in the trunk, shut the lid, and left that conundrum for another day.

Which brings me to the next thing.

Be ready to let go.

Think of what’s in your own attic, basement, garage, storage unit, file cabinets, and drawers. The things you’ve curated to make your life comfortable. The things you’ve saved – appliance instructions, old screws and nails, bank statements, solitary socks – the “stuff” that may not “spark joy” as Kondo puts it, but the stuff that you think will come in handy one day. Or your childhood collections, in my case of postcards and dolls.

All that you hold dear or find valuable in terms of the stuff of your life, at one point and inevitably, it will be meaningless. And that’s OK. The memories are still there, and it’s not a purge of them from your life. It’s a way to move forward, it’s giving yourself space to breathe, because as much as you don’t want to, the forward motion has to happen.

Give things a place of honor and joy as best you can.

It’s hard to know what to do with things that aren’t sentimental but that are still in good shape and don’t deserve to be flung to the dump. Maybe no one you know needs another bed frame or dresser, not stylish enough to be vintage, but just old-fashioned. Towels and sheets are easy enough to donate. But what do you do with things like yearbooks? Half-finished sewing projects?

I don’t collect baseball cards, stamps, or Boy Scout stuff, but I flirted briefly with the idea that I should start collecting all those things my dad had. Holding onto those collections wouldn’t do a thing to bring him back, though, and there are people in the world who surely would find more value in them than I could.

Schools and universities may be on the lookout for old yearbooks – we found an old friend of my dad’s who was overjoyed to have some of his old Boy Scout stuff, a distant relative was stoked on the idea of getting some of the stamp collection, and my dream is that someone at the local thrift store will find a way to put together the quilt blocks into a cozy, warm comforter.

It’s time-consuming to do more than just chuck things in the dump, but it feels right to be able to see things that brought joy and value into my dad’s and my granddad’s lives find new homes where they’ll be appreciated.

5 Best Disneyland Walls to Take Photos in Front of on Your Next Visit

You can’t visit Disneyland and not take a photo. The Anaheim park and theme parks in general, however, don’t offer the most ideal photo-taking conditions with so many people around. But there are spots sprinkled around both Disneyland and California Adventure next door for Instagram-worthy photo ops.

Knowing the dedication of Disney fans, we weren’t surprised to find several Instagram accounts dedicated to the walls of Disney. So next time you’re at the parks, make sure to locate one of the top five Disneyland walls for the best photos.

28 DIY Solutions For Removing Any Type of Stain

Stains are inevitable, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fight back with DIY cleaners and other easy solutions. You’d be surprised to find out most of the ingredients you need to tackle the mess are already in your pantry and take only minutes to put together. Whether you need answers to getting rid of lipstick stains, grease stains, and grass stains or how to make your own stain remover, we have you covered. Next time a mark lands on your clothing or furniture, don’t panic! Consult our handy guide here.

37 Things to Let Go of Right Now

There are plenty of things people say you should start doing to help improve ourselves, but there are a few habits we should all let go of as well. Make this year your best year yet by letting go of thoughts and actions that can bring you down, and instead begin habits that will make you happier. Read on for ideas!

Disney’s New Carrot Cake Churro Is the Underrated Flavor We Never Saw Coming

Disneyland’s first-ever Pixar Fest is underway, and with it, plenty of new treats, parades, and souvenirs are coming to the park. Oh, and churros – there are a lot of new churro flavors on the way. In addition to strawberry and vanilla-cocoa, Disney is introducing an unexpected carrot cake churro!

Available for $6 at the food cart near the Haunted Mansion, the sweet new snack is a regular churro that’s coated in orange sugar sprinkles and paired with raisin-carrot cream cheese frosting for dipping. Though many visitors haven’t had a chance to try it yet, it’s a hit according to those who have. “The cream cheese is pretty sweet so I would go light on the dipping. But other than that it’s pretty amazing,” wrote one Disney foodie, adding, “It tastes just like carrot cake.” Ahead, check out a few pictures of this delicious addition.

Make Your Own: Homemade Cleaning Wipes and Canister

When there’s a mess, instead of reaching for expensive cleaning wipes, make your own for less than a dollar. With the help of vinegar and liquid dish soap, your counters will sparkle without the use of harsh chemicals. And you’ll love how this easy DIY can be made over and over with the help of a repurposed coffee canister. Made from all-natural ingredients that power through any mess, adding a few sprinkles of your favorite essential oil personalizes these eco-friendly cleaning wipes.

What You’ll Need:

  • One-pound coffee canister with plastic lid
  • Paper towel roll
  • Sharp knife
  • 1/2 cup vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol
  • 1 teaspoon liquid dish soap
  • 10 drops essential oil (optional)
  • Spray paint (optional)
  • Needle
  • Scissors

Directions:

  1. After picking up the ingredients for these homemade wipes, they cost just about nothing to make, which means you can have a can of wipes in every room of your home. Vinegar does an amazing job of cleaning up messes while naturally whisking away germs, preventing mold, and killing bacteria. And you can use your favorite dish soap or make your own.
  1. Repurposing an old coffee can for this DIY is a fun way to create a container that can be used over and over again. Either leave the can as is, or give it a quick coat of spray paint, inside and out, for a fun look and to keep the inside of the can from rusting.
  1. To create the cleaning wipes, cut the paper towels in half using a sharp serrated knife, and squish them into the painted can. And using eco-friendly paper towels makes this DIY even greener.
  1. Mix together the vinegar, dish soap, rubbing alcohol, and water in a small bowl. You can add several drops of essential oil to the wipes, which personalizes the cleaner and boosts its antibacterial powers.
  1. Slowly pour the liquid over the paper towels. Once they’re saturated, carefully remove the cardboard center, and pull a paper towel from the middle.
  1. Press a craft needle through the center of the plastic lid several times, and then fit the scissors through to cut a circle from the center, around one half-inch in diameter.
  1. Now feed the paper towel through the hole in the plastic lid, and secure it to the painted coffee can. Not only are these wipes great at cleaning and disinfecting your home, but they also look seriously cute adorning countertops. Simply add a few drops of water to the canister as needed to keep wipes moist.

For more fun DIYs, check out our list of homemade cleaning products!

35 Laundry Tips and Tricks That Everyone Should Know

The words “laundry day” strike fear in even the bravest of hearts. Still, it simply has to happen – but it doesn’t have so bad! We’ve rounded up the best DIYs, tips, and laundry hacks that will make laundry day the best it can possibly be.

Love what you’re reading? Head over to our Snapchat for more awesome, bite-sized content!

The 6 Best Camping Destinations in the US

Camping is an awesome option if you’re looking to take an affordable vacation. Plus, you get to enjoy nature – something that’s truly priceless. America is filled with incredible places to camp, so we rounded up the absolute best national parks where you should pitch a tent. Here’s the top US destinations for your next trip!

15 Things You Should Never Say to an Introvert

Introverts aren’t magical beings full of sagacious advice who think they’re better than everyone else. They make up a pretty big part of the population – one third to half of the population identifies as introverts. Introversion simply refers to the need for time alone to recharge your batteries. Since introverts tend to be more sensitive, certain phrases or questions can catch them off guard and make them feel awkward or even a little rebuffed. Here are some things that you should never say to the solitude-lovers in your life.

1. “So, how’s the weather?”

Introverts notoriously loathe small talk. It’s not because they’re too stuck-up to talk about the weather or your favorite brand of yoga pants. Since they need to expend energy to talk with people, they’d rather talk about things that truly interest them.

2. “Don’t be shy.”

Introversion and shyness are different beasts. Introversion refers to the need for spending time alone to recharge. Shyness refers to a feeling of tension and discomfort when socializing with others. Introverts can be shy but more often than not, they simply like to map out what they think before they speak.

3. “You need to get out of your head.”

Extroverts feel energized when they talk to people. Talking makes them excited and inspired. Conversely, introverts need to retreat inside their heads to recenter themselves. Retreating to their thoughts allows them to deeply appreciate and process their experiences.

4. “You’re so antisocial.”

It’s normal for an introvert not to want constant company. Alone time, after all, is key for an introvert to thrive in this hectic world! The introvert in your life probably has a few friends who are near and dear to them. More often than not, they prefer few long-lasting connections over many acquaintances.

5. “Don’t be so uptight.”

You don’t have to be an extrovert to know how to relax and have a good time. In large, public places, introverts prefer quietly observing to directly participating. There are different outlets for relaxing. Some people enjoy the thrill of a large party while others like curling up in bed. As long as you’re not hurting anyone, there’s no wrong way of relaxing!

6. “Just say how you feel!”

Our culture runs on the mantra of “speak your mind.” Don’t worry, introverts appreciate their First Amendment rights, thank you very much. Rather than shooting things from the hip, though, they like to weigh their words carefully to avoid any miscommunication.

7. “You come off as a little cold.”

Introverts aren’t heartless monsters. Many of them just take a longer time to externalize their emotions even if they’re really passionate about something or someone. Remember the lesson to be learned from Shrek. People, like onions, have layers. OK, he was talking about ogres, but you get the point.

8. “Are you OK?”

The answer is likely yes! While asking someone if they’re OK usually comes from a good place, it can come off as condescending. To preserve their energy, introverts can go for long stretches of time without speaking, much to the consternation of extroverted family members, friends, and roommates. If you find that an introvert is being very quiet, they’re probably just focused on their task at hand, not icing you out or hatching up evil plans to take over the world (probably).

9. “You’re boring.”

It’s not in good taste to call anyone boring. But being called boring can be especially hurtful for an introvert, who might just need a bit of time to express themselves. Usually, an introvert will be keener to listen to you rather than prattle on about themselves.

10. “It’s just a hug.”

Introverts, like Olaf, can enjoy warm hugs, too! But it can feel weird to hug an acquaintance or someone they don’t know well since they value personal space. So they might seem shocked or taken aback when you give them that surprise hug. If you have a lurking suspicion that the person you’re about to wrap your arms around is an introvert, it doesn’t hurt to ask if it’s OK to hug them.

11. “You need to get out of your shell.”

Telling someone to get out of their shell is kind of a spurious way of thinking. I mean, you can’t take a turtle out of its shell! A shell isn’t so much a thing that an introvert needs to overcome as much as it’s part of who they are. Setting personal boundaries can help an introvert prevent overexerting themselves.

12. “Are you mad at me?”

The introverts in your life might need to take some time before they reply to the hilarious GIF in your text. Don’t worry, they’re probably not purposefully giving you the cold shoulder. It’s likely that they just need time to unplug. Even written forms of communication can be exhausting for an introvert. Just give them time to reply to you, and if they don’t, send them a gentle reminder.

13. “Put yourself out there.”

Since introverts crave authenticity, being told to put themselves out there for dating or advancing their career can feel weird to them. Let your interactions with an introvert be natural instead of forced.

14. “Why are you always on your phone?”

This tends to apply to that one person on your commute (or in some other public space) who makes a comment about how everyone is glued to their phones these days. Sure, it’s rude to surf the web when you’ve made plans to be with your friends. But surfing your phone in public doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re rude, bored, or standoffish. For introverts, it tends to be a defense mechanism. If you’re surrounded by people you don’t know very well, reading funny tweets can prevent unwanted and draining small talk.

15. “You should be more collaborative.”

Introverts tend to be great listeners, which makes them reliable and thoughtful. However, many do need to work alone first before they can articulate their ideas. The introvert in your office or classroom is probably more collaborative than you might think. They likely just need a little bit of alone time before they can be an effective collaborator.

These remarks might ruffle some feathers, but they probably won’t demolish your relationship with your favorite introvert. If you’re an extrovert or ambivert, it helps to be mindful of the ways that an introvert communicates their thoughts and feelings. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be decompressing in my corner of solitude with a good book and lots of scented candles.