Katie Cassidy revealed that her father’s (singer David Cassidy) last words were ‘so much wasted time.’ Cassidy’s last words have been on my mind for weeks, and none more present while I have been cleaning out my home. In Sweden, this type of decluttering called döstädning—dö meaning ‘death’ and städning meaning ‘cleaning. In the final preparation of my departure, I don’t want others to be spending hours clearing out unnecessary items. Therefore, I am unloading all I can while alive. As I sorted, I kept thinking, “Why? Why did I waste so much time collecting this stuff?”
At no point in time did I think this stuff would own me, and for many years,’ stuff’ owned me. Computers and old cell phones had to be data wiped and dissembled for recycling of donation. The next room was the closet. All the clothes I never wore, but kept, were donated. There was so much: shirts, pants, socks, underwear, swimwear, shoes, a couple of belts, extra watches, old glasses, a few coats, and a couple of scarfs. By the end of the weekend, I pared down to one week of clothes that make me comfortable. I am going to spend the remaining time being comfortable. No more business suits. No more fancy ties. No unique cufflinks or other accouterments advertising gurus claim we must have. I am done, now down a single week.
When my father passed away, my mother kept only a few items next to his urn, including two Seiko watches, a Cross pen, his car keys, and his wallet. That’s all. In the end, my father’s life boiled down to five essential items. It was the five items that reminded her most of my father. And I kept processing while cleansing my own home. “What five items would I consider most important?”
Like my parents, I do not have much value. In some weird way, I am worth more dead than alive, for my insurance provides a nice slice of income for my beneficiaries. None of my things end in a museum for all the world to see. Therefore, focusing upon the five most essential items was easier than I thought. If it didn’t matter to me, then donate it, reuse it, or pitch it. Self-focusing makes döstädning a very effective practice when you’re still able to do it for yourself.
Döstädning is a life review. So make sure you think of those who will clean up after you. Sure, some treasures can get passed onward to future generations. For others, one might utilize the time to rid of lost love letters better left unsaid. What if others found some seedy or unkind material? How would the memorial be? How would you appear? I parsed through old photographs and removed anything that might seem awkward. I read through old letters and shredded anything one might misconstrue. Yet, I still have a letter from my ex-sister-in-law describing how my ex-wife passed. More than likely, I will shred that letter as well. I kept my military records and photos. Not sure whom they’ll serve, but maybe I wish to review them one more time.
For me, döstädning was a way for me to clean up my shit before someone else had to do it. Why? Look no further than Bill Gates. The Wall Street Journal reported Microsoft Corp. board members decided that Bill Gates needed to step down as they pursued an investigation into the billionaire’s prior romantic relationship with a female Microsoft employee that was deemed inappropriate, people familiar with the matter said. If the story is true, Gate’s relationship came to light in 2020. With a law firm investigating Gates, Microsoft’s board found Gates was no longer suitable to remain a director. Of course, another source of concern was Gates’ time spent with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. And there you have it: decades of servitude blown forever.
My döstädning process was in no way to deflect upon Gates, for I am no saint. I have many years’ of ‘shit’ in my past with many overindulgent periods. I spent too much (debt) and hid the truth (lied) of past sins only to have them reappear at the most spectacularly inappropriate moment. If I had completed döstädning earlier in life, I would not have offended as many women as I did. But I didn’t. I always thought I had more time.
Margareta Magnussen, the author of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, says, “… Death cleaning is not about dusting or mopping up; it is about a permanent form of organization that makes your everyday life run more smoothly.” There is no ritual or elders who will teach us about how to die with grace? Nor is there any ritual of how to let go of parts of our identity. If we cannot, how can we move on? The generation I grew up focusing on adding or acquiring things. But we are never taught to let go?
The Buddhists say, “The more you let go, the more you can receive.” A thorough döstädning allows me to face death with some level of dignity. Döstädning roots me to what matters: relationships and experiences. With fewer things, one might find less stress and more time.
I can’t help but imagine David Cassidy thinking of all the time he wasted and could never get back. I assure everyone that the pain of regret is far worse than the pain put into the effort.