My new favourite pastime is something called Swedish Death Cleaning (not to be confused with Swedish Death Metal, which I’ve never listened to but imagine still managing to be all zen and beautiful and Scandinavian in spite of the screaming).
Swedish death cleaning basically means going through all of your possessions and whittling them down to the bare minimum, so that when you die your loved ones aren’t lumbered with the task of having to clear out a life-time’s worth of collecting and hoarding. The idea is that you only keep the things that bring you - and the loved ones you leave behind - joy. And ideally these should all be able to fit into a cardboard box or two.
I’m not planning on dying any time soon but I am planning on leaving the UK to go travelling in three months, so I’ve set myself the task of distilling all of my worldly goods into two suitcases - one to store at my mum’s and one to take with me. And when I came across the concept of Swedish death cleaning it made sense too. I only have one kid, so when I do pop my clogs he won’t have any siblings to share trips to the dump with. I don’t want him to be lumbered with the gargantuan task of sorting through my stuff.
I’ve downsized before but this is next level. And it’s strangely liberating. Maybe it’s because I’m so eager to go travelling, but when I look at the things that survived previous culls prior to house moves I no longer see things I can’t bear to be parted with, I see weights tied with invisible ropes to my limbs.
Let me start with my perfumes as an example. I used to think I needed a selection of different scents. Now I look at those bottles with the ruthlessness of a bin bag wielding assassin and ask myself the question: In the grand scheme of things do I really need to walk through life smelling like a rose bush / vanilla / ‘karma’ (which, if you’re interested, is a blend of orange and patchouli)? Or could I do just fine with my little bottle of lime, basil and mandarin?
When it came to clear-outs, books really used to be my Achilles heel. Even if I hadn’t read a book for years and had no intention of reading it ever again, I’d treat those things like my own 300 page firstborn. Getting rid of them would be like dumping children of mine at an orphanage. And as for the books I’ve written - well, they really are my children. Aren’t they?
Over the past 23 years as an author I’ve built a body of work that fills an entire bookcase (if you include foreign editions and books that I’ve ghostwritten). That bookcase doesn’t just represent years of hard graft, it represents fears and obstacles overcome and wildest dreams achieved.
But the truth is, it just sits there in the corner of my spare room gathering dust. And now when I contemplate getting rid of most of my worldly goods, I realise with dazzling clarity that I don’t need to be able to look at my books to know that I’ve written them. In fact, all of the best aspects of those books - the joy of the creative process, the lovely feedback I got from readers and reviewers, the unexpected friendships formed from writing them - don’t exist in that bookcase, they exist in my memories and in my heart.
Which brought me to another wonderful realisation - our minds and our hearts are the most incredible storage spaces ever. Not only are they limitless, but we can take them with us wherever we go, without them taking up any extra space at all!
Now, I understand that distilling everything you own into two suitcases is a little on the extreme side but if you’ve been thinking for a while that you really should have a bit of a clear out and you’re sick of having to pray to the Patron Saint of Hoarders to protect you from a crap-alanche every time you open a cupboard door, I have a couple of tips for you (just call me the London Irish Marie Kondo).
Firstly, when deciding whether to keep or kill (and by kill I mean bin, gift or take to the charity shop) ask yourself this question:
If you were to be stranded on a desert island for a year with only this pizza menu from 1992 / broken spatula / childhood stamp collection for company how would it make you feel?
If you really feel it would enrich your days then keep it by all means but if not, it’s time to get ruthless.
Another really lovely way of freeing up some space in your home and your life is to ask yourself if any of the things you no longer truly need would bring a friend or family member joy instead. And I’m obviously not talking about your out of date pizza menus here.
Every time I go to meet a friend now I browse my bookshelves for a gift I can take with me - and I choose a book that I would buy them personally. For example, the other day I gifted a friend of mine who has been suffering from writer’s block my copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s wonderful book on creativity, Big Magic. This has been such a feel-good exercise and it doesn’t have to be limited to books, you can gift clothes, trinkets and furniture too. As long as you’re sure it’s something they would want, it's all good.
Slowly but surely, my flat is starting to clear and I’m feeling lighter too. There’s a real liberation to be found in the realisation that our belongings do not define us, and that all of the best things in our lives are stored in our minds and our hearts - now, and forever.
I hope this edition of Wonderstruck inspires you to travel a little lighter through life.
Until next week, sending you all love.
Yes I do that too, but I've a long way to go.
Your travels sound exciting. Im a hoarder in recovery.
Hi Siobhan, reading your musings always makes Sundays start off on a good note.
Where do you plan on travelling to next, somewhere where the skies are blue and the sun is shining I hope.
Downsizing can be a difficult thing to do as so many objects can hold good memories of people, places, good times etc.
I have no issues with what I call culling, the stuff that has little meaning or just clogs up your gears over time. The hardest things for me to cull are always books, I am a book junkie and go through books like a kid through a box of sweets.
If you are struggling to re home a book please send it my way!.
Anyways, wherever the tide of life takes you stay safe, have fun and please keep writing.
Best wishes, Darren.