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Beautiful Useless Things

These days I’ve been pondering death a little more than usual. I think everyone is. Even though I don’t personally know anyone who has died of COVID, my heart breaks for all those lives cut short and the grief of those they have left behind to miss them.

In the book “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning,” the concept of döstädning is explained. Here is an excerpt from the linked review:

No, it’s not as morbid as it sounds. It’s actually quite practical.

Once you reach the end of middle age (or sooner if you feel like it, or later if you’re late to the exercise), you get rid of all the stuff you’ve accumulated that you don’t need anymore — so that no one else has to do it for you after you pass. That’s according to Margareta Magnusson, author of the book, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Make Your Loved Ones’ Lives Easier and Your Own Life More Pleasant.”

“Visit [your] storage areas and start pulling out what’s there,” she writes in the book. “Who do you think will take care of all that when you are no longer here?”

Plus, you’ll be able to better enjoy your life when you have less mess and clutter to deal with.

“Life will become more pleasant and comfortable if we get rid of some of the abundance,” Magnusson writes. “Mess is an unnecessary source of irritation.”

In Swedish, the exercise is döstädning — a combination of the word “dö” (which means death) and “standing” (which means cleaning), she explains in the book.

“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,” she explains. And you may even find the process itself enjoyable, she adds. “It is a delight to go through things and remember their worth.”

If I live out my genetic life expectancy (based on my maternal forebears, I could live well into my 90s), I may be fortunate to have a couple of more decades. But as I look around our house, I sometimes wonder: what will happen to everything? The everyday dishes, pots and pans, furniture, appliances, clothes, books and the like–useful, even desirable items–can be sold or donated. But what about all the tchotchkes, knickknacks, artwork, jewelry, and all the other stuff I’ve acquired over my life?

Henry David Thoreau said “people do not own possessions, the possessions own them.” I often think about that when objects need to be repaired or stored, especially when I consider cleaning out the garage. The last time we moved, nearly four years ago, we did what I thought was a massive purge, but here we are again with more stuff than we have space for.

I enjoy shopping in thrift stores, and I have items I bought simply because they are beautiful, not because I have any need for them. Here’s an embroidered tablecloth:

I paid $10 for it. The handwork is beautiful, on crisp linen. I have never used it.

I have four silk robes, only one of which I wear with any frequency. One hangs on a wall. I have at least four shawls, two I knitted myself; several dozen scarves, again some I knitted, some that were gifts.


This peacock robe hangs on our bathroom wall.

Some of the other silk robes and shawls.

And the art! Where to begin? When Gary and I married we merged a pretty nice collection of artworks we both personally love, and we have added a fair number of pieces since then. Will anyone love it as we do?

I found this 5’x5′ piece at World Market when we were redecorating our bedroom, and it matches perfectly. We had to ask a neighbor to get it home for us in his van because it wouldn’t fit in either car.


We bought this pitcher at the Laguna Gloria art festival soon after we were married and moved into our Austin condo.

Florentine triptych bought from an Austin artist.

I made the white sculpture on the top, entitled “Flame,” in art school. It’s been broken and repaired more times than I can remember.

Shelves of goodies, including a portion of my kaleidoscope collection (the rest are in a box in the garage).

This is just a small sampling of our beautiful useless things. Except they do “spark joy,” as Marie Kondo would have it. I guess one of my New Year’s resolutions will be to gradually sort through seldom-used–or useless–items that I don’t love enough to hang onto, and donate them back whence they came, ask my kids if they want them, or, most likely, return them to the closet or garage shelf until we move again. I used to joke that we should move every five years, or pretend to. It’s been only three-and-a-half….

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