Live Well, Do Good

Reckoning Can Even include “death cleaning”

Brandon Sun, January15, 2018 - David McConkey

“Reckoning” might be the word of the year for 2018. We see a reckoning with the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. On a larger scale, the baby boomers will face a reckoning as they shuffle off the stage of political leadership. Baby boomers are also taking stock as they get ready to shuffle off this mortal coil. For this last reckoning, there is a helpful Swedish concept: “death cleaning.”

We are now in the post-Harvey Weinstein era, named after the Hollywood mogul who was brought down by charges of sexual misconduct. This reckoning builds on the decades-long struggle for women’s rights in the home, in the workplace, and in the larger society.

Soon the baby boomer generation will face a reckoning. The baby boomers are finishing up their time of leadership. In Canada, besides the few months of Kim Campbell, Stephen Harper was our only baby boomer prime minister. Canadian leaders now – like Justin Trudeau, Andrew Scheer and Jagmeet Singh – are gen-Xers.

The U.S., of course, is still led by that quintessential baby boomer, Donald Trump.

As a baby boomer myself, I reflect more about such concerns at each turn of the calendar year. I am deeply disappointed by the leadership provided by my generation. And I am bracing for a more severe assessment in the future.

Thinking about the Harper and Trump administrations, I am distressed by the rejection of learning, science and complex analysis. There has been a putdown of “university types” and of expertise in general. This has resulted in, among other things, neglecting the issue of climate change.

The attitude of my generation can be like that of arrogant, entitled children. Why should we listen to scientists just because they have worked for years studying the climate? We just want to go with how we feel! We are, like, really smart! The Dunning-Kruger effect? We’ll look that up if we want to read about something boring!

There will be a generation gap in the future as the reality of climate change sinks in. This will be amplified in the United States in the aftermath of the Trump debacle. Through the baby boomers will sweep waves of embarrassment, guilt and shame.

So, I say to the younger generations: you can do better than we baby boomers did. You can embrace choices that are more engaged, more thoughtful and more ethical. This is already happening. Google reports that, in search results for the last year, questions such as how to run for elected office and how to be a good parent were asked 10 times more than ever before.

Eath Cleaning We baby boomers hope to have more success coming to grips with our own possessions and our own living spaces. One goal: decluttering to get ready for those coming after us. Here is where a brand new book from Sweden can come in handy for baby boomers (and older folks) who are sorting, downsizing, moving, and generally preparing for our ultimate ending.

The book, by Margareta Magnusson, is The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter.

“Death cleaning,” it turns out, is an actual word in Swedish: döstädning. It combines – naturally enough – the word, dö, “death,” with städning, “cleaning.”

Author Magnusson brings us a short, quirky and easy read. “When death cleaning, size really matters,” she writes. “Start with the large items in your home, and finish with the small.” One specific: leave photos and letters to the end, or “you will definitely get stuck down memory lane and may never get around to cleaning anything else.”

Sprinkled among her tips for organizing things are her reflections of a life well lived. She describes how she and her international businessman husband lived around the world and raised five children.

Listing her current age as “somewhere between 80 and 100,” Magnusson is now widowed and living back home in Sweden. Enjoying her children and grandchildren, she is downsizing her stuff and moving to a smaller place in preparation for her final reckoning.

* * * 

See also:

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning . . . on 

Ways to Leave a Legacy

Reflecting on Consumption

Changing the Calendar, Changing the Culture

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Downsizing Your Home

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