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Swedish Death Cleaning

Another day, another Scandinavian lifestyle trend, it seems. This time, with a dark twist. Though ominous as it sounds, döstädning (aka death cleaning) is actually profoundly liberating.

Liesl Robertson

When my mom died in 2016, my two sisters and I flew up to Joburg to pack up her house,’ says Sarah* (48). ‘She was still living in the four-bedroom that we grew up in, and walking into that house was like going back in time – it still looked exactly the same, right down to our childhood bedrooms with the posters still on the walls. It took the three of us a solid two weeks to sort through everything.

 ‘At first, we were very careful, looking at every piece of paper and trying to find a good home for every ornament. It’s very strange going through someone else’s personal things: you can’t help but feel like you’re invading their privacy. But by day five, we were literally just dumping things into black bags. My mom was very sentimental, and had kept every bank statement and birthday card she’d ever received. Not to mention her collection of ceramic figurines – she loved going to flea markets and vintage shops, and she always came home with something, so of course every surface and shelf was covered in knick-knacks (kaggelkakkies, as my dad would say).

‘Of course we each kept some things that remind us of her – I took her pink and gold tea set that I’d always loved, a few photo albums and some of her jewellery – but none of us had the space to keep any of the bigger ‘heirlooms’. And, to be honest, no one really wanted the dark ball and-claw dining room table and chairs, the ornately framed still-life paintings or the set of floral couches – that all went to a secondhand shop. We poured bottles of wine down the drain; most of them had been saved for a special occasion, but had subsequently all gone off. We found boxes and boxes of untouched crystal glasses, still in their original packaging; three full sets of silver cutlery; hat boxes with ‘church hats’ and suitcases full of clothing that had belonged to my grandmother; my parents’ special wedding crockery, barely used… it all went to the nearest charity shop. I still feel bad when I think about it. My mom would have been horrified about all her precious things being unceremoniously thrown out, but we all have too much stuff already. And trekking it all down to Cape Town would have cost a small fortune.’

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March 2018

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