I know. I know. That name sounds awful and morbid. But trust me on this one – it’s really not. At least, it’s not as bad as it sounds.
Additionally, this topic is timely right now, because the holidays are coming soon.
In a nutshell, Swedish Death Cleaning is a gift to whoever would otherwise have to undertake that task after you’ve departed to visit with the ancestors.
My mother did this for me, although I WAS NOT NEARLY APPRECIATIVE ENOUGH at the time. She had an estate sale after my step-father died, sold most of the contents of the farmhouse, and moved to an apartment in town.
Of course, she took with her the things she truly loved – which is the entire point. Paring down to what’s really important and not holding on to things “just because.”
It’s a departure from my old habits and a new way of thinking about your things.
Unless you’ve recently deep-cleaned, or moved, I guarantee if you open any closet or cupboard door in your house that you’ll find all kinds of stuff in the back or on the shelves or even on hangers that you don’t need, don’t actually want and may not even remember that you have.
I need to apologize to my Mom right here and now for not helping her with this task. She had my step-brother and his wife and family next door, and my other brother and family an hour away. I thought everything was covered.
I was a 6-hour drive one way. Had she asked me to come and help, I would have gladly done so. In retrospect, I should simply have volunteered or showed up to assist.
Now that I’m doing this myself, I realize that even just keeping her company as she went through every box in that house would have been oh-so-welcome companionship. And now I think of the questions I would have liked to ask, and the conversations we might have had. The stories she would have told me.
Now, she’s gone and I can never hear her voice again.
But…I didn’t know or realize at the time.
When the time came to pack up Mom’s things – it was difficult enough. I can’t imagine having to deal with that entire farmhouse full.
Of course, cleaning of this type can be difficult simply because there are so many decisions to make.
And it can be difficult because of unexpected emotions.
In my case, I’ve kind of been living my life backward as I sort through boxes. I have found so many unexpected bittersweet things.
My mother’s flatware. This made me smile. Now it’s integrated it into my own silverware drawer. I smile every day when I see these and think of her and the meals we shared at home.
A gift I made for my Mom when I was about 10 or so. I used her sewing machine, the little black Singer Featherweight that I still have. My Dad bought the machine for her before his death. I even hand-sewed the seam together on the bear’s shoulder. This was on her bed every day of her life.
I didn’t realize this bear was stored where it was, so it was a bit of a surprise when I discovered it. So bittersweet. Mom’s gone of course. What the heck do I do with this? I’m not about to pitch it. There’s no one to give it to.
Ok, in this case, it’s going on the guest room bed for now. Someday, someone else will just have to deal with it.
Anyone know what these things are? My head hurts just thinking about them.
When my Mom passed away, I brought her bedroom set home. I couldn’t go through everything at the time, but I have now. That’s where I found these gems.
Somewhere there’s a picture of Mom with pink rollers in her hair, using these roller pick or pin things. She would haunt me forever if I published that – so maybe it’s better than I have not yet reached that cleaning depth yet.
Dad’s flag from his coffin. This brought me up short. It also reminded me that I need to find the flag box I purchased and put it together so it can be displayed properly.
The first quilt pattern book I ever purchased. I bought the fabric to make a similar quilt for charity – then purchased my own quilt at the auction because my child loved it. Of course, then I needed to make the other child a quilt too – and one for our bed as well. I found that quilt too in this process.
Before this book, my quilts were all “scrap” with one of the church women providing a pattern. Or all of the patches were squares of the same size, traced using a cardboard template.
I’m gifting this book to someone. Maybe they will learn to love to quilt too. Trust me, I know this pattern by heart now.
I’ve found boxes and boxes of pictures too.
My daughter and I are waving goodbye to my parents when they first came up to visit after we bought that house. This made me sad, because in its companion photo, we were all standing together and hugging and now my daughter and I are the only two left.
Dad, being a farmer, had to plan carefully to be gone for more than a few hours. This was only the second time he had ever left the state of Indiana.
Dad and his three-legged rescue cat – Frosty – both napping. This was an after-lunch routine and they were inseparable. The photo hanging over the bed hangs in my house today, and the bed, purchased for my Mom by her parents for her 16th birthday is in my guest room.
My bracelet from the hospital when I was born. I don’t think I had ever seen this bracelet before either. I also found my footprints inked by the hospital when I was born.
I made this doll quilt for my daughter when she was maybe 6 or 7.
No one in the family wants this doll, cradle or the little quilt. With my daughter’s permission, I gifted it to a little girl who loves it!
And the pets. We miss our furry family members so much.
But yee-gads – look at that awful wallpaper.
My daughter and I had a good laugh over that.
And then, there was this.
The last birthday card my mother sent me.
Yea, that one was really tough.
The Up Side
- First, I’ve found photos I either didn’t know I had or had forgotten about. In some cases that was because I had not gone through my mother’s things completely.
- Second, I found wonderfully uplifting letters from so many people. For example, my great-aunt sent me an encouraging card that said, “I’m so very proud of you. You said you would do it, and you did! Congratulations.” (Hint – if you’re going to save something, write the date on it.)
- Third, I found information that I didn’t realize was important the first time I reviewed it. For example, I discounted a photo of a couple several years ago because they were not my direct ancestors. I’ve since discovered that one of the people in the photo was my ancestor’s sibling – and I don’t have a photo of the ancestor. That sibling is probably as close as I’ll ever get. I took the opportunity to scan the photo, upload it to the couple in my genealogy trees, and share with others.
- Fourth, I’ve found so much that I can now gift to someone else. I’m not specifically talking about heirlooms here, but information for my genealogy cousins and buddies. I’ve sent so many boxes off. In some cases, I’m returning something to the proper people. I’ve returned letters with signatures that people sent me 20 or 30 years ago – and their grandchildren or great-grandchildren now get to enjoy the letters along with their signature. I’ve donated to historical societies. I’ve sent research documents that I no longer need to other people researching the family or area. I should get a discount at both the post office and UPS.😊
- Fifth, I’ve decided to gift many things now instead of waiting until later. That way, I can enjoy seeing the person or people using or wearing or just enjoying the gift. If I’m not actually using it, and they can begin enjoying it now – that’s a win for everyone.
- Sixth, I’m going to do my family members one more favor – and this is a big one. I’m going to scan and organize the photos. I already purged a great many. Before you cringe, let me explain that really, no one needs 10 shots of the same thing or pictures with people whose heads are not in the photo. (That was my mother’s specialty.) Or pictures of places we can no longer identify.
So yes, I threw lots of pictures away. I had also printed second copies of many rolls of film for my Mom, then I inherited her set, so I didn’t need both.
I’ve started the digitizing process, albeit slowly. I’ll be doing this as I can over the next several months.
Swedish Death Cleaning is Satisfying and Freeing
Truthfully, I hate cleaning. It feels like such a waste of time because it never stays done. Not only that, but I’d much rather be doing something else, like genealogy, or quilting, or writing blog articles. Pretty much anything BUT cleaning.
However, this has been different.
Yes, I’ve had quite a few good cries. But for every one of those, I’ve SAVED my daughter from one.
For every difficult thing I find and have to deal with, I’ve saved her from the same.
I’ve also found some wonderful memories.
I’m enjoying the process of gifting. And I know the people involved – like my Mom for instance – would be pleased to see her things used and loved anew.
I’m sharing love with so many people in various ways. Kind of like Johnny Appleseed, but different.
I feel so much freer with fewer things – and it makes cleaning easier too.
I’m hopeful that maybe, just maybe, one of the people who’ve received research documents will be able to make a big breakthrough that I missed.
That would be the ultimate gift.
The holidays are coming.
Is there something in your possession that someone in your life would like to start loving now?
Consider Swedish Death Cleaning and spread the love!
Help Out, Please
I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.
Thank you so much.
DNA Purchases and Free Uploads
- FamilyTreeDNA – Y, mitochondrial, and autosomal DNA testing
- MyHeritage DNA – Autosomal DNA test
- MyHeritage FREE DNA file upload – Upload your DNA file from other vendors free
- AncestryDNA – Autosomal DNA test
- 23andMe Ancestry – Autosomal DNA only, no Health
- 23andMe Ancestry Plus Health
Genealogy Products and Services
- MyHeritage FREE Tree Builder – Genealogy software for your computer
- MyHeritage Subscription with Free Trial
- Legacy Family Tree Webinars – Genealogy and DNA classes, subscription-based, some free
- Legacy Family Tree Software – Genealogy software for your computer
- Charting Companion – Charts and Reports to use with your genealogy software or FamilySearch
- RootsMagic Software – Genealogy software for your computer
- Newspapers.com – Search newspapers for your ancestors
- NewspaperArchive – Search different newspapers for your ancestors
- DNA for Native American Genealogy – by Roberta Estes
- DNA for Native American Genealogy for those ordering outside the US
- Genealogical.com – Lots of wonderful genealogy research books
- Legacy Tree Genealogists – Professional genealogy research