A new book tells oldies to ‘death clean’ their houses so their families don’t have to when they’re gone - LIZ HODGKINSON, 75, is appalled: Why I WON’T tidy my life away
- New book, The Gentle Art Of Swedish Death Cleaning has become a bestseller
- Liz Hodgkinson, 75, is appalled that babyboomers are being advised to declutter
- She believes selling items while family members are still alive is utmost cruelty
- She likes to think sorting out her belongings would amuse her grandchildren
Sometimes I think the younger generation doesn’t want us babyboomers to exist at all.
First of all we are blamed for hogging all the decent homes and preventing millennials from climbing on to the property ladder. Then we are castigated for being the richest old people in history and going on endless round-the-world cruises, while youngsters can hardly make ends meet.
We are old nuisances with our health, too, crippling the health service with our hip replacements, heart bypasses and other expensive treatments.
And now — final insult — we are leaving behind houses crammed with belongings from long, acquisitive lives.
But it seems our children have had enough. For now we are being told to clear our homes while we are still alive, so that our families don’t have the ghastly task of getting rid of our accumulated junk once we’ve gone.
Liz Hodgkinson, 75, (pictured) admits she's appalled by bestselling book, The Gentle Art Of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson
I think it was Rod Stewart who gave them the idea, when he announced he was auctioning off 60 items of luxury furniture to enable him to downsize now he’s in his 70s.
That, and a new book with the chilling title The Gentle Art Of Swedish Death Cleaning, which exhorts the elderly and their families to get rid of all the surplus stuff in their homes so as to make their final years clutter-free.
The author, Margareta Magnusson, has ‘death-cleaned’ herself and has helped many other older people to do the same. Perhaps, needless to say, the book has become a bestseller, hot on the heels of Marie Kondo’s advice that everything in one’s home should be perfectly neat and folded and that to give houseroom to more than 12 books means you are an unreconstructed hoarder.
We may think that decluttering is new, but Shakespeare had a few words to say about continually divesting oneself of possessions. King Lear expressed a desire to ‘unburden’d crawl toward death’ — and look where that led him.
We baby-boomers of today may not have kingdoms to give away to warring children, but to me, the idea we should ‘death clean’ our homes, to make them as stripped-down and soulless as an Ikea showroom, is demeaning beyond measure.
Although I don’t like mess and clutter, I do like my home to be a home, surrounded by all the artefacts that make it uniquely mine. Far from being a Kondo minimalist, I have at least 3,000 books in my house and am always buying more.
Liz who has an attic crammed full of stuff, says although everything has been arranged into boxes, she has no intention of getting rid of the contents (file image)
I keep calling on my carpenter to build more shelves. Every single one of my books is part of my life’s history and it’s not just the contents but the covers, the size and shape of the volumes that give pleasure.
It’s true that I do try to organise my home library into themes so I know where to find a book on a particular subject, and to me they are not clutter but decorative. It’s the same with my art collection.
Although I am fast running out of wall space, I enjoy buying art, often from friends, and am not bothered about whether a particular painting becomes an investment. If I like looking at it, that is investment enough.
But once again, the art in my house is carefully hung and not higgledy-piggledy.
the annual turnover of the storage industry in the UK
Many older people, including myself — I’m 75 — have attics crammed full of stuff. A few years ago my attic was a messy jumble but I got my carpenter to shelve it out and everything is now arranged in labelled, transparent, stackable boxes, neat and organised.
But as for getting rid of the contents — no way! I have old school reports, school magazines, school exercise books, autograph books from primary school, diaries which I have kept since the age of 13. If I had to see all this stuff being carted away in a van to the nearest rubbish dump, I would feel that my whole life was being consigned to the skip, worthless. I certainly wouldn’t want some busybody coming to my house and death-clearing it out for me, while I remain, as one of my sons says, not entirely flatteringly, ‘as fit as a fiddle’.
My clutter, as some might see it, travels with me and if I have to downsize and move into an old people’s home, it will go into a storage unit. But whatever, it will be preserved.
Liz likes to think that her grandchildren and great-grandchildren will get amusement from looking through her belongings (file image)
I like to think that my grandchildren, and maybe great-grandchildren, will get some amusement from looking through these relics from the olden days, and they might laugh their heads off at my complete collection of my boyfriend’s — later husband’s — love letters.
True, they might not compare with the great love letters sent between, say, Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett, but my grandchildren may be surprised that their grandfather, who they regard as a somewhat silly old man, was once young and ardent.
Why throw all these memories away? Although they may not be of great interest or value to anybody else, to me they are priceless. There is not much I can do if my family decide to put the lot on a bonfire once I have gone but they are not going to do it while I am alive.
It’s the same with clothes. Although I am not as bad as my fashionista daughter-in-law, whose whole house is stuffed full of vintage garments, I like to ring the changes and am always buying new outfits.
I want to remain fashionable and up-to-date for as long as possible, and if I do have around 30 pairs of shoes, they are all essential to complete specific looks.
My bathroom, too, some might consider full of clutter. Are all those bottles of nail varnish necessary? Probably not — but you never know. I might fancy painting my toenails deep purple or bright blue.
Liz (pictured) says neither of her middle-aged sons have suggested helping to declutter her home, she wants them to wait until she's dead and buried to sort through her items
Where I do agree with the declutterers is in the matter of antiquated electrical goods, clapped-out computers and the like. Once they no longer work or have been superseded by newer models, they should be chucked. They have no use, serve no purpose and are nothing but junk. The same with broken bits of furniture.
I am also quite ruthless about getting rid of old saucepans, cracked china and so on, and I don’t even like yesterday’s papers hanging around.
But anything which enhances my life can stay. I don’t want to eke out my days in a surgically scoured environment that used to be my cosy home.
My daughter-in-law’s parents, now in their mid-90s, are still living in the house that has been their home for at least 60 years. It is old-fashioned and crammed full of bric-a-brac.
They are wartime survivors, used to shortages, who never throw anything away ‘in case it comes in useful one day’. Once they go, it will take their children years to clear out the home.
It will be a daunting task indeed, but it would be the utmost cruelty to start selling off their furniture, getting rid of their books and antiquated kitchen goods while they are still alive. It is that house, really, and all the memories that go with it, that are keeping them going, as with many old people.
So far, neither of my middle-aged sons has ever suggested helping me declutter my home, but if they do I shall say do me a favour and wait until I am dead and buried. And if it means you face a mammoth clearing job when I’m gone, tough. Serves you right!