Moving and Death Cleaning

Moving and Death Cleaning June 9, 2023

In my generation, when you retire, you tend to move to where your grandchildren are.  My parents didn’t move where we lived.  We travelled to their house.  But, for whatever reason, for us and many of our friends, we like to live close to our adult children and their families, wherever they are.

When we retired, we moved to Oklahoma where our son-in-law was called right out of seminary to a church in a small rural community.  As it happened, that community was in the same county where the Veith family farm had been, where my father grew up and where we would visit, especially on Memorial Day, to visit our extended family and to the cemetery where our family members were buried to decorate their graves.

My wife also grew up not too far away, so we went back to our roots.  We loved being just two blocks from our daughter and son-in-law and being a part of our grandchildren’s lives.  We got involved with our church and the people who were part of it, more so than any other place that we have lived.  And it was good to be in Oklahoma, which felt like home in a way the other places we lived just didn’t.

Just after Thanksgiving, our son-in-law was called to be the associate pastor at Memorial Lutheran Church in Houston.  It’s a wonderful congregation with a first-rate classical school, where our grandchildren are thriving.

In the meantime, our other daughter and her family moved back to the states from Australia.  Her husband was called to be a professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.  We’ll miss going to the land of Oz every chance we got, but we are overjoyed to have them in the same time zone.

So the grandchildren beckoned.  But should we go to Houston or St. Louis?  Both, ideally, but that’s hard to pull off.  Then we had a chance to sell our house–to the new pastor, actually, which was a help to him too–which hastened the necessity of a decision.

The Houstonites hadn’t bought a house yet, so we wouldn’t know where to move to be close to them.  So, for now, we decided to move to St. Louis.  We found an apartment about as close to the Australians as we were to the former Oklahomans.

The movers come the day after tomorrow.  For the past weeks, we have been madly packing boxes.  But there is another dimension to this, which is the true subject of this post; namely, downsizing.  We are moving from a fairly large house to a one-bedroom apartment.  We can’t take everything.

We had to decide what to take, what to give away, and what to throw away.  That means we can’t just throw everything into a box.  Every scrap of paper, every souvenir from vacations long gone, every photograph of our children growing up, every drawing that adorned our refrigerator.  This was agonizing. Emotional. And exhausting.

It involved reviewing my whole life, and throwing much of what it accumulated away.  And yet, despite my sentimental attachments that led me to keep so much of this stuff, I found that I was able to do it.  In fact, it came to feel liberating to get rid of so many of our material possessions.  We gave some of them to family members and some of them to the local used clothes and furniture shop.  We took pictures on our phones of childhood art, so that it would still exist in the Cloud.  I gave away nearly all of my books to the newly formed Lutheran Classical School to serve as the nucleus of their library.

It was actually a good, meditative, even spiritual exercise.  While doing all of this, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about the Swedish custom of “death cleaning.”  The article, by Chavie Lieber, is entitled How ‘Swedish Death Cleaning’ Became the New ‘Tidying Up’ with the deck “A European decluttering philosophy focused on mortality is catching on in the United States, thanks to a bestselling book and a new reality TV series on Peacock.”

The story (behind a paywall) tells about the book that popularized the concept, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning:  How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter.

Popularized by a self-help book from 2017, Swedish Death Cleaning follows a simple philosophy: Who wants to burden family members with clutter left behind? Swedish artist Margareta Magnusson, the book’s author, wrote a how-to guide for döstädning—the practice of getting rid of material possessions at the end of your life. . . . In an email, Magnusson, 89, said the practice should not be viewed as somber.

“Sad and morbid is a good description of what it is like to amass a bunch of stuff, and not really appreciating it,” she said. “[It’s sad] to leave all this cleaning to others. Keep the things you really, really love, things that you look at and enjoy regularly. Get rid of the rest of your stuff.”

She’s right!  And this was sort of what we were doing.

I suppose, coming from Sweden, there is something Lutheran about it, a  melancholy self-examination and facing up to mortality combined with a sense of freedom and even joy.

And now that we are all packed, I am awaiting with eager anticipation our new life in St. Louis.  Restaurants!  Shops!  Music!  Plays! Micro and Macro Breweries!  The Cardinals!  The Mighty Mississippi!  Cool stuff!  The capitol of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod!  Not to mention our progeny to do things with!

This is perhaps emblematic of what follows the discipline of death cleaning the soul:  namely, a joyful life in the eternal City of God!

Image by Alexander Schettino from Pixabay

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