The problem of what to do with your stuff at the end of life has increasingly become a source of stress for many families. In the old days it seemed that people fought over who got the good china, grandma’s fur coat, or the family antique rocker, but these days attitudes are changing. Many of the possessions that were once highly prized are now viewed by younger generations as unstylish or as unnecessary clutter.
In some places the concept of Swedish death cleaning is catching on. This is where you get rid of things well before the end of your life so that no loose ends need to be tied up by your family when you’re gone. For those who don’t plan ahead the end result can be that strangers end up with the family heirlooms instead. This can happen if a property is foreclosed on or even if there’s a will but the recipient of the items sees no need for them and donates or sells the items.
As a solution some seniors are holding downsizing parties to avoid the problems above. At these gatherings attendees -usually primarily family- can choose what they want to take with them. In 2019 a Washington, D.C. couple- Karen and Fritz Mulhauser- had an event like this and placed all smaller items to be given away on tables and told their guests to have at it.
They even told guests to take home the champagne flutes that their mimosas were served in to get rid of more stuff. For the Mulhausers they had lived in the same home for 45 years and that’s a lot of time to accumulate belongings so they felt like they needed a good decluttering.
We have to wonder if this type of event will become more popular once COVID-19 restrictions have eased. I can remember having these kinds of parties years ago when young friends or family members were moving across the country (or world) to start a new life, but of course back then the hope was that one’s guests might buy something in order to help pay their way.
For those with either a lot of belongings and/or a lot of potential heirs this plan could be a lifesaver to make sure that everyone in the family gets the items they were hoping for while at the same time getting the majority of the items processed (as it were) well before serious illness or death occur.
It might not be quite as glamorous or sentimental as having someone leave a cherished family heirloom in their will, but the practicality of the whole thing could make up for that. On the upside for those who love vintage and antique items they get to start using the pieces before they lose their loved ones and may find they enjoy them more if the feeling of grief isn’t attached to the objects.