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Exclusive articles, interviews, and insights covering downsizing & decluttering, genealogy, photos and other media, aging well, travel, and more. We’re here to help you capture the big little moments and stories to bring meaning and even order to all of life’s collections for generations.
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DECLUTTERING & ORGANIZING
The Joys of Swedish Death Cleaning

The old saying goes that there are two things in life that are certain, death and taxes. The funny thing is that we spend more time in our lives preparing our tax returns than we ever do thinking about much less planning for our inevitable passing. Enter Swedish death cleaning.  

Before you get too nervous, please don't worry. It's not about death. It's about life!

What is Swedish death cleaning you might ask? Döstädning ( means death, städning cleaning), or the art of death cleaning, is the Swedish practice by which the elderly and their families set their affairs in order. It involves organizing and decluttering your home to reduce the burden on loved ones of sifting through dozens (if not hundreds!) of objects to decide what is significant and what should be kept.  

The term was popularized in 2018 with the publication of Margareta Magnusson’s book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. Magnusson states, “Whether it's sorting the family heirlooms from the junk, downsizing to a smaller place, or setting up a system to help you stop misplacing your keys, death cleaning gives us the chance to make the later years of our lives as comfortable and stress-free as possible.”  

Contrary to the name, you don’t have to be on death’s doorstep to participate. Whatever your age, the concept of Swedish death cleaning can be used to help you declutter your life and take stock of what's important.  

Whatever your age, the concept of Swedish death cleaning can be used to help you declutter your life and take stock of what's important.

I’ve had the privilege to participate in the Swedish death cleaning process with multiple Artifcts community members over the past several months, all healthy, happy, and overwhelmed by ‘stuff.’ As we started going through all that stuff, a couple of themes emerged.  

First, often the most valuable items are not the ones that have any real monetary value. Rather, the items have what one Arti Community member called “heart value.” It is very hard to tell which items fall into this category just by looking at them. Heart value may be found in a favorite piece of costume jewelry, a child’s handprint, or an old photograph of distant relatives or nearly forgotten adventures. It may not seem to have any value to you, an outsider, but it has tremendous value to the owner. Sound familiar? 

Second, our community members were often under the impression that, “No one is going to want my stuff once I’m gone.” Not true. Or at least recent headlines may overstate this sentiment. In working with these families, I saw relatives come out of the woodwork to claim an item once they knew its story, history, sometimes even provenance.  

I saw relatives come out of the woodwork to claim an item once they knew its story, history, sometimes even provenance

I had one Arti Community member reach out to me after she shared an Artifct of a bowl she had bought in Brazil with her son. She had resigned herself to the fact that the bowl would end up in a donation box once she was gone. “Not anymore!” she was happy to report—her son now wants the bowl as a memory of his mother and a memento from his time growing up in Rio. That’s one less object for her to worry about, and one rediscovered piece of family history for her son.  

Artifcts simplifies the Swedish death cleaning process by creating a safe and secure way to pass down stories (aka “heart value”) and not just things. Artifcts gives a voice to the objects of our lives that otherwise would remain silent, collecting dust or buried in a drawer or box. It’s no coincidence that attaching a story to an object, and maybe even adding an audio or video file too, increases the chances that the item will stay in the family. (And if it doesn’t, at least the memory and story can live on in family lore, even if the object is eventually rehomed.) 

Ready to give it a go? Pick a favorite object that you may want to pass on to a loved one or friend either now or in the future. Create the Artifct, including any key details that make it special to you, and then share the Artifct with the intended recipient. (Here's one that I made for my daughter.) Connect or reconnect over the story, history, and memories, and recognize it is okay to let go, especially if the Artifct has found a new home.  

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© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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The Importance of Digitizing Your Old Photographs, Documents, and other Artifacts

Shortly after the launch of Artifcts, I was introduced to Steven Fuhrman, Business Manager of Didlake Imaging. Steven and I immediately connected over a shared mission, helping individuals, families, and corporations preserve pieces of “their” story. Be it family wedding photos from generations gone by to historic maps, documents, and other physical pieces of paper that help shed a light on who we are, and where we’ve been. 

Steven and I also bonded over our respective privacy first mindsets. It’s not often you find someone who goes the extra mile to help people protect their own privacy. I had an ear-to-ear grin as I listened to Steven describe in detail the steps he and his team take to preserve people’s privacy when handling their most sensitive and cherished objects. 

Two months and several conversations later, I had the pleasure of taking a tour of Didlake’s Manassas, VA digital imaging lab, and sitting down with Steven and Valerie Spencer, Director of Business Development, for an interview/extended conversation. 

Seeing that we at Artifcts get asked from time to time, “What should I do with this box of old photos?” we thought we’d share our conversation with our Arti Community. But before we do, one more comment: Didlake's facility is amazing. First, it is spotless. Paper generates a LOT of dust, and you would never know it by touring the Didlake facility. Second, they take security to heart. From cell phone lock boxes to security cameras. No stone was left unturned when planning the security footprint of the facility.  

What should I do with this box of old photos?

Having said that, on to the interview! 

Heather Nickerson: Didlake has a fascinating, decades long corporate history as a non-profit. What prompted you to get into the digitization business?  

Valerie Spencer: Didlake’s mission is to create opportunities that enrich the lives of people with disabilities. (Editor’s Note: Didlake prides itself on hiring local individuals with disabilities for a variety of jobs, such as photo scanning.) The management team at the time saw an opportunity with the Coast Guard to digitize large format drawings leveraging our past experience digitizing microfilm. Our first major investment was a large format scanner, a requirement for this project. Once we could demonstrate our success with large format, we could easily do other, less complex formats. Given our government contracting background, we pursued other large format and traditional digitization projects, including one with an airport. This then led us into the mass digitization market. 

Heather: Tell us about the clients you typically take on.  

Valerie: There is no typical project or typical client! Really, we work with anyone who has paper, anyone who has photos, maps, documents, student files, etc. We saw a need to support people cleaning out their homes during the pandemic and the holidays, prompting us to invest in specialty photo scanning equipment and to make improvements to our webpage. 

We work with anyone who has paper, anyone who has photos, maps, documents, student files, etc.

Heather: Any surprises or heart-warming stories from over the years?  

Steven Fuhrman: Our goal is to never turn anyone away. Most people send us boxes of photos, but no job is too small. One customer sought us out in the middle of the pandemic. He had lost his dog, and he only had three or four really good photos of the dog. He asked if we would digitize them for him as a way to memorialize his pet. Since it was in the middle of COVID, we did it for him while he waited in his car. It brought tears to his eyes knowing the photos would be preserved for years to come.   

Another story that comes to mind is that one of our clients is an owner of an art gallery. She had recently discovered a box of letters that her father had wrote home to his family during the Vietnam War. She wanted to preserve the letters and his story. Our team handled the letters very carefully, taking them out of their original envelopes, digitizing them, and returning them to their original envelopes and safely storing/returning them. We were honored that she trusted us enough with those family treasures. You don’t just hand something like that over to anyone. We wanted to make someone’s life better and help preserve that piece of family history.  

We were honored that she trusted us enough with those family treasures. You don’t just hand something like that over to anyone. 

Heather: I can imagine you are dealing with people’s most cherished artifacts. What do you tell clients to reassure them that their items will be safe with you?  

Valerie: We have a stellar reputation and have built up a lot of trust over the years. If the U.S. government trusts us with its most important documents, that says something. We also reassure clients that all our employees have background checks and have signed confidentiality agreements. We also franchise three The UPS stores and are experts in shipping and packaging; we know how to protect items in transit.  

Heather: Not every digitization company has a state-of-the-art, secure facility. Can you tell us a bit more about that?  

Valerie: Security is really important to us so we chose a location in a professional business park occupied by other county service providers. We utilize security cameras to track entry from the exterior and access control systems to permit access to sensitive internal areas. Our storage facility is dual climate controlled, and we use a secure cloud server for our digital services. We have invested in the security infrastructure to make sure people feel safe sending us their items.  

Heather: You know the story of Artifcts. How do you think Artifcts could help you in your work with your clients? 

Valerie: Artifcts is a natural complement to what we do at Didlake. We’re both preserving items in a digital manner and making it accessible and easy for people to share their memories. We all like to tell stories, and Artifcts lets the user tell the story.  

We all like to tell stories, and Artifcts lets the user tell thier own story.  

If you are looking for someone to help digitize your old photos, documents, maps, and more, contact Steven at Steve@DidlakeImaging.com

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© 2021 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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A View on 'Stuff' from a Professional Home Organizer

Just before the launch of Artifcts, I was introduced to Jennifer Singleterry, owner of Sort and Order, a home organization company based out of New Braunfels, Texas. As you might expect, we hit it off. She deals with stuff all day, and we at Artifcts want to help people to remember, record, and preserve the stories behind their stuff.  

We laughed over a shared frustration, too. I told her my brother in Wisconsin always quips that someday, if left to his own devices and he was forced to clean out the home our parents have lived in for over 40 years, he would just give it all away. That makes me cringe. But all the stories! Grandpa's clogs from Holland, the country barn painting Mom did in college, the vinyl records that are a part of my parents' youth and my own Christmas memories. Everything just gone?!  

Jennifer had a similar story to share of a son she worked with recently who hired her to help transition out of their family home of 60 years. As it turned out, the family's ‘stuff’ included war memorabilia dating back to the civil war, such as tintype photographs and well-preserved handwritten notes from the era. The project was rich with legacy and family history. Jennifer said she felt emotionally exhausted by the sense of loss because it was so hard to go through these items and appropriately manage them and often the sons felt the same way and defaulted to getting rid of it. 

She felt emotionally exhausted by the sense of loss. 

A week later I could not stop thinking about my conversation with Jennifer. She said she works regularly with women especially who tend to take on the role of the family "keeper." You know that person I bet in your own family. The person who not only knows the birthdays and anniversaries, but keeps track of family photos, brings people together over the holidays to remember the origins of favorite ornaments and recipes, and, in the end, manages who gets what when a loved one passes away. 

Women especially tend to take on the role of the family "keeper." 

My complete interview with Jennifer

I sat back down with Jennifer last week to unpack this a bit more and get her perspective on how Artifcts could help. We thought that everyone could learn and benefit from us sharing our interview notes. So, here we go!

Ellen Goodwin: Why did you get into the home organization business? 

Jennifer Singleterry: My first foray into this business started with the passing of my grandparents and then my mother. When you're in this process personally you realize the emotional toll it takes on those closest to the situation. The emotional and physical attachment to things and the weight that bears in going through them. Another component here is that a lot of families may not have that person who is equipped to take on a project of that scale. That's where we can come in and help lighten the load. As an impartial but considerate party it is easier for our team to go through and delineate what is precious and boil it down to just those items in question and then decide how we handle these items. 

Goodwin: Tell us about the typical project you take on.

Singleterry: (Laughing) I've never had a single project that is remotely similar to another! They are as individual as our fingerprints. Never the same chaos. Actually, it's not even usually chaos. Usually people just don't know what to do with the stuff. We work with a lot of garages, closets, and pantries - high turnover, daily use places, that need to accommodate change. I go in big picture, with the first priority being to clean it all out and then intentionally put things back in a manageable system. We cannot see our own things! We have to bring it to light. 

We cannot see our own things! We have to bring it to light.

Goodwin: Is there a typical client?

Singleterry: Yes and no. Really it's simply that someone has finally had enough of the inertia of not knowing what to do or how to do it with their own space and was referred to us while telling this tale of woe. Or they have just gotten overwhelmed with their situation and need someone to help. It's the feeling that made someone Google "home organizer" or "estate transition." You know this feeling on a project.  

Goodwin: You have an inside track to everything personal and mundane that we all keep (and maybe forget about!) in our homes, garages, etc. Has a client ever been surprised or excited maybe when you've discovered something they forgot about or thought was lost?

Singleterry: Every. Single. Time. A funny anomaly about humanity - we don't know what our “thing” is that contributes to the overwhelming situation. In every project it's been fun to see what a person's thing is. For one person, it was journals, 30 of them or more. Some journals had just one page used, in some none of the pages were used. For another person it was makeup and other beauty products, some in daily use, some for travel, some for special occasions. We had a whole box at the end and the woman said, "I had no idea I had this problem!" For another it was reusable bags, many with the original price tags still on them. There were more than 100 of them! 

The coolest thing that I have ever found was in an 80-year-old woman's closet. Her family was a founding family of New Braunfels. She asked me to pull down a box from the very top of the closet. Inside was the original bible from 1843 that was brought over on the boat with her family from Germany. It was in wonderful condition. It even had the family genealogy in it. I felt like we should have worn gloves to handle it! It should be in a museum, in a collection somewhere, kept safe, because what happens if the keeper isn't there to keep it anymore? 

In an 80-year-old woman's closet ... was the original bible from 1843 that was brought over on the boat with her family from Germany.

Goodwin: Some stuff really is just stuff. What happens to the stuff your clients decide not to keep?

Singleterry: We do our best to take things where they go, to give items another life. Some call it re-homing. We try to take women’s and children's clothing, bedding, and toys in good condition to the local women's crisis center. A lot of home goods, lumber, surplus hardware, and industrial items go to Habitat for Humanity, because they have the need and foot traffic to utilize it. Miscellaneous goods go to local charities. When an estate sale is part of the project, the majority goes through that avenue and then we work with a company that takes goods that did not sell to be sold onward from another location. If at the very end it's trash, unwearable, unsaleable, unusable... it goes to trash.

Goodwin: You know the story of Artifcts. How do you think Artifcts could help you in your work with your clients? 

Singleterry: Artifcts is invaluable. If I had known about this, even just weeks ago, I could have employed this system for good. Families have histories and members of a family can engage with that history together on Artifcts from anywhere. One sister has the desk, but here's the story, and all family members can see it.  

Artifcts gives objects another life. So often when I'm hired, especially if the person is deceased, the history is lost, the stories do not transfer with the items. This would literally be a way to continue the story, to carry on the life that they began. A person had a bond with an item and there was a story there - what did a postcard mean to be sent from someone far away and to be saved by the recipient? It's a piece of an experience, a bigger story. 

Artifcts gives objects another life... a way to continue the story, to carry on the life that they began.

< End of Interview >

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the stuff in your life, try Artifcting (start free here). You might find that by taking it one Artifct at a time, it is fun and rewarding to parse out the meaningful objects from the other stuff that might be crowding your garage, bedroom, closets, attic, and other convenient hiding places! If you need help getting started, explore our virtual and in-person Concierge Services. 

If you’re in the New Braunfels or surrounding area and likewise need help rescuing a chaotic space to clearing out an estate, contact Jennifer at jenn@sortandorder.life or call her directly at (830) 500-0142.

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© 2021 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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