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The Joys of Swedish Death Cleaning

Heather Nickerson, Artifcts
March 30, 2022

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.  

What is that you might ask? Dostatning, 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 Margarete 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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Storied Lighthouses: At Night!

Today's story indulges Artifcts co-founder Ellen Goodwin’s fascination with the stars. She even has an Artifct or two about it. You can read one of them here. If nothing else, just like the act of creating an Artifct, let this story help remind you to take a pause to look up and enjoy the vastness of the universe and the potential within each of us every day to play an oversized role in it from our little slice of the universe. 

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Close your eyes.  

Picture a lighthouse.  

Is it hanging out alone on a rocky bluff or stony beach? Is it sun-shiny daytime or deep dark night?  

Would it surprise you to learn that most photographs of lighthouses only show these sentinels by day? Until recently, that is. 

Lighthouses today are largely on private land or public park spaces, both with controlled access. Even with access granted, you have weather, water, and other environmental conditions, including wildlife (Porcupines! No joke. Read the book USA Stars & Lighthouses.), to contend with if you want a close-up view. So logically most of us capture pictures of lighthouses only by day and often by boat or from some distance as in the photo shown in the Artifct Our Cape Cod Whale Tale

We had the good fortune to connect recently with David Zapatka, who has spent his professional life behind the lens of high-powered video cameras that bring the world everything from investigative news from the field to NCAA men's basketball tournaments and the Olympics. Privately, however, David was hooked on photography from the moment he realized his passion would be supported by submissions to his school yearbook, feeding him a constant supply of film and access to the people and places of the moment. 

Access and control - two of the most critical factors in photography. Control is about lighting. David preaches to his students: control - control - control. As for access, well, you know, can you get close to it? The third critical ingredient for David is passion. Conservancy, national history, community, all of these play into David's work to at last capture lighthouses at night, doing the work they were designed for, bringing ships safely to harbor, providing hope in a sea of dark, and reminding us we are infinitely small in this vast universe. 

David is creating a personal legacy in this work. For his kids and grandkids, for all of us, he'll know he left us something special. 

For each lighthouse in his book USA Stars & Lights: Portraits From the Dark David includes the story behind the shoot. Who owns and operates the lighthouse, how did he get access, what were the conditions when he went once (sometimes twice) to get the shot, and for budding photographers, even the technical details. Because there is no hocus pocus or photoshop here. You need to earn every bit of it. 

With no further ado, enjoy these special Artifcts from our friend David Zapatka. 

Jeffrey's Hook, The Little Red Lighthouse, at night with NYC in background

ABOVE: Jeffrey's Hook Lighthouse. Serendipity! Sometimes David comes across lighthouses that have been turned back on. The Little Red Lighthouse of storybook fame many NYC children of the 1960s are familiar with was relit several years ago. While on the Hudson River for another lighthouse shoot, David discovered its resurgence and returned in September 2022 to photograph it at night. Click the image to view the Artifct.

 

Red and white ringed lighthouse at nightABOVE: Assateague Lighthouse. Often shooting lighthouses at night involves critical timing. Sometimes you can't gain night access to lighthouses if the gates are locked. At the Assateague Lighthouse in northern Virginia, only at certain times of the year is the park open long enough into the night to photograph the lighthouse before you must leave or get caught locked in for the night! Click the image to view the Artifct.

Red and white lighthouse on rocky outcrop of land

ABOVE: Romer Shoal Lighthouse. Some lighthouses will never be captured at work. Super Storm Sandy destroyed Old Orchard Shoal. Luckily neighboring Romer Shoal remains. For now. Extreme weather threatens the future of many other lighthouses even as the fate of this one is uncertain. Click the image to view the Artifct.

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© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

ABOUT DAVID ZAPATKA

Rhode Island native David Zapatka's work regularly appears on national news and sports programs for ABC, CBS, CNN, HBO, NBC, and PBS. He’s covered six Superbowls, 20 years of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, four winter Olympic Games for which he won two National Sports Emmy awards for his contributions to the NBC coverage of the Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002 and Vancouver in 2010. David's lighthouses work began in 2013 as a project that became so much more. 

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What's Your Stuffing Style?

For many in the United States, the Thanksgiving holiday increasingly brings together friends and family in a potluck format that opens the door to more time to hang out together and less stress on any single home chef. This means you might have to gamble on whether cousin Patrick or your neighbor Amara will bring the version of cranberries, green beans, or stuffing that you love best. 

A delicious cranberry compote could easily turn off those who hang on to the canned version with a sly grin. Green beans for some must be creamy and topped with fried onions, making others turn and run for something a bit … healthier. Oh, and the pies! Forget it if you are committed to pumpkin pie and someone dares to suggest apple, pecan, or something truly unconventional – mincemeat anyone? 

Equally divisive and diverse are the stuffings of the world! Do you use white bread or cornbread? Does seafood like oysters make an appearance in the ingredients list? 

If you are opinionated on stuffing, or any other staple of Thanksgiving, you better get your game face on and Artifct and share that recipe in advance to sway the crowd in your favor.  

Our co-founder Ellen Goodwin’s family circle on Artifcts is already full of recipes people are volunteering for Thursday, including her father's stuffing recipe. Artifcts co-founder @Heather already shared her mother's apple pie. Now they’ll be ahead of the game this year and for years to come!  Will you?  

Please share your recipes on Artifcts.com or with us on social media! 

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© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Because Who Wants 300 Miniature Pianos!

Not you? Then read on. This one is for you!

There's a fear factor motivating some adult children to prematurely help - some more aggressively and/or cheerfully than others - their parents downsize, whether to downsize and literally move into a smaller home or downsize at home to more minimal possessions. The end goal for these adult children is sort of "Not it!" Do not send all that stuff to me. I don't have room for all my own stuff, never mind your stuff, too. 

The question for the parent in this scenario becomes one of legacy - will you leave a burden of stuff, or one of memories, rich with who you were in your lifetime, and who you were together, too? Shared now and shared later, maybe through these stories and memories you’ll help release people from holding onto so much stuff that the stuff becomes that burden the adult children fear, clouding the memories. 

A blue bowl and red handle thin metal spatula

 
 
 
 
 
Simple everyday objects, with meaning. But will you keep them always, or maybe just the memories?  

On that note, meet Sue, a member of the Arti Community. And not just any member. As she approaches her first anniversary with Artifcts, she is also our top Artifcter, surpassing even the founders of Artifcts who had a head start and a natural predilection for Artifcting. 

Who is Sue? If you search @Sue on Artifcts, you won't see a single Artifct. We did promise everyone that your Artifcts need not be made public. Everything is private by default, and Sue loves this freedom. 

Artifcts co-founder Ellen Goodwin sat down with Sue to learn who she is, what she Artifcts, and most important of all why she Artifcts. It was such a treat to chat with an Arti Community member directly and a fascinating conversation. Enjoy! 

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Ellen Goodwin: Hello Sue! We want to know all about you. Who are you, and what brought you to Artifcts? 

@Sue: I am a piano teacher. One of my personal collections is miniature pianos. I am also my family’s keeper and a genealogist. I have collections from both sets of grandparents, my parents, and of course my collections as well as my husband’s. This house is like a museum! Name anything, practically, and I probably have something of that. 

I keep wanting my daughter to come down to North Carolina and go over things with me. Find out what she wants, and what she’s not interested in so I can do something with it. But there’s never enough time. And my son-in-law really doesn’t want all this stuff. So he gave me Artifcts as a Christmas present last year. 

Sue shared this reality with grace and humor. Watch now!

Goodwin: What did you Artifct first? 

@Sue: Christmas ornaments! Well, all things Christmas, really. I have heirloom ornaments, multiple Santa Claus figurines, and other items, so before I packed them up last year, I Artifcted them.  

Goodwin: And then you continued Articting, focusing on collections or at random? 

@Sue: As I have bits of time here and there, I have just started. No particular order. Just what my eyes light on in a moment in time. Sometimes Artifct collections. I laid out all my jewelry one day and enjoyed working my way through it, sometimes Articting pieces individually, sometimes Artifcting collections, like brooches. 

Costume jewelry - rhinestone brooch

I have Artifcted my grandfather’s weapons collection as well, including antique knives, some of which date back to the late 1800s. My grandson caught sight of the knife collection, and was interested, so he’ll inherit them. His great grandfather’s collection!  

Goodwin: And we hope you’ll share the “why” behind this knife collection with your grandson, as well as the “why” of all of your own collections, like your pianos! 

@Sue: Piano has been a passion of mine for a long time. I found out recently through my genealogical research that my middle name Beth is for Beth of Little Women, the pianist of the family. I don’t remember who gave me my first miniature, but my mother kept adding to it, and then I did eventually, too. Each is very different. Now my senior graduating piano students get to choose one from the collection, a remembrance from me to take with them. I have only Artifcted the very unusual pianos, like one from ivory, another from Dresden. I am Artifcting the ones that are special so my daughter knows which are which.  

Read our story about gifting your loved ones a why > 

Goodwin: You told me that you Artifcted a collection of family bibles, nearly a dozen. I’m curious. What’s next for them?  

@Sue: I inherited 40 boxes of heirlooms, pictures and genealogy papers, which I am still going through. These bibles were among the boxes and now sit in the open air on top of a family cabinet in my genealogy research room.  I love the Cheatham Apocrypha Bible in particular, so that is the one I’ll definitely keep. It’s also the only one that still has the family pages in it. As for the rest, I don’t know what to do with them. I might see if the state genealogy archives wants them.

Goodwin: You have 100s of Artifcts. Are there some really marvelous stories among them that stand out? 

@Sue: Yes! Well, it’s all in the eye of the beholder, I guess. I was really surprised to find a lock of Gertrude’s hair. Oh, and great grandfather’s bowler hat. That’s an heirloom with a great story. 

A lock of hair tied with a blue ribbon

@Sue: "I found this in one of the boxes that I inherited (all genealogy based).
 
 
With it was a card signed by Gertrude which probably dates to the same year, 1904.
 
 
Gertrude Cheatham married August Johnston 24 Apr 1905." 

Bowler hat in hat box, padded with fox scarf

@Sue: This hat belonged to John Mortimer Cheatham who lived in Missouri his whole life (1843-1915).
 
 
The hat box is signed by Eugene Scherman of New York, so I imagine this is who made the hat.
 
 
Today, Grandmother Gertrude's fox lives with the hat. 
Even co-founder Ellen Goodwin discovered a lock of hair her mother squirreled away. Read her humorous take on it. > 

Goodwin: How do you Artifct? Do you use the app, a tablet, both?

@Sue: I take the pictures on my phone, because it allows me to skip the step of transferring the photos from my nice camera to my computer. If I want to add more details or long stories, then I edit the Artifcts later on my desktop computer. 

Goodwin: Have you tried new features as Artifcts has announced them? 

@Sue: There is so much I haven’t fully taken advantage of yet, but I did recently ask for my first estimate from Heritage Auctions with your “What’s it worth?” feature. It was a set of four meerschaum smoking pipes. Each used. They had significant market value! 

a set of four meerschaum smoking pipes

My daughter and extended family will inherit the items they wish to keep; she can always sell the remaining items. I think it’s important, however, to keep at least some of these things in the family—especially the older things. Maybe someone will choose the pipes. 

Goodwin: As the co-founder of Artifcts, I'd be remiss not to ask ... What would you tell those who have yet to Artifct? Why should they do it?

@Sue: Watch and listen to her response! (Or read below.)

It’s mainly the stories about the stuff. Nobody else is going to know what it is. I am trying so hard to get them written down and on Artifcts with the pictures, too, because otherwise once I’m gone, the story is gone. I think it’s important for the children to know what was the most important to me, what meant the most to me, and why.  

Now, they may not want to keep it, but if it’s Artifcted, it’s there FOREVER. So, they will always have that memory even though they may not have that item, because who wants 300 miniature pianos?! 

And on that note, what's your equivalent of "300 miniature pianos?"

Happy Artifcting!

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© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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