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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.

What's New at Artifcts
A Virtual Impossibility: Keeping Up with All My Digital Photos

In August, my daughter and I visited Cape Cod. A first for each of us! It is the childhood home of Artifcts co-founder Heather Nickerson, and she and her daughter were the perfect hostesses for this quick getaway. My vacation photo collection included:

      • Whale sightings (94 pictures) 
      • Our daughters playing on the beach and posing at the lifeguard station (16) 
      • Sunset on the harbor (12) 
      • Ptown art alley (18) 
      • Marshlands (11) 
      • Random things that made me smile, like a brass King Neptune figure with sign “Mermaids welcome” and the quintessential lobster lunch (22) 

You get the idea.

Three days and 202 photos later, we were departing Cape Cod on our return journey home to Austin. 

Where was I supposed to start with all those photos? On the plane, I did two things: culled and refined. I culled the near duplicates as well as the less than stellar and “Why did I take that?” images. 

 

view of deleted photos in album on phoneClearly I did not want to miss my chance to photograph the whales.

After scrubbing as many photos as I could, I color and size adjusted several photos that I particularly liked and marked them as favorites to further distinguish them.    

Now what? What do you do with all the digital photos that are so very easy to accumulate?  

Do you post albums to social media and then move on to some new post once the commentary dies down? Or push them into whatever cloud or other storage device you prefer, and look back through them only for the occasional calendar, enlargement, or holiday card? Perhaps send a few to lucky friends and family through one of those digital picture frames? 

I’m choosing to follow the model of Rainer Jenss, who used Artifcts earlier this summer to chronicle his trip through southern Africa day-by-day and creating composite Artifcts to represent the three days we spent on Cape Cod. Each Artifct captures something special, memorable, or otherwise, “Let’s do that again soon!” endorphin-rush worthy. 

I’ve shared these Artifcts with family, with our hosts so they know how special it was, my daughter (so she’ll always remember), and a few close friends who asked me for travel tips for their upcoming visits to the Cape. Bonus! These Artifcts will also make it easier to retrace our steps the next time we visit. One set of Artifcts, so many possibilities.  

Check out my public Cape Cod Artifcts as you consider how you want to easily and meaningfully manage your growing digital photo collection, even if it's only one trip at a time! 

Happy Artifcting! 

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© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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From Rare Art to Family Heirlooms: Tips From a Master as You Consider Selling Your 'Stuff'

When Anthony Bourdain passed away, he left behind an estate of objects, objects surely with stories. Or not. 

Some stories were no more than, “It belonged to him,” and if you admired his work or his person, maybe that would have been enough to compel you to purchase a piece from his estate auction. Other objects carried the weight of the star and a glimmer of who Anthony Bourdain was in the moment and place when the object became a part of his life. Pieces of his legacy.

Auction Catalog Lark Mason Associates Property of Anthony Bourdain     Bob Kramer Custom Knife for Anthony Bourdain with story about the knife

The auction catalog created for the personal collection of Anthony Bourdain.
 
 
 
So many stories behind those items.

Famous or not, the same is true for the objects of your life. Much of what you own you simply own. It decorates your home or maybe serves some functional requirement—why, hello, Chair. But some objects are more than objects, to you. You know where that print hung above your parents’ sofa. That 3000-piece train collection that was a joy for all and chief resident of your uncle's 500 square foot basement. And don’t forget that seemingly random ceramic jar set. You bought those in a small town outside Lake Garda, Italy, during your honeymoon. 

Other objects come into your life through others, such as the passing of a relative. These are especially challenging objects. You may not know anything about them other than who gave them to you. Maybe you chose a few items to take from your grandmother’s estate or an item was bequeathed to you and you think you can’t go against your grandmother’s wishes and have to hold onto it. 

Objects have histories, people have histories, and it all gets really complicated.

At Artifcts, we simplify and try to alleviate some of the burden stuff can create by making it easy to capture the history, life experiences, and memories behind objects. This holds true whether or not you keep the item.

To understand more about factors to consider when you want to sell an item, we sat down with Lark Mason of Antiques Roadshow fame and who you can often find these days at his New Braunfels, Texas-based auction house Lark Mason Associates. His message was clear: “I wish people understood their own motivations [regarding objects] more. Are they deriving an emotional charge from owning it? Do they want to make money somehow?”

The motivation for selling is vital to Lark Mason Associates because a seller’s motivations can influence whether the sale is a success in the eye of the beholder - What’s the minimum acceptable price? What is the sale timeline? (If you’re in a rush, you may have to forgo some of the value premium in favor of closing the deal.)

So, if you have you decided to sell an item, take Mason’s advice and pause and reflect on your goals and motivations:

        • Are you downsizing and must part with some objects?
        • Do the objects simply no longer fit your lifestyle or current decor, so you want to sell them and use the proceeds to replace them?
        • Do you have legal or financial problems that require you to divest assets?
        • Are these inherited and/or you are charged with dispersing the estate? If there’s a will, what does it say to do with proceeds of any sales (e.g. divide among children, philanthropies, other)?
        • Are you sure you’re ready to let go? Acknowledge your emotional attachments to the items. Artifct to remember and to maybe share those Artifcts with others who have ties to the items. 

As Mason gently noted, once you let go of an item, its identity is changed for good. Someone will bring the object home to a new environment, display it in a new way, not how your grandmother did. Not with the companion pieces or surrounding bookcase. (Although we see attempts to do so! Check out this Artifct.) Not with her favorite music playing in the background. This means then that “Even those ties to what ‘once was’ get weakened over time—now you have random grouping of objects that have been inherited through lethargy, financial, and emotional connections—and shift,” said Mason. 

We know the content of Bourdain’s personal collection moved on to new homes, and to Mason’s point, they likely took on new identities. Maybe the chef’s knife is no longer actively used and sits encased. Or his desk has become a foray table featuring photos of a family Bourdain never met. So it goes for him and for all of us. 

But what legacy do you want to leave behind? And how will you make the most of the objects you accumulate as you live your life? Documenting and readying them for sale is one option, and Artifcts is here to help guide and support you if you do.

Happy Artifcting!

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If you have items you would like to consign or auction through Lark Mason Associates or are in the market for a new piece, visit https://www.larkmasonassociates.com. 

© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Read more
Curious if That Object Is Valuable, Not Just Sentimental?

You've probably heard of TV shows like Antiques Roadshow and Pawn Stars. Maybe you're a top fan? Sometimes curiosity gets the better of us and we just want to know if this family heirloom, collectible, or other object is worth more than our sentimental attachments to it. Sometimes we are working to be better prepared for the inevitable. We can't take the stuff with us in the end and someone will have to deal with it when we're gone.

Now paid members of Artifcts can send Artifcts to Heritage Auctions Appraisal Services, Inc. for free valuations. Just open your Artifct, and click the button, "What's it worth?"  We have Valuation Services FAQs ready for you, too!Button that says "What's it worth?" follow by text "Request a free valuation. Learn more."

Our process offers a seamless result. When ready, your free valuation will appear in the Documentation section of your Artifct, and you'll receive an email notification so you know it's ready and waiting for you. You can even choose to ask Heritage Auctions for a no obligation appraisal estimate in case you expect you will need one for insurance, estate, or other purposes.

Acknowledge and consent to terms of free valuation request on your Artifct from Heritage Auctions

Which of your Artifcts may have hidden value? Find out today with our new "What's it worth?" feature.

Happy Artifcting!

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© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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