Home for the Holidays (with some help from the Scandinavians)

Carol has some unusual book suggestions to help you get through the holiday season…

death cleaning.jpg

Recently, my sister-in-law and I had a discussion about the upcoming holidays.  What, you say?  It is October!  (We actually had this discussion at the end of September).  While we have, at least on my side, a relatively small and ever dwindling immediate family, tackling the events that now occur between Thanksgiving and the New Year has become more complicated, it seems.  Part of it may be we’re getting older; the other part may be that we’ve just let events take over our lives instead of planning what we might actually like to have happen.

For nearly 25 years, my Thanksgiving holiday was relatively simple.  I lived in Washington, D.C., far from my immediate family and usually had very little time off, so I stayed local.  Only one Thanksgiving turned out to be truly stressful. A friend and I decided that we would go all out and prepare, from scratch, the whole decorating scheme, meal setup and meal, plus the cleanup.  Needless to say, this turned out to be 24 hours that by the end looked like a very complicated, messy military mission with multiple lists, charts and a schedule that could not be deviated from by 5 minutes or something would implode. (We still managed to forget to garnish our lovely homemade roasted butternut squash soup with fresh sage that we procured from some friend’s window herb garden; the homemade apple sauce was superb, however).  By 10 p.m. that night, looking at the carnage that was the kitchen after we threw what we could in the dishwasher, my friend started making room in her refrigerator while I tore out the backbone of the turkey, tossed the remains in a soup pot and stuffed the whole thing in to deal with the next morning.  We said, “Never again.”  And we held true to that pledge.

Christmas and New Years has always been more complicated for me only because it involved air travel as the initial step.  It was easy to figure out which parties I could and could not attend, had a reason to request any gift suggestions early, and then just be prepared to land in St. Louis and then be ready to load up a car (or cars) and head somewhere in mid-Missouri for a finite period of time.

But now I live in mid-Missouri, and it is part of my responsibility to make sure my sister-in-law is not up at 3 a.m. wrapping Christmas presents (especially since the “baby” of the family at the present time is over 30 years of age.)  So, being the researcher and reader I am, I turned to find inspiration in, yes, books.


My reading list, happily, was short and the books themselves limited in page length.  I started with “The Little Book of Hygge” (pronounced “Hoo-ga”) by Meik Wiking, the C.E.O. of the Happiness Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark.  While not specifically about the holiday season, this little gem is a great reminder to take time to enjoy things that make you feel good—a warm drink, a cozy spot, companionship, simple communal meals and outings, and, yes, a good book.  Ditch the technology for a brief time and gaze into a fire, listen to someone read a favorite short story out loud, or tell that family story that has not been recounted for a few years.

The other book on my reading list was one that most people would not associate with particularly pleasant holiday reading—“The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” by Margereta Magnussen.  While the title might turn some people off, it is really about routinely de-cluttering your life, so that someone else does not have to (extensively) after you have departed this earth.  It is about giving your family members the gift of not having to spend an inordinate amount of time figuring out how to dispose of things that meant something to you but will add no value to their life; it may end up making that person have feelings of aggravation about you when they should be remembering you fondly once you are gone (“What in the Sam Hill am I going to do with 50 Hummel decorative ceramics?,” or the like.)

While the author indicates that she is between 80 and one hundred years of age, you might be wondering why this was on my reading list prior to the New Year.  This is because I have gone through one cycle of what she would consider “death cleaning” when I relocated halfway across the country and had to figure out what to pay for to have moved from my 22 years in one location.  Most of my stuff is still residing in a storage unit, and my New Year’s resolution is to figure out what will stay and what will go.  “Death cleaning” should be done slowly, allowing the owner to calmly appraise each item, determine what value this item can continue to play in your life (or maybe someone else’s life), and figure out an appropriate home for it.  The book also cautions to start with items that have less emotional impact to the owner (i.e., do NOT start with photographs and letters).  This short tome is a great reminder to us that one of the best gifts we can give our loved ones is to get things organized for when we are gone so that they can remember us fondly and not for the shredding of 50 plus years of cancelled checks that somehow ended up stored in the attic.

So, my advice to you after reading and contemplation is:  take a little time now to think about how to make some bright spots during the crazy and hectic holiday season.  To find a “hygge” moment, grab your favorite beverage, stop by Skylark Bookshop and find an item that will inspire you to slow down and enjoy the moment, or find a small, meaningful gift for a friend or family member.  Or just have a hygge moment in the bookshop. 

As for the de-cluttering, check back with me in March or so…