Time for a little döstädning

It’s time for me to get rid of some stuff!!

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From an article in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette 10/15/17 by Philip Martin

Last night the wife said,

“Oh boy, when you’re dead

You don’t take nothing with you

but your soul.”

Think!

— John Lennon,

“The Ballad of John & Yoko”

Some things only seem hard.

I am divesting myself of stuff—donating and selling and giving to friends the great bulk of my music collection and my books. Almost all of the CDs are gone now; several thousand of them went to a fine academic institution. Others went to or are earmarked for friends. I’m down to a couple of file boxes worth of material now, and I expect that to dwindle further over the next few weeks.

It’s not like I’ve really given anything away. I still have the music—nearly 15,000 albums archived on a hard drive about the size of a brick and (mostly) backed up in the proverbial cloud. The overwhelming majority of these files are in Apple Lossless, AIFF or WAV formats, which vinyl purists and high-resolution audio fans may sniff at but sound pretty good to me.

Besides, like most people I know, we mostly stream music these days. (I know how bad a deal that is for artists—you can stream my music on most of the services. Digitalization is a bad genie who won’t be restoppered.)

My music was organized alphabetically, by artist and chronologically by release date, with soundtracks and various artists’ compilations sorted separately. Our classical collection—only a couple of hundred of CDs—was arranged alphabetically by composer. A few oversize box sets were stored in my office, but most of them were stripped of their packaging and slipped into thinline jewel cases or sleeves and filed with the others. The attendant booklets and the boxes were packed away in the attic.

I might have some hoarding tendencies, but at least I’m a very organized hoarder. I could find a given CD within seconds.

But in an era when almost every sound ever recorded is findable with a few computer keystrokes, maybe I’m lucky I found a place that would take the media.

Now I’m working on the books. Central Arkansas Library System will end up with most of them—I’ve already dropped a couple hundred off for its River Market Books and Gifts shop—but I need to decide exactly what I want to keep.

I had two copies of Jack Butler’s Jujitsu For Christ, an inscribed first edition and one published by the University of Missippi Press a couple of years ago that features a contexturizing foreword by Butler and an insightful afterword by LSU literature professor Brannon Costello. Obviously I’m keeping the book Jack signed to me and suspect that at some point in the future I’ll miss the newer edition. But—too bad.

Similarly I’d love to keep all the Updike, all the Philip Roth, but it feels unlikely that I’ll dive back into those novels, and if I need to they’re all easily obtainable. (I’m keeping the Library of America editions of Roth’s works, so I’ll still have all that.) I’ll keep the first edition of In Cold Blood because it’s one of a couple of books my uncle handed down to me. I guess that’s the criterion—keeping books for which I can identify a clear reason to keep.

So long Willa Cather. Adios Cormac McCarthy. I’m bequeathing Dan Jenkins to my lawyer.

Next come the clothes. And then the golf clubs; I’ve got four or five extra bags’ worth of clubs I need to take down to the First Tee. (Maybe I can find a home for the 100 or so Scotty Cameron head-covers I’ve collected.) There’s camera equipment I don’t use anymore. I’ll probably keep all the guitars.

For now.

We have pragmatic reasons for clearing out this stuff, but mostly it’s an act of self-liberation. A week or so after our project started (Karen is getting rid of stuff too, more ruthlessly than I am though she has a lot less to part with) I became aware that one of the new lifestyle trends out of Scandinavia—the part of the world that gave us hygge and lagom—is something called döstädning, which cheerily translates to “death cleaning.”

It’s been popularized by Swedish author and artist Margareta Magnusson, whose book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is making the book club rounds. The idea is that people over 50 ought to consider that their relatives are going to have to sort through all their junk after they die and streamline their lives by holding on to only those possessions that directly contribute to happiness.

I don’t care about how my death might inconvenience my relatives. (Some of them have never seemed too concerned about how the conduct of their lives has inconvenienced me.) But there has long been a tiny bit of tension in our house between my materialistic acquisitiveness and Karen’s zen aesthetic.

Her instinct is to get rid of things. She’s always been the type to give a book away after she’s read it, while walls of bookshelves tight with books have always given me comfort.

We’ve done it my way for nearly 25 years. I suppose it’s about time to give her a turn.

pmartin@arkansasonline.com

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