Why "Swedish Death Cleaning" is for everyone - seniors, divorcing couples, empty nesters and high school graduates
Last week I threw away my Girl Scout sash, my prom corsage, and various other things I’d held onto from my childhood. As my daughters and I prepare to move out of our family home this coming summer when my oldest daughter goes off to college, I have the opportunity to re-vsiit my childhood, identify the items that are most important and give my daughters the opportunity to claim my belongings while I am alive and healthy.
I started Silver Linings Transitions, as a senior move management company but added divorcing clients to our business model as a result of my own divorce when I realized divorcing people face similar emotional challenges and are also likely downsizing. Like the clients we work with, I am having to sort through a lifetime of belongings and determine which items I'll keep and which I'll need to discard. Going through my belongings brings up a mix of emotions but certainly is part of giving up on the life I expected to have.
With both personal and professional experience, I wanted to share some key things I’ve learned along the way. These tips interweave, the current trend of “Swedish Death Cleaning” (from Swedish words meaning ‘standing” and “death“) emerging as a result of adult children facing the task of going through their parents belongings (after a death or when the parents are downsizing) and realizing they don’t want to leave the daunting task to their own children.
So here are some tips to get started:
Make sure all of your passwords and usernames are written down and in one place. Remember to let somebody know how to access this information. There are sites that will store your passwords too like LastPass which offers a free version.
Go through your belongings and do a photographic inventory of anything you want to go to loved ones. As someone who had a personal experience after my grandmother’s sudden death, leaving clear direction will save your grieving loved ones from many unnecessary battles. Make sure you make notes about any items of value so they can be sold for their value and won't be accidentally discarded. There are software programs likes Fairsplit.com you can use to create these inventories and assign belongings.
Make sure and visit storage units and attics and include these items in the inventory.
Begin to “re-gift” belongings. If you are going to someone’s home and would normally take a hostess gift, thoughtfully consider bringing a token of your affection from your personal belongings rather than spending money.
When going through your belongings, consider this criteria:
Will anyone be happier because I saved it? Rather than put items in the garbage, send old letters or photos to childhood friends who will undoubtedly appreciate the trip down memory lane. I recently attended my 30th high school reunion and there was a table set up for people to share items. I also photographed old letters and sent them via email.
Would I be okay if someone found or read this? If there is something you aren't ready to get rid of but don't necessarily want someone going through it, create a box marked "Private: Please discard without opening the contents."
If you are holding onto something because you think it’s valuable, do some research. I held onto a Guess jean jacket I’d purchased in 1985 for $85. I almost refused to allow my daughter to take it to sleep away camp until I looked it up on Ebay and discovered it was only worth $35.
Make the process an event inviting loved ones to participate. You and they will appreciate the opportunity to learn more about each other and what your life may have been like in your youth.
When I speak to groups of people who are now grandparents, I encourage them to consider the the belongings they’ve been storing for adult children and determine whether or not the adult child has any intention of taking it. I went through my childhood bedroom in Florida a year ago and traveled home with many of the things I’d held onto. After shipping them across country, my girls didn’t want any of it.
If you have high school students, have them do their own version of Swedish Death Cleaning. It helps them prioritize, frees up space and is a wonderful opportunity to reminisce about their childhood.
Anything we do proactively is going to be less stressful. Taking charge of your life, your belongings and on your terms will have an impact.
Here is a link to more information and the book “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” by Margareta Magnusson
Now you can save time, your sanity and the environment
Silver Linings Transitions just made our moves even easier!! We completed our first move using plastic bins provided by A Smart Move and the results were great. We were able to save time - building and tearing down boxes and being able to pack them without concern of collapse which also helps reduce paper. Another huge advantage - these boxes reduce the impact on our environment. Silver Linings Transitions plans to use the bins for all our local moves making our moves easier for our clients AND our environment.
I received a call today from an adult daughter who lives across country and is trying to convince her mother of why a move into a senior community is the right decision. Her mother lives in a two story home with stairs that meet a marble floor. The home, as is often the case, has fallen into disrepair because it becomes too difficult to maintain.
Parents, who might be embarrassed, proud and not wanting to cause worry, don’t let family know what’s happening. It’s often a visit around the holidays that illuminates the situation.
There’s a great book called “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant” written by New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast. It’s a book I read when I began my career in senior move management. Roz describes and illustrates her personal journey with her aging parents in a very real way. The gist of the book is that she wasn't prepared for her parent's aging and inevitable death. You believe they will live independently, get sick, go to the hospital and that will be it. The story for most is very different.
Aging in our culture is “the elephant in the room”. Our society is one to largely cast aside seniors where other cultures give them a place of honor, compounding the issue.
In American society, it seems it’s not okay to not be okay. The reality is, if we live long enough, we are going to face physical limitations. (At the very least.) While I’ve had 20/20 vision my entire life, at 48 I can barely read pill bottles with reading glasses and have to keep a magnifier in my kitchen.
So how do we bring up a subject that everyone seems to want to bury their heads in the sand about?
First of all, you have to let go of the guilt. Most of us are barely holding it together ourselves.
The way we talk to ourselves and the opinions we've formed about senior living have to be the first thing to change. Seeing all the benefits of senior living will help reframe your own perception, alleviate much of your guilt and make it easier to discuss senior living with your family. (A benefit of working with seniors and being in and out of senior communities is that I get to see communities I'd move into tomorrow if it were an option (and I didn't have three kids at home).)
If you haven’t visited a community, do. Communities are no longer our great grandparents’ convalescent homes. The food is amazing and the social calendar would wear me out.
Also, there have been many studies done on the benefits of socialization. Socialization reduces depression and anxiety and contributes to the overall lifespan.
Once you are clear about the benefits of senior living, focus on the "silver lining" when discussing it with your loved ones. For example, most communities offer most, if not all, meals. “Mom, you aren’t going to HAVE to cook.”
It's also important to be aware of your language. Would YOU rather live in a "facility" or a "community"?
In Florida, they've just opened a Jimmy Buffet inspired community "Latitude Margaritaville". There are professionals called Placement Agents who guide clients on the best places for a person's interests and budget. In most cases, these services are FREE because they are compensated by the community from the first month's rent.
After letting go of the guilt and reframing perception, we have to get to a place where we can talk about the inevitable. Acknowledge your own feelings as well as your parents feelings around what the move represents. Often times, adult children are facing their own fear and sadness around the loss of their parents, their childhood home and the shifting roles we take on as we become the next generation. Once you acknowledge these feelings, you open the door to authentic and vulnerable conversation
Lastly, sharing your personal concern for your parents makes a big difference. It is not easy to juggle your own responsibilities with the worry about your parents falling or being injured. Make sure you honor your parents. Let them know they have a say and don’t make the mistake of trying to “control” them. One of the hardest things about aging is the loss of independence. Help your parents be YOUR parent by explaining how their health and safety affects YOUR health and well being. (After all, we are conditioned to care for the health and safety of our children.)
A great way to introduce the concept of senior living is sharing the Senior Savers show. It was inspired by our experience seeing the difference between seniors who made a proactive move into senior living versus those who waited too long to reap the benefits. The show demonstrates how easy the actual move can be. Moves are always hard, even under the best of circumstances. Making the move on your own terms makes it easier.
Go easy on yourself or your loved ones. Going through a lifetime of belongings is a very emotional process. Our belongings are mementoes of our lives.
10. FLOOR PLAN
Determine which items are both your favorites but also which are the most practical. Keeping furniture that’s broken or not easy to get in and out of is not your best option. Also, once you know how much furniture you can realistically and safely fit, you can have a good sense of the actual space and surfaces you’ll have. Whenever possible, pick items that are multi purpose and have shelves or drawers.
9. BREAK DOWN THE PROJECTS INTO SMALLER PIECES
Go through your home and look at the areas that are most troublesome. Write them down from easiest to hardest and begin tackling one every day.
8. MEASURE THE SPACE
If you have a good idea of where you are going, measuring the spaces and giving yourself a visual to work from is helpful. Use blue tape in your closet to see exactly how much space you have.
7. USE A SYSTEM
Purchase stickers or labels to visually mark items in your home. Go room by room and determine what will stay, will will be given away, what can be sold and what can be donated. If you mark items for donation, plan ahead to make a trip at the end of the day to deliver them (or have them picked up).
6. USE IT UP... DON’T MOVE IT
Plan to throw out expired food on garbage days. Medications, batteries, paints all have special places they should go.
5 . MAKE ARRANGEMENTS TO SCAN OLD PHOTOS AND ALBUMS
Photos only have about 125 years of life. Additionally, photos take up lots of room. If you have them scanned in and put onto a flash drive, a hard drive or in the cloud, you stop the disintegration and make it easy for loved ones to access and share them.
4. GIVE AWAY YOUR ITEMS AS GIFTS
Rather than taking a small gift (like a bottle of wine or food), consider bringing a loved item to give to your host.
3. MAKE SURE YOUR WISHES ARE CLEAR
It’s not enough to tell someone you are going to give them something. If at all possible, make your wishes very clear. This can include creating a list and if possible photographing items.
2. DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY
Just because someone doesn’t want your belonging doesn’t mean you aren’t important or won’t be remembered. Try to remember there is a generational shift and younger generations have an easier time buying new and tossing out. They also tend to spend money on experiences versus things.
1. BE REALISTIC
Something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. Just because it cost $200 when you bought it, don’t expect to sell it for that much. To get a true picture, look the item up on eBay.
Also, take a good and honest assessment of your lifestyle. Is the item something you will really use again? If you are unable to keep something, consider photographing it and creating a digital book.
Click here for more tips on sorting, organizing and “rightsizing”, or call 760 522-1624 to schedule your FREE consultation.
Advice for your transition
When working with new clients I give them two pieces of information. In almost every instance though, the stress associated with the move takes over and these two important things are forgotten.
The first is that it doesn’t matter what you paid for something. It is only worth what someone is willing to spend. You can read more by clicking on this link.
The second is, this move is going to be stressful. We are going to tell you not to worry and assure you repeatedly that we can do it but you won’t believe us. BELIEVE US!! This is what we do and why the senior move industry exists.
So since we know you won’t believe us, let’s talk about things you can do to minimize the stress rather than worrying.
A note to my daughters on the occasion of my 48th birthday.
On January 29, 2015, I celebrated my 45th birthday, my 10 year "cancerversary" and “officially” launching Silver Linings Transitions. - Though I’d truly worked on the business the year before, I wanted a good date for the press release. A week after this trifecta celebration, your father and I separated.
I never expected to be starting a business and simultaneously going through a divorce but John Lennon said “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”
Mark Twain said the two most important days in a person’s life are they day they are born and the day they find out why.
I always knew I wanted to be a mother. Having three daughters - beautiful, strong, talented and kind and most importantly watching me as an example for what you can and can not accept out of life was my first purpose. In these last three years, there were countless times I wanted to curl up in a ball and hide away from the world and my troubles. At one point on an airplane I remember thinking, “well, if it goes down, I won’t have to deal with all of this”.
I have learned and grown more over the last three years than at any other point in my lifetime. I am glad you saw it. Others told me I was making a mistake showing my emotions but I’m about as good at hiding my emotions as I am at singing. Had you not been watching, you may never have believed when me if I merely told you even when life knocks you down, you stand back up and at the very least take one tiny step forward.
The only way to get through the pain is to be “in” the pain. A wise friend (OK Bryan) told me, you can’t go around the pain, you can’t go over the pain, you have to go through it. If you don’t allow yourself to truly wallow and sit in it, it will find it’s way to make sure you pay attention. Thirteen years ago I was doing work I didn’t believe in. Earning money I didn’t feel I deserved. Jealous of what my friends had (or didn’t have). And I was so resentful.
Another wise friend who’d been diagnosed with cancer in his freshman year of college and since had two children and became one of the most successful business owners/entrepreneurs I know, told me cancer was like getting a "front row seat" to life.
It was certainly my wake up call and what drove me to my other purpose and the reason I used the name Silver Linings Transitions.
Though we may not always have choices when life is hard, we do have choices about the way we react. When something bad happens, look for the lesson or the “silver lining”. What can you learn from the experience? And remember, this too shall pass.
Remember when my computer was stolen from my trunk? I learned a lot of lessons. I have also learned to pause and ask myself if whatever just happened is going to really matter in five years. If it doesn’t, I have learned to let it go. It’s not worth the stress and aggravation.
Persistence in life will get you farther than anything else.
In the book the Alchemist, there is a line that says if you are clear about what you want, the universe will conspire to give it to you. The pictures above represent this. The first one, taken in September 2014, was the very first senior community I visited when I began door knocking. Today, I stood close to that very same spot heading in to host the Silver Linings Transitions third anniversary party in that same community.
Yesterday while getting things for the party, I had an epiphany. I was putting stuff in the car and a wrapper was on the ground. Since the car door was opened, I examined the wrapper since two of you three (I'll give you a hint, it's not Ali) just sort of toss things at will. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t “our” wrapper. It wasn’t a candy I recognized and I went on loading the car until I realized, it WAS our wrapper. Not in real life, but metaphorically. We are each responsible for one another. We are all connected. My neighbor’s behavior impacts me just as mine impacts theirs.
Today I had two more epiphanies (one of my favorite words - I think the other is synchronicity).. It really is true the way people treat you is a reflection of how they feel about themselves. If a person is happy, they have no reason to mess with you. If they are happy they likely want to “be love” ;) and spread kindness. Which leads me to the second one (epiphany). I spent years trying to get other people to like me. I was constantly in trouble and never felt “good”. My ADHD kept me in perpetual trouble and so my “way of being” was about winning people over. You know what I realized? It doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks. I am the person I am intrinsically because this is the way God made me.
Gillian has never been good about schedules or cleanliness. As a child, she refused schedules. She could sleep anywhere. Once she was tired, she slept…period. Ali, on the other hand, HAD to be in her crib at a certain time. For someone who was never good at schedules, I think it may have been the only time in my life I stuck to somewhat of a schedule because Ali demanded it of me. I remember traveling to see Safta in Miami. She’d gone out of her way to get a crib for us. I don’t remember how old Ali was but she would not sleep. She screamed and screamed until we were forced to load up the car and head five hours back home in the middle of the night.
As an infant, Adyson would scream bloody murder in the car. This was pretty inconvenient and gut wrenching since older girls were enrolled in a school thirty minutes away. To this day, she complains in the car about her neck hurting or feeling nauseous.
I know you all vary on the way you feel about spirituality. I can tell you that my God now is not the God of my childhood or adolescence. My God is the voice that directs me to do the right thing. It’s opening my eyes and paying attention to the messages that come. It’s figuring out the lessons I’m meant to learn even when they aren’t convenient or fun. It’s doing something inconvenient or uncomfortable because I know it’s the right thing to do. It’s the decision to live from love and trust and not from fear and worry. It is freeing.
Lastly, life will deliver exactly what you expect of it. In the book “You Are a Badass” by Jen Sincero, she shares an exercise where you look for one minute and count everything that is red. After the exercise, she asks you to recall what was yellow. Only you won’t be able to, because you were too busy looking for red.
Another story I love from Jen Sincero’s book is the story of a bird who is in her home and keeps flying into her window. The bird is so fixed on getting out it never stops to notice she’s opened another window. As you know there have been several things in my life that weren’t going the way I planned or weren’t meeting my expectations. So, I beat my head against a wall or kept flying into the window just like the bird. This has possibly been the biggest lesson for me. If you are frustrated, pause and assess the situation. An if the door doesn’t open, it’s not your door. Another one will open, though, it might not be on your timeline or the one you expected.
I wish my 48 years of experience would be enough to shelter you from the rough parts of life and that you could skip over them softly landing to the place I’ve discovered. It only took 48 years but I have learned to “Let go and let God”. I know the reality is, at your age, I would have ignored these words and learned these lessons the hard way and on my own.. Still, I’m going to share them. Maybe for you, maybe for your children. Maybe as a reminder for me when I am not feeling as certain.
Three years ago I knew Silver Linings Transitions was the work I was meant to be doing. The whole business "came to me". I was working part time at a cancer foundation when my good friend, Heidi Loren, told me about a friend of hers running an eBay business helping seniors sell belongings online. We opened an eBay business and started learning all we could. Heidi stumbled on an organization, the National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM) who only a few months later would be holding their national conference in San Diego.
During the conference, I had that "a-ha" moment many hope for and knew I found the work I was meant to be doing. While I knew this was the right work, the timing was hard as both Heidi and I had busy lives and bar/bat mitzvahs to plan. We agreed to put the business on hold.
Once summer and the bar/bat mitzvahs were behind us, we reconvened only Heidi had to step out from the business because her husband had started his own consulting business and it had taken off and he needed her help. Heidi and her husband were both the financial backers and her husband Stefan, was helping with the logistics of starting a business. Starting a business with two people I liked and trusted very much, in an industry that felt "right" was an easy decision but when
Heidi stepped aside, I had to reevaluate my plan.
I'd run my real estate business while living in Florida but that was in an established industry and I always worked under a broker. Now I was starting in an industry, senior move management, that even as.a Realtor working with seniors, I had never heard of.
First, I looked for a new partner hoping to find someone who was organized and would balance my skill set. After months of searching, I changed my approach and began looking for a team of women rather than a partner. What better vehicle than Facebook to get the word out?
The picture above was my first post and another step on the path towards creating Silver Linings Transitions. As these things "happen", the first person who contacted me was a woman who had stepped off the career path when she had her daughter (18 years earlier). She shared how difficult it was to find work when there was a gap on a resume. Additionally most women who raise children can not resume their careers because there are now family responsibilities to consider.
This, along with challenges middle age women face, competing against younger women, sparked my passion to make Silver Linings Transitions both a company who could manage the transition for our clients but also become a place where women could "transition" back into the work force.
When we pay attention, life unfolds exactly as it should. It's usually not what you expect but as John Lennon says, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."
Before and afters show how we recreate the feeling of home
There are so many misconceptions about senior living. When many people think of senior communities, they think of the convalescence homes with the wheelchairs by the windows.
The reality is so far from this picture but sadly many people remain closed to this opportunity because they are stuck. They are stuck in homes weighed down with belongings and tied to memories. They remain stuck because they fear the unknown. They remain stuck because they don't know how they can possibly get from their home into a better, safer enviroment.
In fact, the latest research indicates that lack of social connection has more negative consequences than smoking does on our health.
Silver Linings Transitions and Bryan Devore, a Senior Real Estate Specialist partnered to change these misconceptions and demonstrate how easy the move can actually be. The impotence for Senior Savers, a reality show was a client we worked with in August, 2017.
The Carlsbad community reached out about a 30 year retired Navy Captain who's wife was in skilled nursing while he was on dialysis and rapidly declining.
After meeting with him the next day, it was clear he needed to be moved into assisted living as soon as possible When we walked out of our appointment, I knew we were about to eat an elephant in one big bite but I also knew it was absolutely essential. He was very frail and struggled for breath yet insisted on climbing stairs. He was unkempt wearing dirty clothes and the home smelled from rotten food, urine and poor hygiene.
Our team was already on a big job including unpacking in Tarzana and our regular mover was booked. Having recently disappointed a past community whose client need to be moved the next day, I admit I was trepidatious about doing another quick turnaround. In less than a week and in the absence of time to plan, we moved him from his home into a senior community.
We carefully went through couples belongings selecting beautiful mementoes, photographs and personal items we thought were most important and/or loved. We also contacted the son who lived across country and identified the items most important to him.
The day of the move, the client was supposed to meet us in the lobby so we could bring him into "reveal" his new home. He didn't have a cell phone. He never showed. I'd left him a detailed note in his new place realizing he had some cognitive impairment but by 8 p.m that evening, he had not responded to the note. I called the community to see how he was doing. He arrived after midnight once the cops got involved.. He had gone to his neighbors believing he'd been robbed. We had taken his phone, television, bed and bedroom furniture to the community and he'd forgotten we'd moved him.
Less than a month after moving in, our client passed away.
Had he know what senior living actually was the move might have been made proactively so he could have enjoyed many more happy years taking advantage of the perks of community living and freedom from household responsibilities.
As the owner of a senior move management company, I have the opportunity to work with a person when they go through what will likely be the most difficult transition they’ll face in their lifetime. In fact, the transition into senior communities is medically identified as Relocation Stress Syndrome. I have seen healthy clients require hospital visits, experience cognitive impairment and it goes without saying visible stress.
As a society, we try and gloss over or pretend we don’t know what the weight of this transition means. But, I’m going to write this as life actually occurs. We do pass on and our belongings represent the life we’ve lead, the dreams we’ve had and our desire to be remembered.
We need to address the fears and concerns of the person moving. We all need to be heard and sometimes talking about it, really does help everyone.
For “The Greatest Generation” seniors, there is even more tied to to letting go of their belongings because their generation lived in different times. They grew up in a time of scarcity and furniture was built to last. I remember moving a couple who’d been together 60+ years and the couch they brought to their senior community had been a wedding gift.
For later generations, we have IKEA and other discount furniture stores. We dispose of couches every couple of years because they don’t cost as much and aren’t as durable. Not to mention we don’t share the experience of having had to ration.
Another difficulty is the realization that things treasured and collected, aren’t wanted. As an only grandchild, I declined my grandmother’s wedding china. I loved my grandmother dearly and took a favorite lamp but I simply didn’t have use or space for it but it didn’t mean I didn’t love or wouldn’t remember her.
Adding on another layer, when adult children get involved in the process, often times feelings get hurt and the person being moved resents being “parented” by adult children. When a professional comes in and uses a floorplan to show a senior they won’t be able to fit something, it seems to carry more weight. Most importantly though, working with a third party, like a senior move manager, allows the parent/child relationship to remain in tact while they support one another through the transition. (This is often a tough transition for both the parent and the adult children.)
My own transition as a divorcing woman gave me an empathy for our clients. I threw away the beautiful collage I made as a wedding gift for my ex and the sign that hung on the construction site of our first home. They represented things I’d envisioned for my life. Throwing those things away was admitting that those dreams would not be realized and that this part of my life was over.
Every ending has a beginning and this is the impetus behind our company name Silver Linings Transitions. In all situations adjusting our attitude and looking at something from a different perspective really does make all the difference.
By the way, the photos at the top...one is a senior community and one is a resort ;)
One of the most difficult things our clients face is having to part with cherished mementoes and souvenirs they've collected from a lifetime of experiences. Whether it's artwork from their children, a collection they prized or a parent's belongings, saying goodbye is never easy. It represents the loss of a time gone by, an unfulfilled dream or a loved one who is no longer here. More than that though, it marks the end of a chapter.
What I've discovered is that so many times, seniors are reluctant to let go of their belongings and this "stuff" keeps them stuck in their homes and the old chapters rather than enjoying life and making new chapters. Like seniors who are making a major life transition and shedding their belongings, as someone who is divorcing, I am facing the same thing.
My garage was filled with lots of stuff- some very easy to part with and some, much more difficult.
When I was first engaged, my ex-husband and I began construction on our first home. The sign "Future Home of Goldfarb Shapiro" was placed on our lot and then hung in our garage for 15 years.
There were tears in my eyes when I put it in the garbage. I could NEVER have parted with the sign without the gentle guidance of two fabulous women, both team leads, who took on the task of helping me with the sorting and organization of my garage, Lisa Gerardo and Kim Witt.
I am happy to say that one week later, my garage is still clean and organized and I feel very happy about being there. I have no regret about throwing out the sign. In fact, it empowered me and I've since shed several other mementoes and tokens from my married life.
Here are a few statistics about STUFF that might make you think differently about holding onto it:
1.There are 300,000 items in the average American home (LA Times).
2. The average size of the American home has nearly tripled in size over the past 50 years (NPR).
3. And still, 1 out of every 10 Americans rent offsite storage—the fastest growing segment of the commercial real estate industry over the past four decades. (New York Times Magazine).
4. While 25% of people with two-car garages don’t have room to park cars inside them and 32% only have room for one vehicle. (U.S. Department of Energy).
5. The United States has upward of 50,000 storage facilities, more than five times the number of Starbucks. Currently, there is 7.3 square feet of self storage space for every man, woman and child in the nation. Thus, it is physically possible that every American could stand—all at the same time—under the total canopy of self storage roofing (SSA).
6. Women will spend more than eight years of their lives shopping (The Daily Mail).
If you are getting ready for a move, going through a life transition or you are overwhelmed by your own STUFF, we have a great team that can help.