Downsizing Memories: Mari Kondo-ing and Swedish Death Cleaning

Getting rid of memories—sound a little frightening? After helping or watching from afar as family members downsized parents’ homes to move them into apartments (most recently a quick and drastic downsizing), my sister and I have decided to start downsizing our own stuff. We are not only thinking we will move to smaller places in a few years, but we want to avoid leaving our kids with a horror show. Thanks to COVID, I have had more time to do things around the house, so after re-painting and getting things replaced or fixed, I was ready to do some Mari Kondo-ing, or Swedish Death Cleaning.

I began to tackle the papers. All the papers, papers, papers! I had already gone through my files last spring, now to go through years of saved greeting cards followed by the kids’ schoolwork and art, a big box of (really old) travel information and maps, my college class notes, my (deceased 2012) mom’s tax returns from 1999+. What big piles of recycle, shred, toss! I felt such accomplishment!

It’s hard to be completely ruthless. Each adult child will get a neat and organized pile of report cards, adorable drawings (highly curated), and their first-year baby book. I took photos of some of their art which won’t take much space in my computer. I kept one shoebox of greeting cards given to me with special handwritten messages, mostly from my kids. Re-reading those brought me so much joy that per Mari Kondo I had to save them. I plan to bask in reading them again someday as I sit in a rocking chair in a senior apartment.

My old college class notes were impressive. My writing has definitely deteriorated since then. Tiny, neat handwriting was accompanied by little drawings of algae cells or plant parts (botany major) or molecular structures or math equations (the hated organic chem and calculus, why did I save those notes!). I should not be so surprised that both my kids make highly organized, tidy handwritten notes for projects they do. I hardened my heart and ripped out the pages of my old spiral-bound notebooks and put them in the recycle pile—except for two notebooks with the nicest plant drawings which I will keep (for now) to marvel at again someday.

Next I will go through yearly appointment books starting with 1994, these beautifully illustrated with lovely art or nature photos. Will I be strong enough to throw these out? The early few years I want to save as they are full of memories of when we were moving around (including overseas)—where we traveled and who came to visit, kids activities and milestones, etc. I have decided to make a document where for each year I type up the important or interesting bits, like a timeline for remembrance sake, one that won’t fill up a big box. Of the illustrations, I will cut out my favorites and use them to collage greeting cards or paste them onto the fronts of greeting card envelopes.

This reducing of the physical stuff holding memories takes time and can be painful. Save only what really speaks to you and only if you really will look at or use it again. Except a lot of my things still speak to me! At least I am not in a big hurry—I’m not THAT old yet. But each day is a gift to be thankful for. I’d hate to be in a rush to do this, and I certainly don’t want to leave my kids with a mess. At least not a big mess.


I love this one, and I’m still trying to be less busy


About moonbridgebooks

Co-author of Cherry Blossoms in Twilight, a WWII Japan memoir of her mother's childhood; author of Poems That Come to Mind, for caregivers of dementia patients; Co-author/Editor of Battlefield Doc, a medic's memoir of combat duty during the Korean War; life writing enthusiast; loves history and culture (especially Japan), poetry, and cats
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1 Response to Downsizing Memories: Mari Kondo-ing and Swedish Death Cleaning

  1. Kathy says:

    Sweet, sweet memories that continue to spark joy for another day, another time.

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