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The downsizing party

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An elderly couple set to move into a smaller home cleared decades of clutter by giving it away to friends at a festive do

“Anything on the tables. Take it,” she announced to the room, after getting everyone’s attention with the “ping” of a Tibetan singing bowl.

“The bookshelves. Go through the bookshelves and if there’s anything you want, take it. Linens, dishes, mugs – take them,” she said, sweeping her arms along the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

“And please take at least one champagne flute home with you. After you’ve had your cocktail.”

All day on Saturday, people came in and out of Karen and Fritz Mulhauser’s cosy home and cleaned them out. Guests walked out with canvas bags and boxes bulging with mugs, pots and pans, dishes, candles and tablecloths. The Mulhausers were delighted.

Introducing the downsizing party

Instead of leaving the books, the old candelabras, the collections of seasonal table linens, Mali baskets and Tibetan singing bowls – among mounds of other treasures – to be picked over by strangers at a garage sale, this ageing couple decided to take a different approach to the onerous predicament of modern over-abundance.

They sent out invitations, served food and poured cocktails into 200 champagne flutes that said “Happy 60th Karen” (she just turned 77; they have been gathering dust for years) while people they have known during their 45 years in the area came over and took their stuff.

A stroke of good fortune came when another friend named Karen announced that she was turning 60 this month. Take a few dozen, Karen.

“Maybe it will inspire others to turn painful downsizing into a fun party,” (the original) Karen said.

The Mulhausers are moving barely a block away, into a new apartment building. They needed a one-storey unit because mobility issues are beginning to make the two-storey house difficult to navigate.

Their party was full of envious people Not envious of their stuff. It was, after all, an opportunity to take anything they coveted. But they were envious of the approach.

“I’ve had to deal with the downsizing of my parents’ home,” said Laura Henderson, 60. “It wasn’t easy. Something like this would’ve made it so much easier.”

What the Mulhausers did is similar to the Swedish practice of “death cleaning,” a downsizing and organisational philosophy as pragmatic as Marie Kondo’s, but with some magnanimity in mind, too.

“Life will become more pleasant and comfortable if we get rid of some of the abundance,” writes Margareta Magnusson in her book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Make Your Loved Ones’ Lives Easier and Your Own Life More Pleasant.

The Swedes call it döstädning. “Dö” means death and “städning” means cleaning, Magnusson writes.

Maybe the Mulhausers have created the American version – the cleaning ritual that comes with a party. And we should totally call it “Mulhausing”.

Piiiiiing! The Tibetan bowl sounded again “Go ahead and take cuttings from the plants, please,” Karen announced. “And don’t forget the cocktails.”

The idea came to the Mulhausers as they contemplated the enormous task of moving decades worth of stuff.

They promised the larger pieces of furniture as donations to community groups. And they set aside enough stuff to furnish their tiny, chic new place. Everything else? Out.

Friends came in and out all day.

Younger staffers who worked with Mulhauser in the Women’s Information Network found help furnishing their spartan places.

Old friends came to snag something they’d always liked Older friends came and tried to simply visit without taking anything (and left with something anyhow.)

As each casserole dish or earthenware mug left her home, Mulhauser told a small story to go along with it.

At the end of the day, just about everything was gone, each item having been explained, regaled and ushered off to begin a second act.

The Mulhausers looked around the emptier home and exhaled. They are ready for their second act.

The Washington Post

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