“Anything on the tables. Take it,” she announced to the room, after getting everyone’s attention with the golden ping of a Tibetan singing bowl.
“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, please take at least one of the champagne flutes home with you. After you’ve had your mimosa.”
All day long on a Saturday, people came in and out of Karen and Fritz Mulhauser’s cozy, Capitol Hill rowhouse in Washington 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, old candelabras, collections of seasonal table linens, Mali baskets and Tibetan singing bowls — among mounds of other treasures — to be picked over by strangers at an estate sale, this aging couple decided to take a different approach to the onerous predicament of modern overabundance.
They sent out invitations, served food, and poured mimosas into 200 champagne flutes that said “Happy 60th Karen” (she just turned 77; they’ve been gathering dust for years) while people they’ve known during their 45 years in Washington, D.C., came over and took their stuff.
“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 condo building. They needed to be in a one-story unit because mobility issues are beginning to make the two-story rowhouse 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’ve 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 organizational 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 Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter.
The Swedes call it döstädning. Dö means death and stadning 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.”