Couple uses novel way to downsize after 45 years in the same house

Petula Dvorak

THE WASHINGTON POST – “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.

“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, please take at least one of the flutes home with you.”

All day long on Saturday, people came in and out of Karen and Fritz Mulhauser’s cozy, Capitol Hill rowhouse 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 the 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.

Friends of Karen Mulhauser go through decades of political memorabilia at her downsizing party on Capitol Hill
Karen Mulhauser made announcements hourly by pinging her Tibetan singing bowl. She’s moving after 45 years. PHOTOS: THE WASHINGTON POST

They sent out invitations, served food and poured drinks into 200 glasses 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, DC, 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 condo building. They needed to be in a one-story unit because mobility issues are beginning to make the two-storey 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 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,” wrote 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 “standing” means cleaning, Magnusson wrote.

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

It is only the second time they considered moving in their 45 years on Capitol Hill.

The first time was in 1978, after Karen was raped at gunpoint by two men who broke into their home while Fritz was away and their son was upstairs, asleep.

They’d only been in the house for four years when that happened.

“But we decided to stay,” she explained to me, when I met her for the first time last year, when she held a watch party in that home for survivors of sexual assault who were uncomfortable watching the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh alone.

Karen has had 41 years of mostly good memories in that home. And she’s ready to leave it on her own terms.

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!