If decluttering your personal space is one of your New Year’s resolutions then you may be interested in, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo.
My yoga teacher lent me a copy of this book last year over the Christmas break and I became so motivated by it that cleaning out my house became one of my goals for 2017. Marie Kondo is a Japanese organizing consultant who is booked three months in advance according to her bio, which surprised me as I think of Japan as a nation of tidy people living in small neat houses, but maybe they are pack-rats like most North Americans. Her unique approach has now been trade marked as the KonMari method. The gist of her method is that you are to tidy by category and all at once, by dumping everything of each item from all over your house in the center of the room, shirts for example, and then you are to hold each item in your hand and “if it doesn’t spark joy”, out it goes. You will then only be surrounded by the things you love. The author was young and single and lived in a bedroom/apartment when the book was written in 2011, so although it is an interesting premise, some of the suggestions are not quite practical for a larger space shared with other people. What if something doesn’t bring you joy, (old electronic devices, the hamster cage, hockey equipment), but might bring joy to someone else? Then there are the things that don’t bring you joy but you need anyway. My iron doesn’t bring me joy, (I hate ironing, but I hate wrinkles even more), but I don’t plan on throwing it out. Toys should only be stored in one place? That might cause a few temper tantrums. Some of the suggestions border on the bizarre, you should talk to your house and your possessions and thank them for taking care of you? “Thank you for keeping me warm all day. Thank you for making me beautiful.” My sad old kitchen which is desperately in need of renovation might feel better if I spoke lovingly to it, but would I sound like George Bailey at the end of It’s A Wonderful Life, joyously greeting the miserable old Building and Loan. Or empty your purse every night, place wallet, makeup and put everything in it’s assigned place, and then repack it in the morning. I admire purse minimalists, but I am not one of them, my purse holds everything but the kitchen sink, so that would take over an hour. She often speaks of inanimate objects as if they had souls and feelings. What do the things in your house that don’t spark joy actually feel? They simply want to leave. Everything you own wants to be of use to you. It must be a Feng-shui kind of thing. Does my iron hate me as much as I hate it?
Still there was enough in the book to motivate me, so I diligently spent the month of January last year cleaning out my house, and the month of February attempting to clean out my mother’s, and some of March down in the basement, (home of the paper archives), and then it was spring, and I lost interest. Purging all at once was just not practical for me, a few hours here and there was the best I could do with my three-level house…yes, I broke the rules. I was less successful with my mother’s house, as she was born in the Depression and so has more of an attachment to empty coffee canisters and plastic storage containers than I do. (Perhaps that is why Marie is so booked up, it is much easier to get rid of someone else’s stuff than your own). “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without,” was a popular saying in the Depression, which may explain why that generation tends to hoard such things, while the baby boomers, because we didn’t grow up with as much as kids today, were more into acquiring material things, (fine china, mahogany dining room sets), and the millennials are minimalists indeed who would rather have experiences than things, and only buy what they need. Speaking of psychoanalysis, while some of the book reviews I read unkindly label the author as having OCD, (if I had sold five million copies I wouldn’t care what they called me), there is a sad chapter towards the end of the book where she explains her need to be compulsively tidy since a young age as an attempt to attract her parent’s love and attention and avoid being dependent on other people. She was a middle child (self-explanatory).
Some pointers from the book – sort all in one shot, by category, not location. There are only two actions, discarding and deciding where to store things. Start by discarding, all at once, intensely and completely, then decide where to store things, and keep them only in that place. (Discard first, store later). Do not start with mementos. Start with easier items, clothes, books, papers, misc., and then mementos. We should be choosing what to keep, not what we want to get rid of. She recommends folding clothes in rectangles and then storing them vertically, standing up in drawers, so you can see everything, and they are less wrinkled. Store all items of the same type in the same place, and don’t scatter storage space, including designating storage space for each family member. Fancy storage systems = bad, they justify keeping stuff you shouldn’t. Some clothes like coats and dresses are happier hung up. I’m relieved my elegant black cocktail dress, (Winners sale), is happy even though it’s never been worn. Keep only those books which make you happy to see on the shelves. Out go those university text books I kept in case I felt the need to study chemistry again, (which I did twenty years later for a degree upgrade). Now they are but sentimental reminders of a time when I was smarter and had a better memory. Sorting papers – rule of thumb – discard everything! She relents and says you can keep some things like insurance policies, love letters etc. but only if they are stored in one spot only. On sentimental items – “No matter how wonderful things used to be we cannot live in the past – the joy and excitement we feel here and now are more important.” Yes, that is true, but what about keeping things for future generations? As a lover of history and genealogy, I wish my ancestors had kept more things, not less,
(see Nov. blog on Uncle Charlie WW1 Vet), and museums would be empty if we throw everything away just because it’s old. I am glad I kept those letters from my younger pre-email years, they are treasured memories for myself and for future generations.
What makes some things more difficult to get rid of is they either remind us of things past, (childhood toys, I kept my Barbie dolls and clothes),
or we might have a future need for them some time and they won’t be there. I still haven’t read those books I picked up at the book sale last winter, but we might be snowed in for a week and then I’ll have something to read. Most bookworms have great difficulty getting rid of books. It seems a shame to discard a book, unless it’s a really bad book, and even then someone put a lot of effort into writing it. (I once read that books are one of the most often requested items in refugee camps). While I won’t be appearing on any hoarder reality tv shows, I do have a problem with some categories (see blog on vintage clothes on the main menu), and I admit I am a paper pack-rat too. With the clothes I am mourning the life I had, or aspired to (in the case of that chic little black cocktail dress with the bow in the back). My intention with The Vintage Corner was to sell some of the clothes and donate the money to charity, which can always make you feel better about throwing things out. I lost track of how many trips I made to the local thrift shop, but one day when I took an old ghetto-blaster in, (music for the garage, but it was never used and covered with dust), there was an immigrant family looking for a radio, so it was perfect timing. How happy they were, and how pleased I was to be able to help someone else.
Recently I came across a review for a new book from Sweden, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” (Scribner Jan 2018) by Margareta Magnusson, which may be more suited to older generations.
This Swedish author recommends you streamline your belongings while you are still healthy enough to do the job, thus saving relatives the difficult task of sorting out after you are gone. It sounds morbid but it is actually uplifting, finding the right homes for all your beloved possessions so they can bring joy to someone else, plus it can relieve the burden of looking after so many things when you might not have the health or energy to do so. Still it does make me sad to walk into a thrift store and see all those lovely sets of good china which graced many a holiday table and which no one wants anymore. I collect blue and white china (which does bring me joy),
and thrift shops are excellent places for that, although I am now more selective in what I buy.
The final chapter in the Marie Kondo book deals with the life-changing part of the title – apparently “the lives of those who tidied thoroughly and completely in a single shot are without exception dramatically altered.” Some of her clients discarded their excess weight, their jobs and even their husbands, and went on to live much happier lives. The rationale for this is that detoxifying your house has a detoxifying effect on your body and mind as well. It increases your happiness and good fortune to live in a natural state surrounded only by the things you love. She says, “when you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past too, and you can see quite clearly what you need in life and what you don’t, and what you should and shouldn’t do.” The things we really like do not change much over time. Putting your house in order is a great way to discover what they are. I’m not sure if this is just so much psycho mumbo-jumbo, but you cannot deny it is a serene feeling to having a clean and tidy house. She does not seem to acknowledge however that some people prefer and even feel more comfortable with a certain degree of clutter around them. It makes a home look lived in as opposed to one staged for a real estate open house…you know the type, when you walk into a house and nothing is out of place and there’s not an open book in sight. I can’t say my life was altered in any transformative way, (but then I broke the all in one shot rule), but I would have to say the book was successful in making me stop and think, do I really need to keep this, and while some clutter has crept back, the usual suspects in the usual places, (papers in the den and kitchen drawers you may plead guilty), over-all it was a worthwhile read. The whole concept of sparking joy, while airy-fairy, did make me much more conscious of what I bought. Not only did a new acquisition have to bring me joy, but did I even need it? After spending three months decluttering I didn’t want to have to do it again. But there was a good feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction when it was done and someday when I must downsize there will be less to pack and unpack. As anyone who has ever moved can attest, moving can be a great motivator for decluttering.
The other day I saw a very large moving truck on my street, it almost stretched the whole block, which made me think about how much stuff people have today compared to the past. My maternal grandmother came through Ellis Island in 1922 from Holland, on her honeymoon, with one large wicker trunk containing all her worldly possessions. My dad’s ancestors arrived in Canada from Ireland in 1846 at the height of the potato famine with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They abandoned what few supplies they brought with them, when they jumped ship in the St. Lawrence during a cholera epidemic. They had to borrow one pound from the Canadian government (National Archive Records), for water transport from Toronto to where they settled, but by 1900 they had nice crystal,
and monogrammed silverware, (I wish I still had some of those forks). Things can bring you pleasure and joy and we can spend a lifetime buying but in the end, we have nothing – you can’t take it with you, as the saying goes. There is a time to collect stuff and a time to get rid of it.
Incidentally, about a month after I returned the book to my yoga instructor, I saw a copy at a thrift shop for two dollars, so I bought it to keep as a reference book, which is a no-no according to the rules, but which I knew would come in handy some day. The author also has a sequel, Spark Joy – An Illustrated Master Class in Organizing and Tidying Up, but when I picked it up and glanced through it, there was a whole section on camisole folding, and since I don’t own any camisoles, I closed it back up and left it there on the shelf to bring joy to someone else.
Quote of the Day: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” (William Morris)