Sunday, December 6, 2015

"Keep only those things that speak to your heart."

You can’t write about de-cluttering and not have heard about The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. With the intent of not adding to my clutter, I placed a hold at the library. At the time, the library had one copy and I came in at #63. Months and months later, the library now has 18 copies and mine arrived.
I read a bit last night and woke up this morning raring to attack the clutter. I wanted to tear open my closets and discard!

Her premise is pretty interesting. Rather than choosing what to get rid of, she says we should instead pick out the things we want to keep. “…take each item in one’s hand and ask: ‘Does this spark joy?’ If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it.”

And the big message I got was Discard first, Organize and Store second. All those wonderful hints in magazines about cleverly organizing things in neat storage containers just mean you keep stuff. Even well-kept stuff fills your house, your consciousness, your life. Because if you’re still in “keeping mode,” you get more stuff that has to be filed or put away. And that becomes a chore, the filing piles up, and then you’re “rebounding,” in her words.

The only cure for clutter is getting rid of it. Period. Then you feel so happy to live in an uncluttered house filled only with the objects that give you joy that Kondo says you could never backslide.

Where Kondo loses people is on the respect she shows the objects that give her joy. Socks, for instance. Kondo says socks should never be balled up (like “potato-like lumps”):
“The socks and stockings stored in your drawer are essentially on holiday. They take a brutal beating in their daily work .… The time they spend in your drawer is their only chance to rest.”
This is probably where Kondo leaves readers behind, but I get into anthropomorphizing everything. When I make my bed, it’s happy. When I unload the dishwasher or put away laundry, I rotate the bowls and towels so they “take turns.” (I also have to make sure the coats are on their proper colored hangers, but I think that’s less about the coats’ happiness than it is about my personal oddities. Kondo has lots of little personal oddities, too.)
Personally, I would never ball up my socks. I had never heard of balling up socks till I saw Tim do it, and I promptly unballed them so they wouldn’t get all stretched out. Our socks are Kondo-certified.

When I graduated college, my advisor told me I could house sit her place for free if at the end of the summer, I moved all her belongings into the dorm apartment where she was going to be a faculty resident. I ended up moving into the apartment early – without moving anything else in. Friends and I slept on the floor, ate picnics on the floor, lived in a large, empty space. At the end of the summer, we moved all the furniture and stuff in, and we hated it. Our peaceful, bare, simple place was cluttered and overwhelmed with stuff-ness. We couldn’t breathe.

That’s what Kondo is talking about. If you keep only those things you truly love, your place might seem bare. But it’s like hanging one beautiful painting on the wall versus hanging six. The crowd of six detracts from the simple elegance of the one that gives you joy.

There are things in my closet I love. They’re flattering, comfortable, attractive. And then there are the things I own because I needed a blouse and it was on sale. Slowly, it gets shoved further and further back into the recesses of the closet. Eventually I decided I’m only going to buy clothing I LOVE. I think that’s the message Kondo is trying to leave us with.

I’m ready to give it a bigger try. I’m excited to look at discarding in a new way: find the joy, discard what’s not. Admittedly, it’ll be a minimal, halfway, less-than-ruthless, non-Kondo operation. But if it feels good, I’ll keep at it.


  1. Gene and I had to go through all our remaining storage while in Anchorage last September -- the IMPORTANT STUFF that we hadn't sold or thrown in two other goes coming back to our former home in the States. A way we greatly reduced what we kept was to ask these things as we sorted for what could sell in garage sale:

    A. If sentimentally important, give to a family member or friend who understands its history and wants it.

    B. If historically significant, donate to UAA archives (which agreed taking 17 boxes of our professional life papers!)

    But most importantly, was this last test we dreamed up that helped us leave much behind, as we really had to (houses are SMALL in England):

    C. If it is important to me/us now, ask if I/we were to put it in a numbered box for a year, would I/we remember what was in that box without opening it (no inventory)? If I/we didn't think I/we would, it wasn't THAT important. We got rid of it.

    Using these three filters and some real angst and tears at times for parting with things that had meaning to us, we winnowed our remaining life of things to only 12 book boxes that were mailed to England. It helped that we made a sacrificial fire for many old photo prints (yes, we were THAT ruthless), and sent sensitive papers to a business that shredded things with certification.

    Oh, the other thing that helped with this difficult work was we faced one simple financial fact: each box averaged £175 to ship! We aren't made of money, so good-bye things!

  2. I have looked at the book you mentioned, but it is not for me. I am not the kind of person who can look at something and figure out whether it "sparks joy."

    If you like something but don't love it, does that count? How do you know whether you love something or whether you just like it a lot? Is loving something the same as getting joy from it? I am not mocking Kondo's idea. I truly find this stuff puzzling.

    I need shoes. Do I need 12 pairs? Probably not. I can discard the shoes that are uncomfortable, worn out, or out of style. Can I keep all the rest? I can't say that any of my shoes spark joy, but it's nice to have them.

    Maybe shoes are utilitarian and therefore not subject to the joy rule. That's fine, but a lot of my clutter is utilitarian. Maybe my issue is how to redefine "utilitarian" more narrowly.

    I have been thinking about this a lot recently. For the last two months I have been going through a box a day in our basement. (Yes, we have a LOT of boxes down there.)

    Here's what seems to work for me:

    A. A modified form of the one year in a box plan - the modification being five or ten years rather than one. It's amazing how much stuff I am finding that is now irrelevant.

    B. Asking myself whether there is someone I can give the item to. I like the idea of recycling better than discarding. It is easier to part with something if I know that it will be useful to someone else.

    By the way, maybe I just have big feet, but doesn't WEARING socks stretch them out much more than balling them up? :)

    Another, ironic "by the way": In one box I found a file that contained, among other things, some of my favorite newspaper columns written by Barbara! I guess they gave me some level of joy when I read them. Something prompted me to save them. What should I do with them now?

  3. It's the emotional energy it takes to make all those decisions that flummoxes me. And hanging onto "family" things when I'm not sure either of my sons cares -- which would mean I'm the last of the line, which is kind of sad. I'll be interested to see if you make progress.


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