Wednesday, January 6, 2016

In Which I Greet My House and Express My Gratitude for My Can Opener

After I wrote a handful of blog posts about decluttering my house, people began sharing with me their own stories of decluttering. The general consensus seems to be that

1. we all have accumulated way too much crap that we don't really need
2. once you get rid of a lot of that stuff, you never miss it
3. in fact, you feel pretty darn great after the stuff is gone

Several of those people suggested I read the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. And recently, I did. 

It's a fascinating and strange little book. 

It reads, at first, like an expanded version of a "how to organize" article in a magazine. There are tips and tricks for choosing what to keep and throw away, pointers on where to store things, pages on how to fold your clothes properly and place them in your drawer. (Don't stack! Think vertical!) 

Intermingled with stories about Kondo's history as a compulsive tidier (it began, in earnest, when she was in first grade and volunteered to clean up her classroom), and descriptions of her clients' over-stuffed homes and apartments, (she is fond of comparing messy closets to tangled up noodles).

Plus, there's a whole lotta fun, new age-y gems like these:

"Possessions that have a place where they belong and to which they are returned each day for a rest are more vibrant."


"Have you ever had the experience where you thought what you were doing was a good thing but later learned that it had hurt someone? ...This is somewhat similar to how many of us treat our socks."

I confess that I have never considered how my socks feel when I ball them up and stuff them in a drawer (not happy Marie Kondo tells me). Also, I don't greet my house when I walk through the door, and I fail to thank my purse and paperclips and pot holders for fulfilling their duties each day.  

But joking aside, I like Kondo's decluttering philosophy, which can be boiled down to Get rid of the things that don't bring you joy. 

This is easier said than done.

Something I learned over the course of my year of purging is that it takes energy to make the decision to get rid of things, especially when so many of those things are imbued with emotion, memories, expectation, obligation, duty, and guilt. It's overwhelming and often paralyzing to even look at some of our things, much less let them go. 

Kondo's advice is that we should "make a parting ceremony to launch [our things] on a new journey." Celebrate the occasion, she says. Tell them to have a good trip. 

It's absurd, and yet, hey! If it helps...

The book concludes with success stories of Marie Kondo's clients after they've gone through her decluttering course. Their acne cleared up! They lost weight! Something something freaky and gross about the digestive system! But she ties it together with a lovely thought:

It's not about cleaning or organizing or carting stuff off to Goodwill, "the question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life." 

I believe you, Marie.

Last year during a particularly cold weekend, my husband I burned three shoeboxes full of old check registers and credit card statements. Okay, we did not perform a ceremony, but we did take turns reading aloud from select pages as we tossed them into the fireplace. Hey, did you know we wrote a check for $12.50 to Dominos in Memphis in 1992? Huh, remember that time we joined a gym and never went but paid the monthly fee for three years? Shoot, can you believe how little we used to pay for rent? 

Laughing and sometimes pausing to sputter out mournful nostalgic sighs, we watched our past go up in flames. 

It was a nice way to spend an evening together. 


  1. Yeah, I love that book. It's incredibly fascinating for a how-to book. And of course it's more than a how-to book.
    Many American readers find the concept of saying farewell to inanimate objects to be a little strange, but it can help break the emotional attachments we have to them, or feel better about deaccessioning them.
    Old financial paperwork, like what you burned--that's always a tough one. I have never needed it, but I'm always afraid I'm going to. But I've started getting rid of that, too!

    1. Do it! Burning old papers was one of the most fun aspects of our purging.
      Question for you: what did you think of Kondo's take on getting rid of books? I admit I shuddered at her description of tearing out pages...

    2. I think her book purging was that of a person who is more a casual reader than a book addict like many writers. I don't know for sure, but that was just the impression I got. And for the casual reader who doesn't reread books, it makes sense to pare down the collection. But Kondo also says it's OK to keep the things you really love. And I have concluded that the number of books I really love is just a lot higher than her number!
      One thing I really wondered about was the way she dries her dishes outside. What does she do when it rains for days on end?

    3. I wondered about that too. I guess putting the dishes outside removes clutter from the house... but then you've got clutter outside! She seemed really obsessed with fresh air. Maybe it doesn't rain all that much in Japan?

  2. I loved that book, all its wonderfulness and strangeness. It inspired me to *really* purge my clothes, not just the sort-of thing I do each year. Everything fits into the space now -- very freeing.

    1. I thought I had done a good purge myself, but reading the book has made me want to get rid of more. I'm like the opposite of a hoarder. De-hoarder? Is that a thing? Also, I don't want to bring new things into the house.

  3. Wow, I too have been negligent of my socks' feelings. Better change my ways.