Tag Archives: possessions

“The Soul-Crushing Futility of Tidying Up” or “Making Peace with our Beautiful Mess”

Last month I was sitting with KitKat, having a glass of wine and catching up, when I glanced down at her coffee table. The New York Times bestseller, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo was sitting on top of another book (ironically titled, “A Beautiful Mess”).

I had read reviews of the book and its controversial “KonMari” method for determining what to keep and what to discard—so I asked KitKat what she thought of it. She said, “I haven’t had a chance to read it, and I won’t get to it for a while since I’m leaving on vacation. Why don’t you read it and report back to me?” I accepted the assignment and am sharing my findings with all of our readers for your collective organizational edification. KitKat, what do you think of these tips?

Highlights of the Book:

Go big or go home – Unlike many books on organizing that advocate tackling decluttering bit by bit (for example, one closet or drawer at a time), the author insists that the key to success is to do your whole house at once. “Tidying is a special event, not a daily chore,” she states. (If this sounds daunting, keep in mind that Marie Kondo is a professional declutterer based in Japan. This is important context because the average Japanese home is much smaller than the average American home so the average Japanese person has fewer possessions.) Even though this sounds ambitious, her rationale makes sense. By doing your entire home at once, you’ll experience the benefits of organized living and won’t want to revert back to your cluttering ways. Whereas if you just tackle clutter one drawer at a time, you’ll never experience the “life-changing magic” of an organized home.

KitKat: I understand how this would make sense. Take for example, cleaning. I never get to enjoy the true experience of a clean home since I only have time for a room or two each cleaning. By the time I get through a full round, the rooms I started with are messy again. The few times I splurged on hiring house cleaners, it was a magnificent feeling walking into a completely clean house. (I may have actually heard background music and saw glowing lights as I entered my home those magical days.)

“Getting rid of clutter would eliminate 40% of the housework in the average home.”  

-National Soap & Detergent Association

Does it spark joy? – This is the aforementioned controversial method of determining what to keep and the part of the book that most reviews focus on. Although a bit limiting, it’s an interesting way to look at one’s possessions. (Disclosure: I don’t think a toilet plunger will ever spark joy for me, but I intend to keep one around anyway.) A better way I’ve heard this stated is, “Don’t keep anything that isn’t beautiful, useful or preferably both.” This is my new litmus test and in my newer, smaller home, I’m working on “upgrading” my possessions rather than adding to them.

KitKat: It sounds like a logical test but I am not sure it would be that straightforward for me. Depending on my mood the day I do it (if doing it all at once, as advised), I will either have nothing left in my house or I will get rid of nothing. I function on extremes.

Sort by category, not location – Kondo’s method recommends that you start by discarding all items of a similar type and that what’s left should be kept together, not necessarily where the items are used. This seems practical in a small Japanese apartment, but maybe less so in a three-story home.

KitKat: So if I was sorting vases, they would all end up on one floor in one room? My hair accessories would have to live with my daughter? All kids’ entertainment lumped together? I don’t think this one would work in my house. For both visual pleasure and family peace, we do better with separation.

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Lucky needs more clutter like Stormy needs another pair of boots

Don’t force your clutter on other people – My girls could tell you all about this one. Lucky, Blossom and I are approximately the same size for tops and every time they come see me, I’m offering them my clothing discards. For some reason, it’s easier for me to part with something that I like (but never wear) if I’m giving it to one of my daughters. But the truth is, they’re in a very transient stage of their lives and the less “stuff” they have to move with them, the better.

KitKat: Agree! My grandma keeps sending me old artwork and cards and my mother-in-law brings a new bag of stuff she found cleaning out her place with her each time she visits. As everyone else is decluttering, I am drowning in stuff. 

Thanking items for their usefulness – One of Kondo’s more interesting points is that it’s hard to get rid of something if you don’t understand its purpose in your life, but its purpose may not be what you think. For example, you bought a beautiful sweater on sale but every time you go to wear it, you end up taking it off again. It’s beautiful, but for whatever reason, the color doesn’t suit you. This is the kind of thing people have trouble getting rid of. Kondo suggests you hold the item, recognize that it’s purpose may not have been to keep you warm, but rather to teach you that you shouldn’t buy chartreuse clothing, even if it is 100% cashmere and 75% off. Thank the item for the lesson it has taught you and let it go.

KitKat: Thank you super-expensive, camo mini-skirt for teaching me that there is a time where age comes into play with what you wear. You have done your duty and now it’s time to find a millennial who can pull you off.

Sorting clothing – Kondo recommends putting every item of clothing you own on the floor to see what you have and decide what to keep. I don’t have enough floor space for this.

KitKat: I am with you, Stormy. I couldn’t test this one out. My clothes-to-floor ratio doesn’t work out, even if done in categories of clothing.

Treat your socks with respect – One of the more amusing chapters was on the topic of socks, which featured this gem: “Never, ever ball up your socks.” The author described her conversation with a client who had done just that, “Look at them carefully. This should be a time for them to rest. Do you really think they can get any rest like that?” She then explained that socks and stockings in your drawer are essentially on holiday from the difficult chore of protecting your feet and the time they spend in the drawer is their only chance to rest… As much as I like the idea of my socks having a secret life in my drawer that is unknown to me, I opened my sock drawer quickly at several random times throughout the day and was never able to catch any of them with an umbrella drink in their hand, so I’m questioning this one a bit.

folded-socks

Who knew KitKat was a sock sadist?

KitKat: I can’t do this one. One of my weird pleasures when sorting laundry is finding matching socks and then balling the pair up. It’s the only part of folding laundry I enjoy. When I end up with no single ones, it’s like I won the game. If a sock doesn’t have a match to become a ball, it has to sit on the dryer waiting for its mate. (Another bonus of this method is I don’t get called into my kids’ rooms during our rushed morning chaos because they can’t find matching socks.)

Unread books: Sometime equals never – If you have a book that’s been lying around for more than a month, thinking you’ll read it someday, you’re lying to yourself. Just get rid of it. (Note: This may apply to the book I’m reviewing, KitKat!)

KitKat: Very true. I love reading and am usually searching for new books to read. But if I haven’t picked it up in a month, then it hasn’t caught my interest enough. Usually the fiction books are devoured, while self-help books on getting your shit together, self-improvement, or organizing all lay around mocking me.

Decorate your closet with secret delights – This was just an interesting note that if you have something you love that doesn’t fit anywhere else in your house, you can decorate your closet with it. Love posters of kittens or your Best Thespian certificate from high school? Put them in your closet! I actually have some little star shaped mirrors that I put in my walk-in closet (to remind myself that I’m a superstar, naturally) and of course, this is a perfect place to keep a vision board.

KitKat: I have kept my vision boards there! It is a perfect spot. I also put up photos I rip out of magazines of cool ways to style my hair or pull together an outfit. I used to keep them in a file, but never looked at them. Yet I didn’t want to throw them away because they inspired me. Now I actually sometimes even try to pull off the looks I see when opening closet doors.  

Your possessions want to help you – Again with the anthropomorphism. Kondo must spend a lot of time alone, because she has a very rich imagination. She believes that “Everything you own wants to be of use to you. Even if you throw it away or burn it, it will only leave behind the energy of wanting to be of service. Freed from its physical form, it will move about your world as energy, letting other things know that you are a special person, and come back to you as the thing that will be of most use to who you are now, the thing that will bring you the most happiness.”

KitKat:  Hmmm. She may have have poured one too many glasses of wine at this point in her writing. Plus, I don’t want to imagine that the energy of the life-sized doll I “decluttered” when my daughter was at camp is haunting us. 

The big payoff – One of the more grandiose claims of the book is the transformational power of tidying. The author asserts that once you’re no longer distracted by the clutter in your house, you’ll be able to see other parts of your life more clearly and may end up changing self-defeating personal habits, your unfulfilling job, maybe even your deadbeat spouse! 😉

KitKat: The clutter does distract and overwhelm me. Then, add in holiday decorations or bags of items collected and waiting to go up to the cabin, and I have actually lost it from being inundated by all the stuff. If I had time, let’s say I could send my family away for a month or have a paid week off to focus just on decluttering, I think it would be transformational—at least for my temper.

Stormy’s Summary – Having downsized a year ago, I find that much of what the author says is true. It’s amazing to think about how many things my husband and I got rid of that we have not missed one bit. I hope those objects were able to “spark joy” (or at least be useful) to someone else and sending them off to their new homes enabled us to make room for some new things (not necessarily “stuff,” but concepts, hobbies, habits) in our new life.

KitKat: We took your extension ladder and it was very useful. We used it to change the light bulb in our cabin garage that was out for over a year, so we could see the ping pong table we added. And the light sparked a lot of joy (and competition).

Stormy learns to “move it or lose it”…but mostly loses it.

bicycleWhen you last heard from me, two months ago, I thought I was through the worst of moving…However, downsizing is a gift that keeps on giving. We had a month of overlap with our properties which allowed us to make a few updates, but also dragged out the “fun.” We’re not home free quite yet, but we’ve been through enough where I can see a shimmering oasis of calm ahead, and I’m driving toward it with single-minded dedication. Here are some things I learned along the way:

Moving is when you learn who your friends are – The physical act of moving was an exhausting one after 25 years of accumulation. A well-meaning friend suggested I hire someone to pack everything up, but that was impractical for my situation. Each item needed to be evaluated—something that movers couldn’t do: Should it go to the new place? Do the kids need it? Could any of my family use it? Should we donate it to charity? Is it garbage? Sometimes the answer came quickly: Of course my bunny collection is going with me. No, we don’t need the cassette tapes. But others were tricky: I love my curio cabinet and TV stand, but there’s no place to put them in the new unit. And—in a situation I’m guessing was not unique to us—we eventually ran out of time and began throwing things willy-nilly in boxes. (This explains why, at our new condo, I spotted a box whose labeled contents included “Wii box.” Not the Wii IN the box, mind you, but rather a box for a video game system we bought in 2008, that my youngest has since taken to college. Really? Moving a box for an obsolete and relocated gaming system? Really?) As I was lamenting all the work involved in this process, I was genuinely touched when several friends offered sincerely to help move, pack and unpack. There’s a joke about finding out who your real friends are when you need to move—but it’s a joke based in truth.

We all have too much stuff and the 80/20 rule generally applies – Attempting to unpack was a lesson in humility. Who needs all this stuff? I thought of an article I read where a photographer took photos of people with all of their possessions laid out beside them. I was embarrassed by the sheer volume of riches I take for granted. We were buried in boxes for a solid week and had to move some into a storage unit just so workmen could get at our floor to replace it. Yet, somehow we managed to find the really important stuff—and survive without the Belgian waffle maker or ice cream maker. I’ve tried to live by Thoreau’s mantra, “He who owns little is little owned,” but clearly I’ve failed. My stuff is dictating how I live right now. I’m totally owned.

Organization is expensive—but worth it – People have varying tolerances for clutter, but I’ve found the older I get, the less I can tolerate living in a mess. My brain jumps from thought to thought and I become mentally exhausted trying to find things. One day, I returned home to find that my husband had been unpacking and attempted to organize the kitchen. Here’s his idea of a good location for a pantry:

If you can guess what's up there... well then maybe YOU can make me dinner!

If you can guess what’s up there… well then maybe YOU can make me dinner!

Yes, it’s the cupboard above the refrigerator, where one usually stashes the roaster, the crockpot and other rarely used items. I had to text a photo of this to several girlfriends for sympathy and laughs before pulling out all the foodstuffs and relocating them to a more accessible location. (By the way, re-doing unpacking is even more annoying that regular unpacking.)

After four trips to The Container Store, I’m starting to bring order to my chaos, but at a price. That stuff ain’t cheap. But at least it matches, which brings me to another lesson:

Warning: Companies that make plastic totes are evil – That’s right, I’m talking to YOU Rubbermaid, Hefty, Sterlite… At one time, I had a vision of a perfect storage area with nicely matching totes, either clear or nicely labeled, but I’ve come to understand this Nirvana will never be realized unless I’m willing to buy all 20 totes at once. Why? Because companies that make totes change their design every two weeks. So if you buy a few at a time (like most normal people), the next time you go to buy them, they will be different—color, size, lids, something. (And good luck if you need to only replace a lid—it’s just not happenin’… Accept it and get on with your life.)

Summer is fleeting, take the time to enjoy it – The worst thing about moving in the summer is missing out on what is an already too-short season in Minnesota. Therefore, my husband and I have been trying to work in little bits of summer fun wherever we can: an impromptu boat outing, dinner on a rooftop patio, even listening to a local band performance while unpacking (our new home is next to a park, so we can hear music from the amphitheater when our windows are open). It was particularly inspiring when one of the bands started playing the theme from “Rocky.” Any daunting task seems more doable when accompanied by “Gonna Fly Now” performed by a live orchestra outside your window! … It’s a trade-off between wanting to make my current living situation more tolerable now and not wanting to wake up in my beautiful new home in September, wondering where my summer went. Somehow, I’ll find that balance, but it’s easier said than done.