I just read a provocative best-selling book, called “the life-changing magic of tidying up” by marie kondo (lower case hers), which is especially appropriate now that I’m doing a thorough emptying of my household.
First, the bad: Ms. Kondo has a serious, and I mean serious, case of OCD. From the time she was a small girl, she has thought of little else besides organizing, neatness, tidying, and discarding to a ruthless degree. She believes nothing should be stacked lest it be crushed, rumpled or forgotten, and she even lines up her carrots vertically in the beverage holder of her refrigerator door. Fortunately for her, she has turned her illness and need for control – – er, I mean thoroughness – – into a multi-million dollar business via her books, seminars, and private consultations around the world.
The good news is that while there is plenty in the book to make you gag, there is also much merit and profound truth in her concepts.
Why do we have so much stuff? Because we don’t accurately grasp how much we own. When we acquire something we want, it gives us a spark of joy. The problem is, that spark is easily extinguished once we acquire it and use it. When you are about to acquire something, or are sorting through things you already own,
decide not only if you will keep it, but where you’re going to put it. If you cannot resolve the latter, then you cannot do the former!
And when the item no longer “sparks joy” (a phrase repeated throughout the book ad nauseum), it is time to let it go. We can’t really find joy in keeping our house clean when we make it so impossibly difficult to keep it that way.
How do we deal with clutter, the flotsam and jetsam in our lives? We find ingenious ways to store it so we don’t see it. Alas, that doesn’t make the amount of clutter go away, it simply hides it.
Putting things away doesn’t get rid of clutter.
Organizing clutter is an oxymoron. We need to deal with the excess, not push it aside. (Kind of like life.)
Choosing what to toss can be painful. It’s sometimes easier to give it to a friend or loved one.
If you want to give something away, don’t push people to take it unconditionally or pressure them by making them feel guilty.
Oh! I am so guilty of this. When my mother died, she left so many beautiful antiques and tschotchkes. I knew I couldn’t keep them for lack of space, but I also felt guilty getting rid of them because her things were so important to her and she was so emotionally invested in them. So I implored my children to take them, as if that would relieve me of the guilt and responsibility in discarding them. (A few things they actually wanted. I’m talking about the stuff they didn’t want.) And just recently I begged my son to take an antique bookcase, sentimental to me because it was the first piece of furniture my husband and I bought as newlyweds and it just seemed to represent the foundation of our marriage and the family we built. He didn’t take it, but probably felt guilty about saying no because he knows how much that bookcase means to me. (Look for it on craigslist!)
Oh, and here’s an important side note:
It’s extremely stressful for parents to see what children discard.
Yep. It’s true. A few years ago I gave my daughter a family heirloom, a huge, gorgeous handmade dining table that hosted all my childhood family and holiday celebrations. But it was too big and impractical so after a few years, she wanted to return it. I had no room now that I was living in smaller quarters. So she gave it away. I confess – – it killed me! (I’m over it now.)
Ideally, when we sort through our things, we should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to give away. That puts a whole new perspective on it, I think.
By keeping only things that inspire joy, you can identify precisely what you love and need.
But here is the thing. By looking through our memorabilia and deciding what stays and what goes, by physically handling and touching each thing, we are recognizing and confronting, and processing our past. We can be thankful for the joy each item gave us, and the memories it sparked. But in most cases, the sense of joy was at that original moment. We live in the present; we cannot live in the past. Time moves forward, never backwards. So must we.
Another bonus part of this process: it trains us in decision-making. When we are forced to make a decision, it doesn’t come easy. But it does get easier with practice. And when we are finally able to make decisions without a huge amount of angst, we develop self-confidence. We know who we are; what we want; what we need.
It’s funny about getting older, but buying and collecting stuff, rather than being a source of pleasure, becomes a burden, because we realize just how enslaved we are by our possessions. I feel a bit wistful getting rid of stuff, but at the same time, it’s incredibly freeing.
And I’m not getting rid of everything. Some things really do continue to “spark joy” and those things remain dear. Those possessions I will keep – – for now. And if I keep them until I die, my children have my permission to toss them without remorse, because the objects I identify with are unique to me and cannot be forced on another. But I will try to keep the burden of cleaning up after someone else (me!) to a minimum, for their sake!