Now read this!
Got stuff? Do bears (you know the rest)?
Last week, while noodling around on the internet, I came across something completely unexpected, as I so often do. (In many cases these random things are more interesting than what I'm actually looking for.) It was a reference to a book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo. Have you heard of it? Did you know it was on the New York Times best seller list? The back cover begins: "Despite constant efforts to declutter your home, do papers still accumulate like snowdrifts and clothes pile up like a tangled mess of noodles?"
Does this sound like us?
She promises "if you properly simplify and organize your home once [italics mine], you'll never have to do it again."
I ordered it on Amazon, and it arrived a few days later. In one sitting I was up to page 54. (The pages are very small.) While everything I've read so far makes a lot of sense, and the thought of never having to organize again is very appealing, Life-Changing Magic may not be for everybody. She doesn't say so, but she clearly advocates a zen-like lifestyle that's mostly free of stuff. The picture of her on the back of the book has a very clever background designed to entice you without your realizing it: a tall broad shelving unit with almost nothing in it. Her method works, she says, because getting rid of almost everything "in one fell swoop" will so change your view of stuff that you'll seldom feel the urge to buy anything again.
One has to take exception to the book's endless use of the expression "tidying up", because it's very clear that it's a polite euphemism for decluttering, as in you are a hoarder. My apartment is generally tidy, but it's always cluttered, and yes, papers do accumulate like snowdrifts. (Remember this post?) Just say it, already, I've wanted to say when seeing the code word tidy. I'm a hoarder. I need to throw stuff out. Lots of stuff.
Kondo advises, wisely, "Keep only those things that speak to your heart." I can hear readers laughing. That's why I bought all this stuff! It speaks to my heart! Don't ask yourself, she says, When was the last time I used this? Ask yourself Would I miss this if it were gone? She also says that it's best to break decluttering into categories. Don't work by the room, she says. A recipe for disaster. And don't start with mementos, she says. You'll be stuck on those forever, and never make any progress.
For best results, Kondo has a set order for decluttering ("tidying") by category. To our readers' certain shock and horror, clothing comes first, followed by books, papers, miscellany, and finally mementos. (No furniture?) For our readers, clothing first is probably the recipe for disaster. If you have nothing but tee shirts, you should suffer no ill effects, but if you have clothes you cherish, and chose with care, this is the equivalent of giving up your children so you'll have more space. Then there is the monetary aspect. If I were Daphne Guinness, I might throw everything into a bag (Kondo says her clients can easily fill and throw out thirty bags) and give it to a thrift shop. (Of course, if I were Daphne Guinness, I'd have so much space and so much household help that 'tidying' would never become an issue.) But not being Daphne Guinness, I am loathe to give much away. I feel compelled to recoup some of my hard earned and hard spent cash.
Again for best results, Kondo says you should set a timetable for your decluttering. From start to finish, everything should be done within six months. Do not follow the usual advice. Do not go slowly, or throw out one thing per day, or throw out one thing for each new thing you bring in. Adopt a slash and burn philosophy, and keep to the timetable to maintain momentum. Great advice, again, although this will be hard for those of us who want a bit of return on our investments. I have sold some things on line, and sold other things to consignment shops, but unless you price everything at 99 cents, it probably won't all go in the allotted six months. This is not to say I disagree with Kondo's advice. Personally, I think decluttering is a wonderful, even enviable, goal. I just worry about how to accomplish it within her rules.
I still have 150 pages to go, and I like what I'm reading. So far the most important thing I've taken away is Kondo's fundamental reformulation of the central issue: "We should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of", the idea being that most of it will go, only the very best will stay, and afterward we can own our stuff, instead of our stuff owning us.
Sometimes when I'm reading a book I turn to the last page to see how it ends. I don't mind knowing the ending - the fun is in finding out how it happens. But in this case, I'm not looking. I'm afraid I'll follow her advice, get to the end, and the last line will say Oh, silly! I was only kidding. You didn't really believe me, did you? Hahahahahahahahahaha!
Disclaimer: Valerie's closet is really far more organized than this. Claimer: She really does have all this stuff. And more. And shouldn't.