Tidying Up

This is a bit of a micro-review for Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up“. Given that it’s a New York Times best-seller, it probably doesn’t need many reviews.  But Jason and others have reviewed non-magical books, and used that as an opportunity to offer specific lessons on how to use non-magical books to advance your own art or practice; and despite the ‘magic’ in the title, this is not a grimoire.

However.

My mother turned me on to this book. She made a point of saying that she *liked* my apartment and its use of color and the way that I established focal points with pictures of our relatives (and ancestors), small displays of objects and art, and so on. She pointed out, though, that I have a great deal of stuff to ‘curate’. That was her word for it. And that I would benefit from a general culling of stuff that wasn’t really serving me any more. She gave me this book for Christmas, and I read it on the plane while returning home from visiting my parents.

The culling has taken place far more slowly than Kondo recommends, but proceeded in more or less the general order that she suggested, and doing the “discard first, then categorize” process: clothing, books, papers, miscellany, and mementos. As of today, about fifteen bags of trash and ten boxes of books have left the house, and I’m only through the first half of the miscellaneous part of the process.

Understand, please, that I am not one of those ‘hoarders’ who has one narrow path between bed, bathroom and computer chair. I have an apartment with enough open space for me to do tai chi at home daily, and have an easel and a work bench set up for painting or small carpentry and sewing projects. I’m not a clothes horse, either. But gradually, my house and home has accumulated stuff I didn’t want and didn’t need, and I didn’t have a plan to get rid of it.

Marie Kondo’s question about each item in your house is “Does this spark joy?” For me, the answer for a lot of things was, “no.” More, this was something I knew from the designer William Morris, who said, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Operating from that basic principle, I’ve found that a good amount of stuff in my house is neither beautiful nor useful, nor does it spark joy, and it’s been easy to let those things go. More than that, it’s been easy to see that a goodly amount of this stuff is also stuff that no one else wants for any reason: stained or damaged t-shirts, threadbare or ripped pants, crumpled papers, bad books in bad condition. Where recycling is appropriate, or re-gifting, I’ve done that — but it’s also been sobering to realize how much of the stuff *I* don’t want is also stuff that nobody else is going to want, either.

There are still a couple of layers of this onion to peel.  I have to go through some papers still. The miscellaneous stuff, for me, includes art supplies, pen collections, notebooks, and ‘junk drawers’ in three separate rooms of the house.  All the same, the three empty shelves in the library area, the two reorganized shelves under the printer, and the half-empty clothes rack and nearly-empty drawer in my dresser are all encouraging.  There’s a new kind of health under all of this reduction. I’m enjoying the process, and the results are sparking joy.

It’s worth mentioning, too, that I have a hardcover copy of this book… and it, too, is going to be treated as ‘clutter’ in short order.  I’ll probably regift it to someone.  But it feels like once the house is in a state of order, it will be fairly easy to maintain it in that state indefinitely.

16 comments

  1. Hi Andrew,
    I enjoyed your post and reflections on going through the process of “Tidying Up”. I have a natural tendancy to cull through my belongings in January after the bounty of December. I think upon an items usefulness and it’s “joy factor” but further add an expiration date. If I haven’t used it in 1-2 years, even if I love it, I try to find it a new home. This year I’m trying to prune back even more as we need extra space for our newest family member arriving in March. A lot of books are going to have to go and there are currently 3 bags of clothing/stuff and assorted furniture ready for goodwill on the front porch. I don’t know if you ever saw Uncles Charles’ house before he passed(It took months to clean and go through) but it’s always a reminder not to become a prisoner of one’s possessions. My next goal is trying to organize, which has always been my weakness, and I will be checking out Ms. Kondo’s book from the library for much needed tips!
    I enjoyed poking around your blog and even found out my birthday is on Carmentalia. Another dimension will be added to next years birthday for sure!
    Thank you for your musings!

    • Hi Krista! A belated happy birthday, and much joy to you. Welcome to the blog, such as it is.

      I didn’t know much about our uncle’s house, but I heard from dad that it had been a bit of a disaster area. I’ll endeavor to make it easy for folks to clean up after me, I know.

    • I think that her key suggestion to start with clothes, was actually very helpful. Going through my closet and drawers, and picking out clothes that I genuinely liked, made it easier to dispose of things that I didn’t. One of her other insights, to touch everything you own and ask of each, “do you spark joy?”, lent a seriously animistic mindset to the work, too. The notion that the things we own are a sort of spirit-realm around us, that can aid or hinder us, also made parting with a good many things much easier.

  2. Does the book have a section on how to do this as a family unit? I love throwing things out, and removing things from my life that just take up space. But I have three other personalities in the house that have to feel comfortable as well. Does the book offer any insight?

    • Hi Erica,

      Yes, actually. She offers some pretty good advice. Basically, she says that you shouldn’t foist your unwanted items onto others; and you shouldn’t let them see what you’re throwing away, lest they decide that it has to be protected and shielded from this irrational impulse; and you shouldn’t throw away things that definitively belong to others. You are out to establish a definitive and enjoyable state for yourself first and foremost — and she has found that establishing that pocket of joy for yourself is usually enough to change the attitudes of other people in the house. Your mileage may vary; I don’t live with anyone else, so I can’t speak to the truth of this, although I’ve noticed that the work I’ve done has had an effect on others who’ve seen or heard about it.

      • Interesting. I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with my son, who is young, but has his mind set on what he should and should not keep from his school work. It is an odd balance between being the parent (I don’t let my kids dictate rules to me) and accepting his creative spirit and joy in his work.

  3. Ha, we’ve been inspired second-hand by the book. A friend has been talking it up and we’ve taken some of that to heart (it’s nice how this sort of thing is a bit contagious). Contra Kondo, we started with the books, but that really has been a relief. I am definitely not done with the book cleansing, but to get several boxes taken care of, opening shelf space for books that have a longer term value? That feels good.

    • I did it her way, starting with the clothing. I was able to dispose of about five bags of clothes. But the real changes have come in the book department — I think I disposed of about 55% of my collection. Some of it, contra Kondo, I gifted to colleagues at school; most of my ancient history collection went to teachers who now teach those subjects, with the exception of some volumes that sparked joy. And still more volumes have wound up in my classroom where they’re accessible to students. And at home, there’s now shelving available for fabric for sewing and costume and ritual projects; and for paper and art supplies, which is coming out of drawers and into high visibility.

      And now I’ve started in on the papers and miscellaneous. I’ve dumped nearly a decade’s worth of papers, with some exceptions like personal journals and some tax-related stuff, and there’s still more to go; even so that was about eight bags. My collection of ritual tools and objects is now decently housed in a beautiful wooden trunk, though, rather than scattered all over the house; when I get to personal mementos, though, I’ll have to go through those again, I think. All in all, it’s been a very productive process — largely by being a reductive process. 🙂

      • I see Ian commented already. : ) We’ve been operating by what our friend described of the book; there are so many holds on it at the library that I’m considering buying a copy. Our friend says Kondo has a pleasantly animist approach to things and I’d like to read that. But in the meantime, the work to de-clutter and re-organize goes on apace. And thank you for the review!

  4. I gave R. a copy after we found Kondo’s folding videos (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bs7Lk6WOM7Y). I’m a nerd. A drawerful of rectangularly folded shirts makes me happy. Stacking them on edge like files has shown how many shirts I never wear, so I’m thinning them out.

    After so many moves I’ve discarded a lot. There are still things I could release without noticing. I don’t feel like taking that on right now.

    I AM paying more attention to keeping things tidier. I cleaned off my nighttable, and the space feels so much better. Likewise for wiping down the windowsills and counters in the kitchen, as part of Deb Castellano’s “Making Way” writing prompt. I’m going to focus here for a while.

    Good to hear what you’re thinking about, even if it’s a departure from the normal topics.

    • It doesn’t surprise me that you’re good at this. Rectangularly folded shirts stacked on end makes me happy too — but I’m discovering that I have a good many SFF shirts and tanks that I just don’t wear…. I’m debating cutting out the logos and making myself a pillow or something, rather than just dumping them. But even that feels like a poor compromise. When something sparks joy but doesn’t get worn, doesn’t that feel like maybe it’s time for that object to leave?

      • Sometimes looking at them all together makes it easier to cut back. I like some years much more than others.

        Sometimes identifying what I value about an item helps too, e.g. I value the quilt my mom made because SHE made it, and she made it for me.

        Kondo seems to emphasize throwing things out. That doesn’t sit well with me. I’d rather find new homes for things in genuinely good condition, if only by curb-cycling. Perhaps I’m misreading – she mentions garbage bags a lot, but they aren’t necessarily thrown out. I’m giving more thought to not bringing things home in the first place.

        • Of course I have items like that, which I value because of who made it or the story behind it. I agree with you about not bringing in items that you don’t want. At the moment, my challenge appears to be getting the stuff OUT of my apartment which no longer serves me.

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