The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up


I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about clutter this winter. Which is funny because I actually don’t have a lot of it. I’m forever de-cluttering because it’s my favorite form of procrastination. It’s so much easier to tidy the linen closet than write that troublesome article (and yes, you folks that write for a living know that two words are, more often than not, impossible to string together). My husband is the real hoarder. His bureau is strewn with bits and bobs, as is his bedside table. He can’t stand to be told what to do (can anyone?), so when it really gets to me, I throw the mess in a box, mark it with “Joe” and stash it in the basement. As you can imagine, this isn’t my most endearing habit. Then he gets back at me with, “And what about the sewing machine, huh? Let’s just throw that thing out.” Said sewing machine is one piece of clutter that I freely admit to. It’s a turquoise 1960’s era Singer that sits on a shelf in the basement. Before that, it sat in my previous basement, and, yes, the basement before that. I did stitch up some curtains and a couple of pillow covers sometime in the eighties, but I don’t sew. This machine belonged to my mother. She, in late night manic bouts, could whip up the most amazing things. We were dressed in chic little Marimekko shifts, as was she, all handmade on that Singer. I remember many of those outfits, but my mother kept nothing. Our house was entirely  clutter-free. All the hand-me-down frocks were given away. Not a one was saved for future grandchildren (my daughter!).

Which brings me to my point. I just read the NY times bestseller, the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo. The author uses the word tidy so much that it starts to sound nonsensical, and SHE is somewhat ridiculous, too, unless you believe as she does, that your clothing has feelings. But, her method (named KonMari) is innovative. While most organizers will tell you, if you haven’t worn it in a year, toss it (the WORST advice, if you ask me), Marie Kondo wants all your possessions to spark joy. It’s simply a matter of choosing what to keep, versus choosing what to get rid of. And, for me, this makes perfect sense. Her chapter on papers (the bane of my existence) is entirely sound. She says toss them all. Literally: “Sorting Papers. Rule of thumb – discard everything”.  There’s a bit more to it than that, but she’s right. We dutifully save all the manuals for every new gizmo. But do you ever look at them? No. We google everything, of course. And those manuals? They do not, ever, spark joy. She’s a kook (what sort of person spends their entire childhood “tidying”), and her methods are extreme: take EVERYTHING out of your closet, pile it on the floor and hold each item in your hands to see if it brings you joy. But if you can see beyond the anthropomorphic rants, she has figured out an effective way to declutter. I’ve had a project I’d been avoiding for a long, long time (since the eighties!): towering stacks of photo boxes that hadn’t been opened in years. I had it in my head that I should try to organize them chronologically, then sort them into albums. An overwhelming project. Those boxes of photos did nothing but gather dust. No one looked in them, ever. So, with Marie Kondo’s inspiration, I attacked. I ordered some simple black canvas photo albums from Amazon, and jumped in. Such a fun project! Half the photos were blurry (some were of people I couldn’t even remember!) and could easily be thrown away. But many photos brought back lovely memories and sparked a lot of joy. The best of the lot got filed in the albums. I’m not nearly done, but I see the light. I have a bunch of other stuff that doesn’t spark joy, including those boxes of manuals, that I’ll eventually get rid of. But that Singer Sewing Machine? Never.



tags: clutter, organizing, konmari method, marie kondo, japanese organizing method