While on a walk few weeks ago, I noticed in a well-manicured yard one of those cute little “free libraries on a stick” inviting my perusal. Not that I need any more books in my home, but sometimes the perfect gift will appear for “the nice price” to be saved for a special occasion, in particular for my book-hound brother. And very occasionally, I’ll ferret out a selection I myself want to read. Finding it free always appeals.
A number of years ago, I all but eliminated the word “coincidence” from my vocabulary. I simply don’t believe in it anymore. Call me “woo-woo,” but in my book, things happen for reasons that are often beyond my ken. So that day when I discovered The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, I knew that book had been waiting for me. After all, I’d meant to read this small #1 New York Times Best Seller since it had hit the big time in the mid-20-teens for its wise author, Marie Kondo.
Besides, it was time for spring cleaning.
Though my home is not a tiny house, it’s a cottage with limited space. For the sake of this article, I’ll confess to having unfiled files precariously balanced on the floors of several closets, numerous stacks of mostly related papers on the floor and desk of my studio, a hefty pile of to-be-sold and/or given away items under a desk, a few pieces of art yet-to-be framed under the bed, and eight fairly-good-sized boxes of miscellany stashed in my garage, yet-to-be unpacked from a move into my abode nine years ago. Two of the especially weighty cardboard behemoths are crammed with old photos and negatives. Remember those? Hallelujah for the invention of digital.
With fingers firmly crossed, I’ve been blaming this accumulation of stuff on the fact that for a year and a half, I shared my house with a roommate and had to make room for her extra stuff. A convenient excuse, but the truth is, I didn’t accrue all that much during that time. Alas, the collected crap is mine, all mine.
If reading this makes you feel better about your own “collection” of clutter, you’re welcome.
Remarkably, I began reading Tidying Up immediately and understood why nine million copies – probably more by now – had been sold. Everything she said made sense. My lifetime habit of jumping eagerly into a self-help book and then setting it aside after but a few chapters, didn’t happen with this compact-like-its-author tome.
A Japanese cleaning consultant, Marie writes clearly about her KonMarie Method of decluttering. Amazingly, the now 38-year-old has been passionate about organizing since childhood, often driving her family nuts. Yet her method spoke to me. Not the standard old room-by-room-a-little-at-a-time approach, but her revolutionary category-by-category system. For example, when it’s time to declutter and organize your clothes, collect every stitch of clothing no matter where in the house it’s hung or stored, and put it in one big pile, then go through it to determine what items spark joy in your heart. Keep those things and pitch the rest.
Kondo’s clients swear by her method. There’s a three-month waiting list of clutterers whose homes she’ll magically transform one of these days. This tiny, bright-eyed woman claims that if carried out correctly, her method can take as long as a year to complete. She also says that none of her clients’ homes have reverted to their former messy conditions. Assuming all that to be true, I decided to give Marie’s approach a try. So far, I’ve only been dipping my toe into her water, but even the dribs and drabs I’ve experienced seem to work.
“Start with clothes,” she advises. So I did.
Recently, the 90-degree days that have suddenly launched a mild, glorious spring straight into the heat and humidity of a sweaty Lowcountry summer inspired me to stow away my winter woolies in a cedar chest and clear its contents of hot-weather sleeveless blouses, shorts, cool dresses, bathing suits, and beach towels. Bright colors, cool fabrics, sunny days, and memories of walks by the ocean danced in my head.
When I began the project, Marie whispered in my ear. “Identifying the things that make you happy…that is the art of tidying…identifying the things that spark joy.”
Seems simple enough, yes? So I picked up a pair of comfy black jeans that had resided in the chest for at least three years without ever making an appearance to usher for concerts and plays at USCB. Covid sent entertainment on sabbatical for a while. So at first glance, here were these smart-looking pants that had been aging while tucked away in cedar-chest storage. I nearly simply relegated them to my wear-daily closet, in the section for black garments, until I heard Marie speaking to me.
I took an honest look at those jeans. Admittedly, I have been known to hold onto clothes way past the time most folks might recycle them to CAPA or Goodwill and move onto an outfit that’s more in-style or contemporary. Don’t misunderstand: I’m not cheap or tight. Crass descriptions, those. I just like to get all the wear out of an item possible before it leaves my house for another life. Frugal. Now there’s a good Scottish word. I’ve no clue how long I’d owned this particular item. Do these black pants with wide legs and a ‘butt-sprung’ seat really spark joy for me? (Sorry for that graphic description. My mother obviously butted into my conversation with Marie.) Turns out my honest answer was a firm no. So before I could change my mind and keep those jeans for some ridiculous reason – They’re comfortable. No one would really notice a droopy seat or the fact that their bell bottoms send me right back to the 60s…would they? – I began a give-away stack and moved on through my summer duds.
At the time of this writing, I can report that I’m starting to fill a second box with items of clothing that no longer spark joy in my heart. Hopefully, they will for someone else. What I’ve found is that I’ve begun looking at “things” that are “living” in my house with a different eye. Does owning or wearing or using them make me happy? Granted, kitchen items are necessary for food prep, ceiling fans are utilitarian but a must-have on the Carolina coast, and you’ve got to hang onto a toilet plunger, just in case.
The thing is, you can use Marie’s method to declutter other areas besides your house. Projects you’ve kept putting off doing? Maybe they don’t spark joy. Maybe you don’t really need to start them. Maybe there’s a project you’d rather do. One reason I love my friends is that they sometimes point out a certain way I’ve always been doing a particular task that takes forever, and they suggest an easier way to accomplish it.
What about emotional patterns that once served you well for a reason or reasons, that you no longer have a need for in your life? Think about this. Perhaps write about it. You might see the truth of it more clearly. This can apply to people as well. Did you become friends with someone, but now one or both of you have changed? Grown in different directions? Maybe your purpose together has passed. Move on nicely if you can. Then enjoy the resulting time you can fill with something or someone that does spark joy.
Sufi poet Rumi says it well, “When setting out on a journey, do not seek advice from those who have never left home.”
Listen to your own heart and embrace those sparks of joy.