A couple of months ago, Amalia and I were deep in the throes of yet another panicked house-cleaning session, as we prepared for company. (I had the shovel out.) We were girded for war with the clutter that seems to breed relentlessly at our place. Unbidden. Uncalled-for, and uncontrolled.
We do have the best of intentions of keeping our place tidy and clutter-free, but our fondness for second-hand shopping and (probably) too many hobbies and endeavours really sets up us for failure in this area. I’ve shared this with you before, Gentle Reader. *sigh* Several times, probably. 🙁
“Mom,” gasped Amalia, hoisting bags of trash out to the dumpster with me, “by the way, I’m ordering a book that I think you’ll want to read.”
“Oh, really?” I grunted, as I swung a heavy bag up and into the trash bin. In the motion, a hole was torn in the bag, spraying a stream of castoff Legos, bits of broken crayons, candy wrappers and other little bits, all over the driveway. I stared at the mess and my shoulders sagged.
“I read about a book that I want to get, too,” I said, as we both dropped to our knees to scoop up the detritus. We looked at each other and grinned. Tiredly.
“Is it a book about how tidying will change your life?” I asked. Yep. My suspicions were confirmed. We’d both read a reference to Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
We both knew that we needed to read this book.
So, we got the book and read it. Well, (cough) I don’t think Amalia has read it yet. It’s such a little book, yet it lit a fire underneath me to organize and to toss out. I marshaled the troops (such as they are) to help. The Kondo bug had bit us, and the only cure was to get rid of stuff. As quickly as possible.
That same week, in a conversation with my sister Mollie, I found out that she was also cleaning out junk with a pace and fervor that completely eclipsed mine! I was breathless with admiration at her de-cluttering success. She kept me posted with her progress, and had a huge garage sale at the end of the purge. I asked her to write about her experience, and I’m thrilled to share her experience with you. So I’m turning this space over to my sister, Mollie, for the day. Welcome, sister!
“Stumbling Towards Less”
Months ago, the little local thrift shop was having a sale. When the door opened, I was THERE, ready to roll. With the speed and efficiency of a seasoned professional, I swooped through the tiny shop and came up to the check-out counter, victorious, my arms full of a staggering pile of second-hand duds.
As the hipster-y, tattooed clerk peeked over the top of my heap, I tried to decipher the look on his face. Was it admiration? Disbelief? Pity? He was clearly trying to ascertain whether I had lost my home and all its contents in a house fire or flood. I decided I needed to head off his question at the pass.
“There’s a hole* in my heart–that only cheap clothes can fill,” I explained. And then I laughed, and he laughed, too (though a bit uncomfortably).
I’m not materialistic (maybe), but I will admit, from an early age, I’ve been a Secondhand Stuff Magnet. I regularly stumble upon great free piles, bounteous garage sales, and the elusive junk store that has not been picked over by re-salers yet. I have been kissed fully and deeply by the Thrift Fairy, and for the last thirty or so years, I have hauled home an impressive harvest of dirt-cheap Stuff.
I have multitudes of hang-ups. I love gray shirts. And gray pants. And Born shoes, size 10, interesting colors. Also vintage sweaters. And plates with birds on them. ANYTHING with birds, in fact. And handmade mugs. Whenever I see one of these Things, I’m powerless. I may have dozens of JUST that thing at home, but it doesn’t matter. I NEED ONE MORE.
I’ve spread this inclination to my family, too. One of our favorite yearly events was the Public Library book sale, where you can get books for a quarter apiece. In the past, it was a joy—an absolute JOY—to tell the kids, “Here! Take a box! You can buy anything you like!” The kids were ecstatic. We’d come home with a minivan-load of books of all kinds, and we’d repeat this tradition every year. Our house was swimming in books. We would just buy more shelves.
This is all well and good, but what I didn’t foresee was how the Stuff would accumulate and—it felt like—even BREED. I’m not a hoarder (maybe) but I have been preoccupied with housework and the demands of picking up, cleaning, replacing, upgrading and putting away this Stuff– all of my adult life. It consumes me. I’m stepping, barefoot, on the metaphorical Bristle Block that I fought tooth and nail for at that garage sale eight years ago (I did, in fact, get into a tugging match with another woman for such blocks. I won.)
“Bristle Block Becomes Stumbling Block to Frazzled Housewife,” the blog post headline should read.
Then last winter, I read a book review in the Wall Street Journal about the current trend of Kondoing, named after a tidy little Japanese woman, Marie Kondo, who wrote a tidy little tome on, what else? Tidying. Kondo’s philosophy on Stuff is minimalistic: She encourages us to only obtain and keep items that “spark joy”. We are to get out each and every thing we possess, unpack every plastic tote, unload every hanger in our closet—and then we are to touch each Thing and communicate with it. Does it inspire joy? If the answer is yes, we’ll keep it. If it is no, the item must be freed to realize an alternate destiny. It seems like such a simple concept—and it is—but it’s one I had never embraced until recently. I love my Stuff, especially Gray Shirt No. 37. I bought the book, though.
After my initial read, I yawned and rolled my eyes. “Easy for HER to say,” I thought. “She doesn’t have kids. She lives in a tiny apartment. It’s her JOB to get rid of Stuff. Who has time to TOUCH things?”
I griped with my sister about the book, too. We both thought it was full of bizarre musings and smacked of unhealthful OCD. There are no exemptions in Kondo’s method, either. Even photos, for crying out loud, are in danger. PHOTOS! I imagined pictures of my kids, fluttering in the breeze at the summit of Mount Landfill…a rat scurrying over their precious, Kodaked faces. No way, Marie Kondo! You’ve gone too far! This is ‘Murica! Land of the “Free” Box!
However. That dern book wiggled its way into my subconscious. A few days later, I found myself reluctantly approaching the kids’ bookshelves and weeding out a large percentage of books that didn’t give me any joy. Indeed, upon contemplation, many of them were exceedingly annoying. I went through my closet and culled several laundry baskets-worth of clothes. Multitudes of gray clothing. Then I did the same to my kids’ closets. And all the clothes stored in all the other closets in the house, too.
I found myself planning and executing a huge garage sale. My husband took my cue and pulled 20 boxes—TWENTY BOXES!—of books from his personal library. We donated these to the library sale that we used to patronize with such fervor.
We sold, gave away, donated and dispassionately disposed of. It’s a completely separate blog post, but along the way I figured out ways to recover money I had spent on my collection of Stuff. And the things I couldn’t sell? I parted with them and turned my back. Yes, I even threw away photos.
Though I was initially wary of Kondoing my house, once I started, I found that getting rid of Stuff became just as addictive as acquiring it had once been. My house seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. I did, too. And for a Melancholy like me (read: moody as hell) ANYTHING that makes life easier is worth investigating.
I had tripped upon a very simple fact: Less Stuff means less work (It may not be a new thought to YOU, but to ME it was a breakthrough!) Somehow this affected other parts of my life, too. Fewer plants means less weeding. Less food means less waste. Fewer clothes means less laundry. Fewer toys means less picking up. Fewer Facebook friends means less envy.
I could go on and on.
I found myself customizing Kondo’s method. For example, “sparking delight” was too broad. After all, a lot of things delight me (Runza coupons delight me!). So what I did was chase Kondo’s question with my own: “Does it—in any way—make me feel bad?”
Ah, a paradox: Many things that caused me delight also caused me discomfort. The sweet white blouse in my closet with the eyelet trim that I love—but it makes me look pregnant? It had to go. The wool roving that was expensive—but that in five years I still haven’t had time to experiment with? Gone. Or the bracelet I adore with a bird on it…but that was given to me by a lost friend? When I analyzed whether or not something made me feel a negative emotion, I was able to let go of a lot more Stuff. I’m still in the process of this evaluation, and I hope to always be–because it’s making my life less complicated. (Although, truthfully…I couldn’t get rid of the bracelet. I love that thing and the memories tied to it. I’m not a robot.)
When I close my eyes and visualize the person I want to be someday, I see myself living in an unfussy little house at the edge of town, surrounded only by things I cherish. And I’ll have a Subaru by then, with a rack on the top, for my adorable little blue kayak, of course. Yes! A kayak! Those of us who tread lightly on this earth are prone to spontaneity, because we have nothing tethering us.
And that hole* in my heart? It will have been mended and forgotten. In its place might be a tattoo with a quote by Dean Koontz (who has written several books…many that I purged):
A bit about my sister: Mollie is a stay-at-home mom, theatre professor, farmers market baker, textile artist, sister, daughter, wife, friend and overall flibbertygibbit. She feathers her nest in northeastern Nebraska.
Thank you again, Mollie, for this guest post that you wrote for me. And thanks, Gentle Readers, for checking in with us in our little corner of the internet.
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