“To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose. To get rid of what you no longer need is neither wasteful nor shameful. Can you truthfully say that you treasure something buried so deeply in a closet or drawer that you have forgotten its existence? If things had feelings, they would certainly not be happy. Free them from the prison to which you have relegated them. Help them leave that deserted isle to which you have exiled them. Let them go, with gratitude. Not only you, but your things as well, will feel clear and refreshed when you are done tidying.” ― Marie Kondo
It’s not generally known that Eve had two daughters. Her favorite was compulsively neat while the other, to put it kindly, was scattered. The latter came to an unhappy end. While we can’t be certain what caused her demise, it’s thought she fell from her tree into a pile of leaves so densely packed that she couldn’t catch her breath. Her orderly sister, with nary a leaf beneath her tree, was hardly sympathetic and insisted that her composted sibling never attended to the messes she created. Now, if the fate of Eve’s second daughter doesn’t move you, that of the Collyer/Holt brothers just might. Marcia Davenport’s fictionalized account of the Collyer brothers – My Brother’s Keeper – recounts the story of the two compulsive hoarders who were crushed when tunnels of stacked newspaper collapsed on them. Talk about lessons learned the hard way.
Years ago, I had an acquaintance who had a large family and an even larger house. She never apologized for the disorder in her home and by way of explanation would simply say, “We live in our home.” Believe me when I say they really lived there. The place would challenge the formidable talents of Marie Kondo, a Japanese organizing consultant and author. Her method of organizing is known as the KonMari method, and consists of gathering together all of one’s belongings, one category at a time, keeping only those things that “spark joy” and choosing a place for everything from then on. Her popularity has surged and she now has a reality show that demonstrates how her method works for people at different stages of life. While I’m a poster child for minimalism my curiosity got the best of me and I subscribed to her reality show KonMari. What did I learn?
We, all of us, have too much stuff and most of us don’t know what to do with it. Nine out of ten of people keep the over flow in their garages and three quarters of those have no room left for cars. We own clothing that we never wear and books we have never read. And yet we keep buying, not quite yet ready to embrace the concept that less can be more. The KonMari method will help those who are overwhelmed by possessions that claim too much of their time and space. And because there is always room for improvement, it can also help those who by instinct or circumstance have tamed the clutter beast.
My battle with the beast began 20 years ago when we retired and sold the house in which we raised our children. We were moving from the East Coast to the West Coast. I hadn’t planned to pare back our possessions until I saw the mover’s estimate. Now Bob and I were no strangers to moving, but this was the first time a corporation was not picking up the tab and I was stunned. We rethought the size house we planned to buy and a plan began to form. The attic was cleared and all but the furniture in the den was donated to the Salvation Army. Friends thought we were crazy to give so much away, but the pieces were large and wouldn’t fit into the scaled back version of our retirement home. I also hated the idea of people pawing through my things, so donations were the best solution to the disposal problem. What I haven’t told you is that my family loves books. As a result we had two walls, lined, floor to ceiling, with books that we’d accumulated over 40 years. I went through them, one at a time, picking what would stay and what would go. The biology textbook with the wrong gene count didn’t make the cut. Smile if you will, but I’ll wager some of you have astronomy texts that fail to recognize that Pluto is no longer a planet. A small stack of books made it to our new home.
We have moved three times since then. Each move has been a study in contraction. I did, however, have a bit of an epiphany while watching KonMari. Ten years ago I began to enter recipe contests and started my blog. These are activities that require props for presentation or photographs. And I, the self proclaimed minimalist, have a staggering amount of them. I was inspired to sort through them and kept only those that “spark joy.” One of Marie’s injunctions is to keep only those things that are useful or spark joy. For me, joy is best defined as something that evokes a pleasant memory. I filled a table top with items that were utilitarian but had no emotional attachment for me. I hope someone else will find them useful and perhaps bring them joy.