Marie Kondo Mind%#@&

It is a hell of a lot easier to make fun of Marie Kondo’s clients when you haven’t tried the KonMari method yourself.

On our New Year’s Netflix binge, my husband and I, along with millions of others across the country, watched Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up.  Yes, there seemed to be a disconnect between the first couple at which the disorganization only hinted.  Yes, I cringed at the way the toddler’s face was seemingly smashed against the mother’s ‘boobies.’  [Not in an anti-public-breastfeeding sort of way, but in an anti-awkward-hold sort of way?]  But those are all criticisms in the category of House Hunters nit-picking.  What got me was the way the second woman still kept what seemed to be an insane amount of clothing she’d bought to ‘hit [her husband] where it hurt.’  The way the mom hoping to have a third child said she was ready to ‘tidy’ but refused to get rid of anything – and then miraculously turned the tide with no clue as to how.  There was and is obviously more of the psychological to tidying than the physical.

I already knew this.  The milkcrates of ephemera in my basement already told that tale.  Knowing and embodying this psychological and emotional truth are two entirely different things, however.

Let it be known that I embarked on our once-nightly KonMari marathon in the midst of helping my mother clean out my grandmother’s house.  My grandmother, thank God, is still with us, but recently required a move to a nursing home.  Knowing that she sat in a facility across town while we rifled through her belongings didn’t necessarily help, though.  There was a weird element of mourning someone you had not yet lost – or at least the existence that you had together, the way of life she’d known.  It also made me mourn my grandfather’s death, which happened when I was five.  I mourned it then, as a five-year-old can in her limited understanding, carrying that childhood sorrow and sense of loss into adulthood, but unearthing his buried belongings brought a fresh wave of poignancy I hadn’t expected.  Then I would come home, with a bag of someone else’s belongings I thought I needed to remember her (and him) by, and watch a show about purging the things of which I already had too many.

Two whole days went by with me fully intending to make that massive pile of clothing on my bed and start with Kondo’s first step.  I’d look at the clock and wonder whether I’d have enough time to tackle it before bedtime.  I’d gauge whether I had enough energy.  I discussed with my husband the difference between a piece ‘sparking joy’ and practicality.  But in a practical sense, those pieces that spark joy are really the items you actually wear and the others are just taking up space or waiting for the day you run out of clean laundry.

I finally decided this last Saturday to do it.  I went into the basement and grabbed an arm full of plastic dry-cleaning bags encasing one prom and a few bridesmaid’s dresses.  I hauled up my bin of summer clothes, all neatly rolled and stored for the season.  I emptied my drawers and closet.  I patted myself on the back for taking this drastic step, then looking at the huge pile, realized how many more steps I now had to take.

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So much excess in a world of want (Jennifer Butler Basile)

I probably should’ve started by holding one piece I was absolutely positive gave me joy to get that sense of what I was seeking.  Instead, I pulled out the several pieces I’d already had in my head as goners and chucked them into a pile on the floor.  This felt good initially, then left me with no idea of where to go next.  I picked up a sweater I remembered buying on our honeymoon at an Esprit store in San Fran.  Those of you children of the eighties who grew up in New England know what a big deal it was to buy something from an actual Esprit store.  I stared at it, waiting for some sort of answer, then put it down.  The memory of it sparked joy for sure, but did the sweater?  I tried on a bunch of clothes to check for fit and style, but I suppose the fact that I didn’t quite remember the fit meant I didn’t wear those pieces frequently enough to keep them.  One pair of pants in particular kicked my practicality into high gear.  I only wore them when none of my favorite jeans were in the closet, but they fit, were in good condition, and served as a good back-up.  Now, when I wear these, I curse the fact that they aren’t my better jeans, I am annoyed by the waistband and back pockets and poor stitching on some of the seams, but they are a nice neutral color and the length and boot cut of them work.  They are perfectly good pants – why would I throw them out?

Because, apparently, I have an unnatural attachment to things.  My anxiety makes me second guess my decisions.  My desperate grasp for control makes me think if I let something go, I will need it someday and won’t have it.  My tight budget won’t necessarily allow for replacement of missing items.

As I stood staring at the embarrassingly large pile of clothes, so big that I was ashamed to post it on social media that day despite the trending Marie Kondo hashtags, I was paralyzed by so much angst.  Saying thank-you couldn’t absolve me from the guilt and remorse I had in letting these things go.   Not because I was madly in love with pieces, not because I felt compelled to do a penitential cleanse.  Because it was forcing me to make decisions I’d avoided due to lack of brain bandwidth.  Because it meant facing the fact that I no longer needed the beautiful professional wardrobe I’d picked out with such pride when I’d started teaching.  Because it meant accepting that I can no longer wear skirts cut on the bias due to the way childbirth has forever altered my hips and backside.  Because it meant finally owning that any day is special enough to wear my favorite items and look good.  Because it meant not letting laundry reach an untenable level so that I actually have key pieces to wear.

Sorting clothes Marie Kondo style messed with my head because it forced me to face truths about my life, my body, and me: the ways each of them have changed, the ways they need to change.  Perhaps these realizations hit me even harder since I wasn’t expecting pieces of clothing to elicit them.

While I’ve collected these realizations, I’ve yet to process them; they’re my metaphorical basket of clean laundry in the corner yet to be folded and put away.  It took me two days to bag my discards for donation.  I still held certain things up to the light, like my Esprit sweater in the beginning, wondering whether I should part with an item so nice but so infrequently worn.

I’ve obviously learned that physical items carry psychic weight and hope that once the bags are no longer in my peripheral vision, I’ll no longer doubt my culling decisions.  I can already appreciate the way my hangers run freely on their rail; the way I can easily see and access my scarves.  I’m putting much more thought into what I wear, finding new ways to combine pieces I decided to keep.  The prospect of thoughtfully adding new pieces tailored specifically to my style as budget, necessity, and time allow is kind of exciting.  I can’t say the process has brought a whole lot of joy upon my house, as one of the children on the show proclaimed, but then I never was good at dealing with change or letting go.  And clothing is only step one, after all . . .

Decluttering’s Demise

Starting this past Sunday, I embarked on a five-day quest to rid my life of clutter.  Okay, even I knew the hook was way too shiny and easy to be for real, but I actually thought the short time span would make it more manageable and therefore, my efforts, more successful.

I had seen Jen Riday’s teaser on Facebook.  (Thank you, user activity logarithms.)  I didn’t follow her, hadn’t heard of her, but if she could give me practical, doable tips, I was in.  I needed baby bites because my house had become more than I could chew.

Sunday, the first day of the challenge, I was actually disappointed.  ‘Shut off notifications on your phone’ – that’s way too easy –  and I want to slay physical clutter!  Five days later and I’m still figuring out how to shut off those pesky Facebook and Twitter notifications.  Neither in-app or phone settings are getting it done.  I hadn’t realized how mouse/cheese I was with the stupid phone.

Monday, I had to clean out my toiletries, make-up, etc. in the bathroom (and top of the dresser if you’re me).  Make-up was easy; I have little to none.  I did finally throw away the measly remains of the tube of lipstick I wore on my wedding day.  I figure if I haven’t even purchased the lip brush to dab out the dregs in the last sixteen years, it’s a safe bet I won’t.  Plus, my pale skin just doesn’t have the dewy glow that matched the shade anymore anyway.  As always, I hit that point in organization that makes things look worse before better.  I still have three piles on my dresser of things awaiting new homes.

So while Day Two isn’t completely complete, there are at least plans.  Then, came Day Three.

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from Jen Riday’s 5-Day Vibrant Happy Declutter Challenge

As soon as I read this, my heart dropped into my stomach.  Or my psyche’s shoulders slumped.  Clutter, while harbored in my bedroom, is not what’s keeping my room from being a sacred haven.  It simply cannot be a space to “collect your thoughts [that] will help you be more patient and calm with those you love.”  I cannot shut the door to the chaos whirling outside to regroup.  Even my room is not my own!

I share a room with my baby.

I know, the horror.  A first-world problem is ever there was one.  A cozy crib tucked into a recessed nook in the corner of my room.  I could have no roof over her head.  I could have all four children in my bed while my husband and I sleep on the floor.  There are worse things.

But, psychologically, sharing physical space with the lovely little parasite who feeds off me all day, all through the night, is demoralizing.  Even in the quiet, supposedly restful hours of sweet, dark night, I am not alone.  I do not get to recharge.  Hell, I don’t even get to sleep alone.  Every night, she wakes and senses our presence and will only sleep once we’ve nestled her in with us.

So a few minutes of shuttered peace in the middle of day to regroup in my bedroom oasis, ha!  “A list so you can work methodically through it in days to come”, ha!  It’s going to take major construction and socialization to make that happen.

At the baby’s 18-month appointment, the doctor asked about her sleeping habits and arrangements.  ‘Does that work for you?’ she asked.  No, doc, what would work for me would be snapping my fingers and making the uber-expensive and logistical-nightmare of a house addition appear so I could get said baby in her own encased block of darkness each night, but yes, that’s what our reality is right now.

I wish I could say that our babe is still in our room due to my deep-seated philosophical belief in supporting her best self.  But the fact that I can’t read anymore in the dim light of my bedside table kills me.  I can’t journal my swirling thoughts into a sleepy stupor.  I can’t even roll over in bed without worrying about a squeak waking her.  Hell, if it weren’t for the laundry baskets I haven’t yet put away littering the rest of the house, I wouldn’t be able to get dressed early in the morning.

Jen Riday’s Day Three Challenge totally took the wind out of my sails.  Not because she asked unreasonable things.  Because I’m not in a space where I can have them right now.

I did clean out some clothes I don’t wear anymore.  I have plans for a smart little tray to hold less items on my dresser than the big dust-collecting basket.  It crossed my mind that this should be the impetus to find an architect or follow up on that builder I’ve been meaning to call.

But it just seems so daunting.  After all, the sign on my door says it all:

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Jennifer Butler Basile

 

 

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