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 . . .

Keeping It Neat

I was a slob as a kid.  There, I said it.

I mean, I went to school washed and neat in appearance, but my room?  I could not keep a clean room to save my life.

I remember pulling up the lid of the old-school seat-and-writing-surface-all-connected student desk my parents refurbished for me, sweeping out the pencil shavings, stacking and organizing, placing everything just so; the pride that came from having a clean space – and then getting to the pile of stuff that still sat on the floor.  Where am I going to put that?  That won’t fit in a nice, neat pile.  That will mess everything up.  But I can’t get rid of it. I might use that Hello Kitty notepad someday.  That half-used activity book still has some good pages.  And, thus, my neat little pocket of organization burst at the seams.

My adult life is much the same.  Hellen Buttigieg of the now defunct home organization series, Neat, helped me realize my inner ‘pile-r’ (as opposed to file-r), but that doesn’t mean I’ve applied any sort of order to it.  Well, that’s not true.  I know the order of it.  But it looks atrocious and the system only works if no one touches it.  Being married with four little sets of hands roaming around does not help the system.  The dining room table is repeatedly the epicenter of all conflict surrounding this organizational system.

As in, clear the table for dinner.  Kids throw school papers and mail off the table.  Husband does final sweep of things they’ve missed (75% of original table matter), shoving it onto the hutch, the sideboard, the overflowing desk, a pile on the floor next to the recycling basket where it will taunt me for several days while I wonder if it fell out of the recycling, never made it in, or actually needs to be kept.  In the last five minutes before bus stop departure the next morning, three of the four awake parties sift through these piles agitatedly looking for the paper that I can still see in my mind’s eye in the third layer of stationery detritus I created, but which now quite possibly could be 53rd thanks to others’ piling. 

 Again, not ideal.

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image via Pinterest

Ever the optimist, I pile things thinking I’ll get to them.  I’ll read them, process them, do something with them – other than leave them in a pile to rot.  And then the next layer comes in.  Ever the perfectionist, I leave them until I find a system that works, until I can sort through them properly, give each task the attention it deserves.  And then it’s time for dinner and another backpack full of school forms comes home.

I’m not recounting my organizational failures this morning to depress us all.  My question now is: how does this transmit to my children?  When I went to wake my eight year-old in the second wave of morning preparations today, I had to follow a booby-trapped path to her bed.  She and her sister share a room that is too small for the two of them.  They both have too much stuff.  And they both tend toward slobbishness.  BUT did they learn their organization – or lack thereof – from me?  Is inability to organize – or at least maintain – a genetic trait?  It has to be learned.  I know they must see the desk and subconsciously or not think that’s an okay way to handle printed matter.  Am I subconsciously teaching my children to be slobs?

I don’t want the habit of holding onto things and putting off dealing with them till later to become part of their life-long regimen at the ages of eight and ten.  Right now, it’s probably still about the stuff for them.  The special rocks.  The twisted bit of glittery pipe cleaner.  The free reflecting flashlights.  But at what point does it become about the psychological burden that comes with?  When they think about who gave them that, or what they were doing when they collected it, or how someone asked them to read this and get back to them.  I want to break their attachments to things before their sentimentality and expectation suffocate them.  Am I fighting a battle that isn’t mine?  Am I fighting a losing battle?  Am I projecting my own psychological hang-ups on them?

Yes.

I just know it would’ve been a whole lot easier for me if I’d started years ago.  But then, when I pulled up the lid to that old-school desk, I was already excited by the idea of perfect little piles, containing things in a neat, little box.  And I was already overwhelmed by the stuff I couldn’t fit into it.

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