It’s no secret on the Internet that The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up has a serious fan base and some serious haters. Marie Kondo, author and organizing consultant extraordinaire, suggests that the items in our homes have feelings and that we should only keep those that “spark joy”.
Full disclaimer – I have only made it about 20% through the book, according to my trusty Kindle (you didn’t think I would purchase a physical copy of a book about decluttering, did you?)
With that said, it hit a nerve, because this post is twice as long as I planned.
The book is as quirky, odd and easy to read as all the bloggers say. It also feels like a lot is lost in translation. I tried watching Kondo’s Talk at Google and felt beyond frustrated that this soft spoken, totally put-together, adorable Japanese woman’s words were coming out of the translator’s mouth as “So that’s what you do – you remove the stuff”.
Um, no. I’m betting there’s a lot more nuance to both Kondo’s voice and beliefs.
And beliefs they are. She’s quite adamant about how she came to be an organizing consultant, life experience that goes back to childhood afternoons spent reorganizing different rooms in her home. Some people have made this out to be that she’s a bit nuts (and I wouldn’t argue with them) but I also get it.
I remember when I was 10 years old, I had these little booklets that spoke about the importance of hair routines, getting enough rest, managing your time for homework and play, and organizing your things. (Don’t ask me who the heck handed these to little OCD me). In some of my earliest notebooks are schedules and To Do lists of items that were of the utmost importance to adolescent Justine – “brush hair 10x”, “shower before bed”, and “read 10 pages of book before sleeping”. I even put check marks next to accomplished tasks.
Some girls play at teacher or mother. I was playing at control the world through productivity and organization.
As I’ve grown up, I was an organizing fiend, ToDo List maven, productivity book consumer and life-hacking gal. I’ve tried “implementing” Getting Things Done and was a sale associate at Franklin Covey (paper + planner obsessed dream). Home on spring break, I would organize my mom’s kitchen cabinets. My college roommate joked that I should sell a service where people live with me and learn how to be functioning adults by osmosis (a business idea I still contemplate).
But somewhere in my first apartment in LA, I realized that no matter how many plastic bins I owned, I would not feel organized if I had too much stuff for the space I lived in. And if I had less stuff, I wouldn’t have to organize it…or clean it.
Since that first apartment, I’ve also learned to give up the productivity myth, shed the work as worth belief, and know that showing up as myself, to make whatever contribution I can at the time, is enough. I am enough regardless of how much I check off my To Do list. Also the secret to a happier life is to lower the bar, even just a little. To give everyone, including myself, a break. (And a nap.)
So I was totally skeptical about TLMoTU. In fact, when it exploded on my Instagram feed, I specifically picked it up in a Barnes and Noble and perused the pages. Nothing caught my attention except that it seemed, well, weird.
Recently, my friend Chels mentioned the book again as she is reorganizing her apartment. And then I read about this Mercury Retrograde transit being about re-organizing my home life. And then my dad asked me if I’d heard about it. And then I read Elise’s book review where she wrote about feeling a sense of calm after ruthlessly going through her possessions:
“THAT. That was (the) feeling. That’s what I have finally created again (12 years and four homes later) in our San Diego home. Not everything we own is perfect. But everything we own is loved. Everything was chosen. Everything that remains is here because it brings us joy. It’s got a place. We have a space. Ready for the next adventure.
And I thought, fffiiiinnnnneeeeee, I’ll check the book out.
I spent some of the weekend going through my desk, craft supplies, toiletries and bathroom items. It took much more energy and time than I thought it would.
Admitting here that I was unsure what “spark joy” felt like for me, which was a surprise. Since I’m an intuitive, HSP, feeling person, I figured it would be no problem to do as Kondo suggests – hold an item in your hand and see how it makes you feel. But it didn’t feel right to me, so, I practiced.
I picked up a plastic cap for my electric toothbrush and rolled it between my fingers. Clearly, no joy, but also no negative feelings, just a piece of plastic I feel bad throwing in the garbage. Then I picked up my engagement ring and tried to compare the feeling that gave me to the plastic cap. It was subtle, but definitely a feeling of both sadness if I lost it and happiness about having it. Apparently, my serious / non-reactive demeanor applies even when I’m alone, in private, sorting my stuff. Who knew?
There is nothing that makes me happier than a clear, clean space. Going through stuff to get to that end goal is doable for me. Tiring, but doable. H and I probably go through an organizing spurt a few times a year, bagging up stuff and hauling it to the donation center.
Still, both reading the book and going through things made me tired. I napped on Saturday and took frequent breaks on Sunday. And while bags were being filled and bottles, washi tape and jewelry were being placed back on shelves and in drawers, it didn’t feel any different than previous organizing bouts. Less stuff, reorganized, but nothing life changing.
Until my bathroom cabinet.
As I placed the few bottles of lotion and nail polish I decided to keep on the shelves and faced them outwards like a little store display, I felt actual joy light up in me.
So this is what people are raving about, I thought. This is the magic. It’s the same feeling I had when I worked with a stylist to get rid of a ton of clothes. When we were done, every item in my closet made me happy. It was a joy to choose from two pairs of pants I loved rather than stare at 7 pairs of pants I wasn’t thrilled about. Less choice and more love. Perfection.
It’s been 5 days and every single fucking time I open that bathroom cabinet, I am flooded with a sense of happiness. I kid you not. In fact, I’ve even randomly opened it to test the feeling, to see if it would wear out.
It hasn’t, and I don’t expect it will for a while.
Note: I do not get that feeling when I open the bathroom or desk drawers I reorganized at the same time. So there’s still more to prune. And it’s scary to think how much I may need to get rid of to get that feeling – but also super liberating to think that my possessions and living space could bring me that much joy.
Obviously, it’s a work in progress. Now I have a very good sense of what that tidying magic feels like. I just need to gear up some more time and energy to go through the rest of my apartment.
Until then, you can find me standing in my bathroom, heart-eye emoji-ing over my toiletry cabinet.