The Magic Art of Tidying

This will tickle the dear Reader pink.  Me, trying to tidy!

As you know, gipsika is one thing not – a good housewife.  I do know about emotive writing though, and “magic” words such as “magic”.  So when I stumbled across Marie Kondo’s book with her KonMari method, promising to tidy once and never have to tidy again, I was more than a little intrigued.

For years I’ve already known little wisdoms (passed down from friends) such as, to pare down your cutlery and crockery to only one item per person (for us, e.g., that would mean no more than five knives, five forks, five teaspoons – tough one – five coffee cups – not doable due to guests).  I regularly (well, ok, not regularly – sometimes, like e.g. in June when I had that massive asthma attack as a result) throw out things to “lighten the load”, in a desperate bid to create more space for us to live in.  Mind, the bigger the kids get, the more my throwing out efforts are limited to my own stuff.  This means being 1/4th as efficient as before (I never dared chuck out anything of Hubby’s anyway – I’m not suicidal).  This also means that less and less is eligible for throwing out, but also that I have to dig deeper and deeper into my own stuff for what I don’t want.  The last lot is still in the trunk of the car for shipping off to Hospice.

Reading KonMari’s method, I was surprised.  Well, she had promised “magic”.  The whole thing is based on the very animistic outlook that every thing, not only every living thing, has a spirit.  Suits me fine, it’s close enough to my energy-based outlook.  If Sick Building Syndrome with an overload of electric connections can make a person sick (because face it, our CNS also operates electrically, look on the intracellular level and you will find this true – nerve cells conduct electric impulses, and our whole nervous operating system is a fine interaction between electric sparks and chemical responses) then keeping things with “good vibes” around you should make you feel good.  (But I can see how some parts of her philosophy would take some creative adapting for some very religious people.)

The method is a bit dramatic, I’d say.  Throw everything away that doesn’t “spark joy” in you.  Handle each item separately and see if it sparks joy.  There go all my undies – I’ve never yet been BFFs with a bra.  Oh my, what will I wear?

Also, while I could groove entirely to her approach and to what she recommends with clothes, the very next section got all my bristles up.  We’re talking about books now.

And she recommends to throw out every book you’re basically not currently reading.  Now, she doesn’t put it like that.  But how can I, a writer and a voracious reader who re-reads books over and over, a book lover who will not throw away my books any more than chase away my pets, listen to advice from someone who in a compulsive attempt to reduce space filled with books tore out pages from her favourite books to save only her favourite phrases?

Where every other item is “alive” to her, suddenly where books are concerned they are mere objects.  Didn’t she realize when she tore those pages out she murdered those books?  I read the passage in her book to my horrified family.  No wonder she never once glanced at her file with “favourite parts”.  They were torn-off limbs, decaying body parts!  No, no, no!!  And the recommendation to throw away all old (and recent) textbooks and study material is equally untenable.  I refer to my old textbooks a LOT, and by now so do my children.  On PNI, Reiki and Aromatherapy all I have is study notes (but they are brilliant), and am frantically looking for some of them at the moment because it’s relevant again.

I also glanced at all my sheet music in horror, imagining that she’d want me to apply the same principle there – only keep what you are currently practicing.  It’s simply not possible!  Not a single piece of sheet music will be recycled:  I use and practice them all.  Perhaps not this very moment, but over time, I go through all and then some.

My advice:  If you’re a not-so-bookish person and perhaps you have only surrounded yourself with textbooks and “to be read” novels because it’s trendy – by all means send them to the second-hand bookshop.  (There is no need to destroy them!  If you feel the urge to “keep favourite phrases”, go electronic, get the e-book and put bookmarks.)  But if you’re a bookworm like me, spend about five quiet minutes envisioning yourself in a book-free environment – you got it, like a foyer or a hospital – and consider if you’d like to live like that forever.  Books are not status items.  They are friends.  And by their very nature they look messy, because they – like us – are individuals.  Hide them in a cupboard if you really must – but my question is, would you hide your squint-eyed child in a cupboard because you’re ashamed of friends seeing her?  So this is a life decision, how you view books and if they form a part of your comfort zone – or if you are ashamed of their messy appearance, and would rather not have people see that you are well-read and highly educated.

As for KonMari, I have one word of advice for her concerning books:  The Kindle.

And, looking around my messy front room, that about sums it up:  Books, music, sheet music, instruments, CDs and DVDs (including computer games).  At least all the electronic media are of uniform size; the rest, I’m afraid, is who we are.  A boxful of paint brushes (used of course) standing upright gives a slight preview of what awaits in my daughter’s room. Paintings “clutter” the walls.  The sentimental knick-knacks that people feel are so superfluous, each “spark joy” just by looking at them, and I would not throw them out.  As for all the candles and torches lying around, they are a direct result of unexpected load-shedding (that’s power cuts) – (oh, after 3bn ZAR was pumped into Eskom, without anything else changing at all, suddenly the load-shedding stopped, which shows you that it was Eskom’s high-tech way of “striking” for more money).  Those can definitely be put away now, but not too far, I must be able to reach them easily in the pitch-dark.

Alright, but back to KonMari.  Her next item is papers, and for once gipsika fully agrees, with glee – and the guilty knowledge that once again we’re talking about a pipe-dream.  Throw everything out! Yessums!  There go all my water&lights bills…  how liberating!  Nothing to file anymore.  YAY!!  It reminds me of an Amway diamond at a seminar – a sanguine little woman, a complete dynamo – who told the story of how she “filed” all the papers.  She had a big carton box, and whenever anything came in – into the box!  When her more detailed husband asked her about any specific bill or invoice – “it’s in the box”.  There!  Sorted!  You have no idea how much seductive appeal that idea has for someone like me.

But – *sigh* – then there was reality.  We run 2 businesses and do our own taxes, and are audited regularly by SARS, so at least from one audit to the next, all paperwork has to be kept. Then again, she has a point, it all can be kept in one file, like I did years back when I was still a yuppie little bachelorette in a cool bachelorette pad.  (That place actually did look quite orderly, very balanced, and very me.)  And archives are not necessary.

So, papers:  Check.  This is where I can make a lot of difference.

Onto the next category:  She calls it “komono”, which is Japanese for “small-fry” or similar.  I’d have called it “knick-knacks”, except of course not all of it is, it includes things such as hair dryers and cameras.  “Komono” (man it reminds me of how our African languages incorporate English words, “komono” could be Zulu and mean “common”)  is the major part of “necessary clutter”.  Once again she recommends only keeping what sparks joy and throwing – or giving – away everything else.

Hmm.  Throw away my stapler.  And those adapter plugs we use every time we vacuum.  Hmm.  Indeed.  I’m beginning to think I’m not a suitable candidate for this method.  Add the children’s “komono” and you have the perfect disaster.  I’m all for it giving away stuff you’ve never used – but once again, be so cool – if you happen to own a highly valuable necklace that you’d never wear because you’re afraid you’ll be robbed, but it was passed down through the generations – give it away?  Begging yours?

It’s easy to ridicule any good method.  It’s easy to crit.  I can see entirely where she is coming from and why she’s so successful.  I can see how letting things go is liberating.  I can see how one can pare down one’s possessions and increase one’s breathing space by 90% simply by getting rid of everything that is not used or loved regularly.  And I can see how, as with every other extreme make-over method, if you start haggling at one end, the whole thing comes apart and stops working, and you end where you started.

Still, the thought of clear lines, empty surfaces, less stuff in our crowded family home is tantalizing.  Imagine having a house you could invite people into at all times without first having to clear up.  Imagine the extended family walking in at any inopportune moment and not finding something to air an opinion over.  Amazing!

But practical?  Will the five of us still feel happy living here?

I have to say I’ll give it a bash.  Gipsika-style.   I know she says not to change anything about her method; still I will have to adjust it.  There is no way our books, music, instruments etc go, nor my daughter’s art.  But there are many other parts of the method that have great merit and can be implemented.  She did say, 6 months.  I’m wondering if I can rally my kids once more to join a communal effort of throwing out clothes, “komono” and unused, forgotten items.  They were younger when we did the last round (which I did by following logic, intuition and a mother’s sensitivity, allowing my children to decide themselves which toys they still loved and which were candidates for donating to the children’s home); we’ll see how it works out this time.  The journey itself should be interesting.

But what I want to add, what most appeals about this method is that she goes easy on sentimental items.  The most difficult class of “clutter”.  It should spark joy.  That is the only criterion.  That makes it easy.

Will the results be lasting?  We’ll have to see.

Concerning the book:

You know what?

Consider this carefully.  Her method is a bestseller.  I’ve voiced my misgivings, but my house is a cluttered mess, and hers is calm and tidy forever.  Her make-over clearly works.  It’s what you want the end-result to be.  If you want all the results (i.e. never having to do another “extreme make-over”), you have to follow all the steps (and don’t worry, she doesn’t recommend tearing pages out of books, just sending the books to the second-hand store).  Me, I’ll follow them as far as I can manage (*ow, my heart!*).  My results will predictably not be 100% in line with her vision, and I’ll predictably have to repeat extreme make-overs at times in the future; and there will always be “rest-clutter” as I love my books, music, instruments, paintings, photos and sentimental knick-knacks. And scatter-cushions.  But there will be an improvement, and that will already be good.

I realized it will be unkind not to link to the book.  This is not a review post, well it is of sorts, but not really.  More an unreasonable crit, of gipsika baulking against an extreme method of tidying (no surprise there).  One thing you should never do:  Move in on someone else’s living space and start throwing out their stuff that you perceive as clutter.  Unless you are tired of being alive all the time.


6 thoughts on “The Magic Art of Tidying

  1. I love chucking ‘stuff’. Slowly but surely I have come to realise that stuff just clutters up one’s mind.
    One doesn’t need more space to put things, one simply needs less stuff.

    Even books. I keep the ones I re read but many of the others have been getting the jaundiced eye of late and I have traded plenty at a local second hand store for a few bucks credit that allows me to buy something i like more.

    And it is tremendously liberating – and maybe gives one a greater sense of well-being, especially if you have given things to people who will actually make better use of the stuff you just have ‘hanging around’.
    Of course this is tempered somewhat by living with someone who’s credo in such matters is: ”Does it eat bread? No. Then it stays!”

    Balance in all things.
    Though why we need so many damn coffee mugs and tea cups is beyond me.


    • 😀 Hi Ark. Yes, we’ve also got the coffee cup phenomenon, but at least I know why. Every now and then we have a full house – four teen visitors, or seven ensemble members, or a group class of students – and then those cups get put to work. What I find harder to fathom in our case is why we keep the large dinner plates in “RAM” (that is, easily accessible mainstore) when we virtually always eat our meals off the small side plates (this is a habit that dates back to our oldest being a baby – use smaller plates and your portions look bigger).

      I go through phases where I pack everything we’re not using routinely in the kitchen, into boxes to store for those large occasions such as Christmas. It helps cut down on washing up (at least we imagine it does).

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