Tuesday, March 29, 2016

How to Turn Your Undies into Origami or, Is There Joy To Be Had in Decluttering?

We Americans like fads and obsessions.  We have embraced everything from pet rocks to Tiny Tim to kale


If the success of Marie Kondo's books "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" and "Spark Joy: An illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up" is any indication, our latest obsession is that we can only be really happy through organizing, cleaning and folding our underwear so that it looks like origami.  Well, that's how I've broken it down.  It's actually a bit more than that.

But she tells us in no uncertain terms how we can never be happy if we live amidst clutter, and since her books are best-sellers, we seem to agree with her and let her order us around about it too. Remember that book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," where the author reprimanded us Westerners for coddling our children when in fact if we want them to succeed we should be so strict that we threaten to donate their toys to the Salvation Army if they don't play a piano piece perfectly and call them "garbage" when we are displeased?

Well, speaking of garbage, these books about tidying are a sort of "Tiger Mother" of organizing and how to deal with our real garbage.

And don't be confusing tidying and cleaning.  Tidying means you are dealing with your stuff.  Cleaning means you are dealing with DIRT!

Basically Kondo wants you to get rid of everything that does not give you joy - and I mean everything.

"Some people have told me that they had almost nothing left after discarding those things that didn't spark joy and, at first, didn't know what to do."

Well, yeah. If I went on the kind of purging frenzy she endorses, and when I was done everything was gone, I would feel confused too!

She has six basic rules for tidying:

1.  Commit yourself to tidying up

If I could imagine that, I would have done it.

2.  Imagine your ideal lifestyle

My ideal lifestyle is someone ELSE doing the tidying

3.  Finish discarding first

If this means I need to do my discarding first before I can tidy, I don't see tidy in my future.

4.  Tidy by category, not by location

Basically when you do the clothes, you are supposed to gather all of the clothes in the entire house and put them in one big pile.  If you were discouraged by your clutter before, imagine having to deal with a gigantic pile of clothes sitting in the middle of a room.  Remember that scene in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" where Richard Dreyfuss builds that mountain in his living room?

I think that mound of clothes would look something like that!

5.  Follow the right order

See what I mean about being ordered around?  We not only have to get rid of everything we have, we have to do it in order: clothes first, then books, papers miscellany and finally sentimental items. 

I would be stymied by starting with the clothes.

6.  Ask yourself if it sparks joy

And here is where she lost me. 

Well, she already lost me when she said I had to gather up all of the clothes in the house and put them in a heap, but now she says to raise the joy level of things we know we need, we need to talk to them: 

"Dear old screwdriver, I may not use you much, but when I need you, why, you're a genius." 

I guess she is letting us keep the screwdriver, but because it doesn't naturally "spark joy" on its own, we have to somehow imbue it with joy.

If I had to do that to everything in the house that I needed, I think I would go crazy. 

"Hey, toilet paper roll, thanks for always being there when I need you because when you're not and I have to hippity hop over to the cabinet with my pants down (and curse Hubby for not replacing the toilet roll), that's not fun"


"Half empty wine bottle, thank you.  I needed that."

We are also supposed to pack our drawers like a Japanese bento box.

Her four principles of storage are: fold it, stand it upright, store in one spot and divide your storage space into square compartments.  Fold clothes like origami - she basically wants you to fold your clothes so that everything is a tight little ball that you can stand upright.

Good luck with that.  I tried. Here is what mine looked like.

It's bad enough that she is shaming us into getting our houses in order, but then she has to add a psychological component: 

"tidying up means confronting yourself."

She says, "The responsibility for mess and clutter lies 100 percent with the individual.  Things do not multiply of their own accord, but only if you buy them or receive them from someone else.  Clutter accumulates when you fail to return objects to their designated place.  If a room becomes cluttered 'before you know it,' it is entirely your own doing."

Geez, and we willingly buy and read books that sound like our parents scolding us?

Kondo also asks, "What sparks joy for you personally?"

Well, it ain't decluttering and organizing, that's for sure.  More likely wine, a new outfit and losing 10 pounds. 

I think her rules are a bit extreme. I agree with Ralph Waldo Emerson when he said, "Moderation in all things including moderation."

So I have only a couple of organizing and decluttering principles that I live by:

It is important to have everything in its place so you can find it again. 
My Dad used to say, "Leave things where you find them." He expected to find the scissors in the drawer when he needed them and there was hell to pay if he found them in my bedroom.  I learned that lesson early on.  My Dad should have written this book.  He would have made a fortune.  So true to my upbringing, nothing makes me madder (well there are some other things) than something not being where it's supposed to be.  I mean, I may be retired, but my time is still valuable and there is hell to pay if I find the scissors in Hubby's office. So I definitely learned my lesson from my Dad - "Leave things where you find them."  Hubby does not live by that principle.

I also think a messy desk at work represents a messy mind.  How can you possibly think or even write anything down with crap all over your desk?  I can't, anyway.  Organizing and decluttering your desk can also be a work task that you can do when you are bored, but make you look like you are busy.

Don't leave your shoes where someone can trip over them and possibly die.

That's about it.

But to have to analyze every object in my life to decide whether it "sparks joy," to have to defend my TV or toilet's worth in my life is kind of nuts.

Does everything in our homes have to spark joy?

Some things might be in our lives as sad reminders of those we have lost. 

Some things are just comforting, like 75 carefully chosen jackets (hey, I can shop at home)!

And some things can't be explained, they just are...

And for you messy people out there. 

You know very well if you are messy, it's unlikely you are going to change now.  Messy probably works for you.  If you haven't minded dust balls under the bed or a bathtub ring before, you probably aren't going to change now.  And if you are a true hoarder, the kind where cat poop is under layers of old Life Magazines that you have had for over 40 years, then you don't need these books, you should seek professional help.

Why do we feel so insecure that we need a book to "sort us out," and why do we dwell on these superficial things? 

Who cares if my drawers are as neat as a bento box or my closets all have matching hangers or if I have stuff that I'm not sure why I have it?

So I question these little obsessions we get that come and go.  Cleaning and organizing now.  What's next?  Finding delight in dirt?

I am not immune to obsessions as you well know: reality TV, speaking correct English, collecting underpants with the days of the week on them (TMI?), dogs in costumes.  

But that aside...

Do we dwell on the superficial so we don't have to dwell on what scares us or is difficult?  Instead of spending time arranging our undies into a bento box, should we be spending our time improving our lives and the world in other ways?

If Kondo thinks we need to confront ourselves about tidying, I certainly think there are some other things we need to confront ourselves about and if we need obsessions, here are some I would like to see.

  • We become obsessed with voting at EVERY election so that we have a voice and don't suddenly find people in Congress who we can't figure out how they got there

  • We become obsessed with reading so we are an informed nation

  • We become obsessed with the importance of our public libraries because we realize they are the backbone of freedom of speech and we support them vigorously

  • We become obsessed with helping and being thoughtful of others instead of being so focused on ourselves

  • We become obsessed with being kind and realizing that everyone we meet is fighting a difficult battle (and I'm not talking about how hard it is to get your underwear into a bento box)!

Those are the kinds of obsessions where joy can be found.

I will let you add to that list.

In the meantime, I had better get to the library and return the "Spark Joy" book.  There are over 100 people waiting for it.

And when I get home I am going to imbue my television with joy and thank it for always being there when I need it and give some self esteem to my favorite chair when I plop down into it to watch "The View."

"Thank you chair, for your many hours of service!"


Thanks for Reading!
See you Friday
for my review of the new movie 


 The Week in Reviews
(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)

 and the latest on
"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before

 I Die Project."

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  1. Fabulous! I haven't read her whole book in fact I put it down when I got to putting everything in pile and folding your clothes so they stood up in drawers....no time for that! I would just like to walk in to my walk in closet without being met by a pile of shoes one foot in!

    1. I know. I like my closet to be neat too so I weed it out from time to time but no way am I piling everything into a big heap. Then I would have a big heap instead of a messy closet!

  2. Uh-oh. I thought I liked that book tho I didn't get the part about folding clothes. I struggle with clutter and I liked her plan for attacking it in order. Have I done that yet? Do you need to even ask?

    I did take everything out of my bedroom closet...put it all in the living room to sort thru....oddly it stayed out there for MONTHS. I finally went thru it all...donated tons and jammed the remainder back in my closet. WHY does it still look so bad?

    So I guess as much as I liked some of her ideas it hasn't helped me much..

    Your points about what we should be obsessed about are right on!


    1. See? I would be the same. If I put all of my clothes in a big pile in the middle of the room I would be so overwhelmed I would also let it sit there forever. Why do these self-help books have to be so Unhelpful?