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The ultimate guide to tidying (Marie Kondo, you didn’t go far enough)



As I was cleaning my closet in anticipation of my daughter-in-law visiting, (visitors are always an incentive for cleaning my clothes closet), I began an attempt at tidying, aka giving stuff away. You may have heard of Marie Kondo with her Japanese art of tidying, in which she emphasizes ONLY keeping what you love and what brings you joy and keeping your belongings to a minimum.

I never found the heart to follow Marie Kondo’s strict program. My version of tidying is “inspired by” Marie, as in a film that is “inspired by a true story.”  Lots of possibility for distortion.

But working in my own closet, I decided to create my ultimate system, based on two simple rules:

Do I need it?

Do I love it/Does it bring me joy?

It was then that I realized: Marie had not gone far enough. 

If you’re into drastic tidying, why not take the next step?

I began looking suspiciously around the house with the muse of tidying sitting on my shoulder.

Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:

Houseplants. Yes, I know that jade plant has been with you for ten years. But it collects dust. Must go. The dracaena collects spiders. Dust and spiders do not bring joy. When you think of the work entailed in keeping houseplants alive, the answer should be obvious. The only question to ask is: should you keep the potting soil?

That rocking chair. You say you love it, it’s comfy, it brings you joy and reminds you of your family, from whence it came. But consider this: do you really want those memories of family cluttering up your life? Remember the time your father scolded you for not eating your asparagus, and banished you to your room and you missed dessert? This was traumatic! Do you really want these memories?

Beware of objects that are memory attractors. In fact, I recommend that you start tidying up your memories as well. Why not offer Marie Kondo rights to this hot new book: The Japanese Art of Tidying Memories. (Give her my compliments.)

Your grubby garden clothes. Why feel grubby in the garden when you can wear clothes that make you feel wonderful? You still have a few nice, professional clothes left, so you can choose a stylish outfit in which to garden. Of course, you will ruin it in a relatively short time, but that means you will have fewer clothes to choose from. Big success!

Your sofa. Sofas invite guests to sit down. Now comes the moment of truth. Think candidly with me. Consider all the guests who have visited your house recently and ask yourself: did you LOVE them all? I’m sure you liked a few of them. But did you LOVE them all? Were your conversations nonstop joy? Did you talk about the President or politics? I knew it!  Did that bring you joy?  If your conversations were less than fully joyful, you may want to let go of guests. And the best way to do that is to deep-six that sofa. As the Japanese would say, sayonara.

Your shopping list. Because your purchases are down to a minimum, you no longer need a list. Yes, I know you may forget some things. But then you will buy less. Perfect!

Your telephone: This is a no-brainer. Why keep a landline for emergencies? Have you noticed who’s been calling you? That woman who wants to help you with your credit card, or that nice sounding Jennifer who says, Sally?…Sally is that you? I’m so glad that you picked up. Obviously, your landline is a goner. But what about your cell phone? Your iPhone 5 is so out of date. Why bother to replace it when soon they’ll be coming out with phones you can implant in your arm and answer by pushing your skin? Better to junk your phone and hold out for the latest technology.

Spinach. Do you love it? Does it bring you joy? Or do you just like it, thinking it’s good for you? Into the compost! Decide what brings you joy. That’s right, dark chocolate. I’ve heard that a person can live on one 70% chocolate bar a day. The big benefit: no more cleaning out your refrigerator.

See how fun extreme-tidying can be? And this is just the beginning!

Maybe you want to make a list of friends depending on how much joy they bring. Does your husband’s stuff bring you joy? Out with it! (Or how about your husband?) Or your garden…way too many weeds…perhaps you can burn it down and then plant one rose bush. Perfect.


My muse had many more suggestions, but I’ll stop there…

Marie Kondo, you are an inspiration. As austere as you are, you just didn’t go far enough. And besides, I’ve already taken your book back to the library.

It stopped bringing me joy.


4 Responses

  1. My thought after reading the tidying message. My house is like a tiny museum fo my life. Every once in a while there will be something that no longer has meaning, or sometimes I will give something to my children that does have meaning. Like the paintings that had belonged to my parents that I wanted to see on their walls so I could enjoy their enjoyment. And then there was the day I went through a plastic tub of Jane’s retirement. Filled with notes, cards, photos. It all happened 24 years ago. So many of the cards came from people I no longer can picture in my mind. Some cards I kept because they were from special people for one reason or another, and some I kept because the contents were so special. Clothes are an interesting thing for me. I still have the dress I wore to my brother’s wedding. I still have the dress I wore to my son’s wedding. I still have the corduroy slacks and gorgeous sweater I wore to Norman’s and my wedding. All special and beautiful memories. I still have a couple of sweaters that Mom knit for me years ago. I don’t wear them any more, but I’m not ready to let them go.

    Interesting. For me, without all those things and MANY other things that I have from my past – like Mom’s chair that I sit in when I knit, watch TV, like all the furniture Norman made over the years – I think I would feel empty. I had that feeling years ago when I rented a condo for two years. There was absolutely nothing in it that meant anything. For some people it was a place to start. I didn’t like that empty feeling. my memories are important to me – good, bad, and in between. I am not a blank slate person.

    1. So thoughtful Jane, thank you! Reminds me that clearing out everything can take away the soul carried by some of the things we keep.

  2. Thanks to you, Sally, I’ve finally discovered the one thing that brings me the LEAST joy – and that I never realized was just an unpleasant extra, cluttering up my mental spaces – and should definitely be removed from my life.

    What is that thing that I need to throw away once and for all? It’s “tidying” itself!

    Yes, the ultimate form of tidying is to throw tidying away. I swore off it as soon as I read your post the other day.

    I feel so relieved!

    (Short pause here)

    I had to interrupt writing this to go to the bathroom. On the way back I tripped over a pile of junk and cut myself. I couldn’t find a band-aid in all the mess in my bathroom, so I’m wrapping those old gardening clothes around my bleeding elbow.

    As soon as the blood stops flowing, I’ll throw those clothes away, too.

    See! It’s working already!

    1. Great to hear from you. Author Austin Kleon, of Steal Like an Artist fame, has convinced me to look at piles like potential archeological digs – full of just the material we need for our next stories!

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