The right stuff

There’s a trend that I’ve been reading about that is another example that everything old is new again. People are suddenly fascinated with “tidying up.” This is a concept that I was very familiar with when I was growing up in the 1960s – except in our household, tidying up was communicated in less gentle terms. It was more along the lines of “You can’t leave the house until your room is clean.”

So why the sudden obsession with tidiness? Obviously, most people have too much stuff. We did too, until we moved twice in three years. Moving 50 pound boxes of books that had never been unpacked from the first move really lost its charm. Now that we’ve gone through the process of culling every category of our stuff – clothes, kitchenware, books, tools, cats– we could probably pack up and move in a day. Steve and I joke that if our belongings got any leaner and meaner, we would be sharing the same fork.

I think I first became aware of the decluttering trend with TLC’s“Clean Sweep.” And of course, there’s “Hoarders” on A&E which helps us feel better about the level of clutter in our own lives. “Sure, we’ve got a few closets that need to be cleaned out, but we’re not that bad.”

Then last fall, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” appeared on the bestseller lists and has stayed there ever since, selling 2 million copies worldwide. I think the enormous popularity of the book has to do as much with the messenger as the message.  It was written by Marie Kondo, a 30 year-old Japanese author who started a home organizing consulting business when she was 19. Married with no kids, she is the tiger-organizer but she is also super kawaii – prim, proper, with shoulder length hair and bangs that make her look like a Japanese school girl.

Kondo’s method for sorting what stuff goes and what stays, is to take one item at a time and ask, “Does it spark joy?” This approach is so non-threatening and childlike that I think it makes it much easier for people to contemplate parting with possessions that at one time, were precious to them.  I’m guessing the question I used to ask my kids as we cleaned out their rooms…”Where did this junk come from and why do you still have it?…isn’t quite as endearing. Hence, no bestselling book for me.

In this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, there’s a full page devoted to a series of photographs showing how Ms. Kondo origamis a shirt into a perfect little bundle that according to one of her top five tips, should be stored on its side, not stacked in a drawer. Her other tips include tossing papers and tidying up by category. But there is a major piece of advice that she left out if you really want to live a life that is clutter-free: don’t have kids.

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