July 8, 2019 § 8 Comments
Don’t call me Marie Kondo. I’ll get all bent out of shape about it.
You see, in a world increasingly filled with downsizers, tiny houses and minimalists, I am a maximalist. I keep stuff. I wrote a whole book about keeping stuff. It was called Year of No Clutter because after several decades of keeping everything in sight, I had finally run out of room, and it took a whole year to figure out how to undo what I had done.
I had read every book ever written on decluttering. The result was that my pile of decluttering books contributed to the clutter. But all that was before Marie Kondo took the organizing world by storm, with her ideas about how our objects ought to “spark joy.”
It’s one of those ideas that is so brilliantly simple that it changes the whole game. Why mess with lists of organizational mumbo jumbo when “spark joy” was all you really needed? And yet… despite the genius of her pithy message, and the appeal of her gentle-but-firm approach, I never was able to fully get on board with Kondo-ism, and I never knew why. Not that I haven’t tried. I’ve read the book. I’ve watched the Netflix series. If Subway made a Kon-Mari sandwich I’d have eaten it.
Yes, it bothered me that the Kon-Mari emphasis was on throwing things away rather than finding them new homes. (Next up: The Life Changing Magic of Topping off the Landfill!)
Yes, I worried that people in the throes of full-blown-Kondo hysteria would suffer declutterers-remorse when they came to their senses and realized they wanted back their old comic book collection/wedding dress/spleen.
Yes, it bothered me that Marie Kondo never discusses finer philosophical points of decluttering such as: What is the difference between clutter and a mess? (During my Year of No Clutter I came to the realization that this distinction is key: a mess is something anyone can clean up, because everything has a place where it is supposed to be. As in: “The kitchen is a mess.” Clutter, on the other hand, is the stuff that doesn’t have a place it belongs yet. Clutter is the result of unmade decisions; no one can undo it but you. As in: “What’s happening with this abandoned craft project?/ broken appliance?/ dead parrot?”)
But none of that was it. I never knew exactly what it was, until one day I posted a picture of a rag rug that I had made out of several boxes of old, sentimental clothing. I tagged the post “Definitely #notmariekondo”!
The reader who responded was a certified KonMari consultant.
“But it IS Marie Kondo!” she wrote. “It’s about keeping and valuing the things that make you happy! It’s beautiful!!”
The reader’s comment gave me pause. Was she right? Was I following Kondo principles without even realizing it? By weaving my old clothes and other fabrics into a rug I had found a new way to take joy in them… right?
Then it hit me. Suddenly I knew the problem with Marie Kondo and KonMari and the whole philosophy of keeping only the things that “spark joy” and it is this: our relationship with objects changes over time.
Because we never know what tomorrow will bring, or how we will feel in it, we never know exactly what to save- what will spark joy in that strange, new place called the future. My admittedly flawed solution to this conundrum in the past had always been to save it ALL. I’d fill up unused closets and corners, create time capsules for the attic— care packages to my future self— and desperately hope to have some ability to sort it all out meaningfully someday in the future. Who would I be when I grew up? What would turn out to have been important? Like Egyptian mummies who have all their belongings packed neatly up around them for whatever the afterlife holds in store, I had to prepare for every possible future self.
Of course, no closet or attic space is infinite, and no matter how good you are at spatial relations this strategy only works for so long. To a certain extent I’ve now become the person I would be when I grew up, and I’m relieved to be able to answer some of those questions at last. Opening up those time capsules from another era often presents either a clear “I’m so glad I saved this!” or a wonderfully freeing “oh, I don’t need that!” And if it doesn’t, I know what to do: I pack it right back up and return it to the attic. It just hasn’t been enough time yet.
In this decidedly un-Kondo-esque manner, I had held on to a whole host of things that any Kon-Mari consultant worth their salt would surely have advised me to pitch. College-era tie-dyes, a never-worn kilt, torn flannel nightgowns, my girls’ outgrown childhood dresses, a skirt I wore the year I met my husband… they were all packed up in boxes in the attic, patiently waiting for me to figure out a new way for them to be in my life. And then I realized I could make them into something new. When woven together they became what I called my Autobiography Rug. It was one of the greatest successes of the whole Year of No Clutter project and there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t walk into the room where it now lies and smile, out of the corner of my eye identifying one fabric or another from the series of happy memories it represents, one after another, woven together. It is soft, squishy and pleasing under the feet and riotously colorful. It brings me great… joy.
Remember the story of the Velveteen Rabbit? Some things don’t reveal their potential right away. They need time to have their fur worn off and their tail to come unsewn to become real. These things can take time, and that is the thing the Kon-Mari method doesn’t account for. Think of all the museums that are filled with objects that once upon a time someone probably should have thrown away. The Kon-Mari method of objects sparking joy is one barometer, a tool, and a darned good one at that, but I think we do ourselves— and our future selves— a disservice if it is the only one we use. Sometimes intuition, sentimentality, and even luck have crucial roles to play in what gets saved, and that’s as it should be.
We all keep things for reasons perhaps no one else could possibly understand— and thank goodness for that. Sometimes humans are far too sensible for our own good, and many of our objects could benefit from some buffer time, a vacation if you will, to serve as protection from our own good intentions.
A good sturdy attic box might be just the thing.
September 10, 2018 § 2 Comments
Garfield has been staring at me reproachfully all summer.
It all began so innocently last April when I had a seemingly brilliant idea… on my blog I would feature some of the more bizarre items I was having trouble parting with and my faithful readers could help me to shed them.
(Remember: I am, what one might refer to as a Clutter-Monger, so even after writing an entire book on the subject of clutter, the struggle continues. By the way “Proto-hoarder” is also a term that works. I tried the term “Baby-hoarder” but that just sounded like I hoard babies, and that would be a different conversation entirely.)
So… in theory: an entertaining subject (my strange things) with a noble purpose (both getting rid of it and showing it can be done. Hopefully.) Perfect, right? To that end you may recall I took what was intended to be the first of many reader polls, regarding one unfinished latch-hook rug of Garfield, the famed cartoon cat, that had been leftover from my youth. What should I do with it?? I implored blog readers. Tell me!! The verdict returned resoundingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly: Get rid of it Eve!
The majority instructed me to donate Garfield to some appreciative cause, so I settled on our local library children’s room as an ideal recipient. (Cause “Garfield” is kinda literature…. right?) Then came the difficult part: in order to make this item something anyone, anywhere, might actually want, I had to finish it, even though I had never done anything of the sort before.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m crafty as all get out; I love making stuff. That’s part of the problem… I can make stuff out of other stuff all day long, which leads to keeping all manner of weirdo orphan objects in the vain hope I may someday get around to turning them into something wonderful. So yes, I sew, BUT- I am entirely self-taught. Because of this fact, I am still trying to figure out things like the proper, non-Eve-improvised way to incorporate a zipper, or what the hell “ease” is, or why the automatic buttonhole foot looks like a little tiny medieval torture device for mice. This all leads to the occasional moment of distress when I am attempting anything more complicated than a Halloween costume.
So, every time I glanced in the direction of Garfield-the-Latch-Hook-rug there was this big, fat, I don’t know staring me in the face. If you have a clutter problem in your life, then you know that the emergence of an “I don’t know” is more than enough to halt everything— EVERYTHING— indefinitely. Perhaps forever. So all summer long, no matter what I did or where I went, when I got back home Garfield was there waiting for me, staring at me from the chair where I had draped him, with that grumpy look on his face, awaiting the answer to I don’t know.
Which brings me to the fact that, after weeks of truly Olympic-level procrastination, about two weeks ago I found myself at our friendly neighborhood Jo-Ann Fabrics, and I realized the moment had arrived. Having pretty much no idea what I was doing, I purchased what looked like the right zipper and a half-yard of some black velveteen.
Yes, I was now spending actual money in a quest to make someone take this item from me. But never mind that- I brought the items home and laid them out on the sewing table and stared at them. Garfield looked dubious. You are going to kill me, aren’t you? he murmured balefully.
No. Yes. Maybe, I replied. I pulled up a series of YouTube videos on the subject of zipper sewing and got to work.
It’s amazing to me the enormous, paralyzing power of I don’t know. Throughout the entire process I could feel my brain resisting, earnestly trying to talk me out of this… I ended up having a weird conversation with myself as I tried to install the zipper.
My brain: Hmph! This is ridiculous. What if you ruin it?
Me: Then at least I’ll have tried. If I ruin it then at least I’ll finally feel justified in throwing it away. Either way my problem is solved.
My brain: Don’t you feel stupid spending time on something you aren’t even keeping?
Me: It’s my time to spend how I like. Some people carve soap. Some people dye eggs. Some people do whimsical taxidermy.
My brain: You are so going to muff this up.
Me: Well, okay, but what’s the worst thing that could happen? I mean, besides sewing my finger to a cartoon cat? At least then I could claim the title of the weirdest emergency room visit that day.
The voice in my head was right on at least one point though— I did feel supremely stupid. Who did I think I was kidding? I couldn’t do this! As I tried for the third time to install the zipper the velveteen began to unravel in places. Crap! Then, just as visions of making another trip to the fabric store to spend even more time and even more money on something just so I could get rid of it were dancing in my head, at last, the zipper was in. I wasn’t winning any prizes in Home-Economics class mind you, but it was in. I had a look of rather grim determination on my face and the thought occurred to me that my expression was beginning to resemble Garfield’s.
Last came the pinning and sewing of the pillow to the backing fabric. And here, I was totally making it up- I hadn’t even watched a YouTube video on this. But you know what? Turns out there really aren’t all that many ways to make a pillow. It worked! I did have to undo and resew a few bits, to make the latch-hook canvas less visible and to get the ears properly pointy but once that was done, and stuffed with filling, I was amazed. Garfield actually looked just as I always imagined he would, way back when I first made him as a kid. Just like a latch-hook rug looks when you have it made into a pillow.
I brought Garfield-the-Now-Pillow to the living room and displayed him, trophy-like on the ottoman. Everyone humored me by ooh-ing and ahh-ing. What’s funny is how ridiculously proud I am of this irrelevant accomplishment. You’d think I’d found a cure for ear hair or something.
I think what I’m proud of is not the fact that I’ve made a halfway decent pillow. What I’m proud of is that I didn’t let that voice in my head stop me. The fear of “making a mistake” can be a blind-sidingly powerful fear, and these days I understand that it is that fear which is at the root of all my clutter. Letting go of that fear, or at least refusing to listen to it, is the very best thing I can do. If I can overcome my fear, then I’m pretty sure I can overcome my clutter. Even if it doesn’t all happen to have reproachful eyes that can follow me all summer long.
All that’s left now is to contact our local library. And break the news to our cat. She’s taken rather a liking to Garfield. Hmm. Do you think she could be considered an appreciative recipient?