Right at the beginning of 2016, I stumbled upon this article, which in turn led me to this one, which in turn led me to read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.
It’s a short book. But, like Sarah Knight, it didn’t take me long to reorganise my sock drawer. I kid you not. Those who know me will be aware I am a proponent of minimum viable tidying. My place isn’t a dump (some hotspots are), but it’s not the tidiest place around and I definitely have way too much stuff.
I’m a long-time fan of A Perfect Mess, and Marie Kondo clearly takes the antithetic approach, with a cult of tidiness, order, and organisation which goes way too far for me. I was surprised, as a person who has never held tidiness or neatness in high regard, to find that I was very much drawn to the ideal she describes in her book. I dream of a life with pared-down possessions, where everything has a place, where my t-shirts and underwear are artfully folded in their drawers, where everything is under control.
Control. This is the draw. We crave control in an often misguided attempt to relieve our anxiety. This is not completely stupid: having control on our environment does make us feel better. Less moving parts are easier to feel in control of, one reason maybe why I regularly fantasise about a simpler life, and why we relax better on vacation (away from everything, life is indeed simpler).
So, if I’m not ready to let go of the belief that having a little bit of mess in our lives can be a good thing, what am I taking away from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up? Quite a few things, to be honest, and in a way, it probably has already been life-changing for me.
The first thing I’m keeping is a precious tool to help me part with things: Marie Kondo advises starting with the easiest (hence socks) and emptying everything on the floor, before taking each item in your hands and asking “does it spark joy?” — I’m not too big on the formula, but I really like the idea. Does this object make me happy? Or does it make me feel guilty, bad, indifferent? There are a few things to unpack here.
- I like the idea of surrounding yourself with stuff that makes you happy.
- I like the idea of choosing what to keep rather than choosing what to part with.
- I like the idea of honing one’s parting skills with easy things first.
Number 2. up here reminds me of a packing tip I read long ago, I think it was on Tara Hunt’s blog (can’t find it anymore, and can’t find it on my blog either, though I’m sure I blogged about it at some point). It went something like this:
Instead of asking “can this be useful?” ask “might I be in big trouble if I don’t pack this?”
It changed my way of packing forever. The shift from “can it be useful” to “do I really need it” was really an eye-opener for me.
And Marie Kondo’s “spark joy?” test does the same thing. Instead of choosing things to throw out, I’m choosing what I keep. She also has some interesting thoughts about how to part with objects. Consider what their purpose has been in your life, thank them for it, and send them on their way to where they can fulfil their new purpose. In a very Shinto way of viewing life, Marie Kondo animates objects in a way that makes sense to me.
In that same vein, another takeaway for me is greeting your home when you come back. I’m not sure if I’ll actually do it, but I like the idea of projecting some kind of “personhood” into one’s living space. I just realised that I’ve been doing this for 20 years when I go judo training: we greet the dojo when we enter.
Another major take-away has to do with clothes. I was sure I’d blogged about my desire to try putting together a seasonal capsule wardrobe, but again, I don’t seem to have done it. (Senility? I keep thinking I’ve blogged things but I haven’t. I blame Facebook. For thinking I’ve blogged when I haven’t. For the capsule wardrobe, I blame Andrea.) So, yes, keeping clothes I like, rather than based on criteria like “does it fit”, that makes sense. And then, drawers. Yes, think about it: shelves suck. You can’t access what’s at the back. Piles fall down with time. And my IKEA PAX cupboards actually have drawers that I can buy and stick in them. Done. Ordered. My clothes will live vertically from now on.
I’ve already put this in practice at the chalet, where I’m staying now. I brought some dividers to tidy up my drawers, and have been experimenting with folding my clothes so they can be stacked vertically side-by-side in the drawer. What a revelation! This is similar to when I learned how to take off my socks properly.
I had honestly never given any thought to how I remove my socks. I don’t wear them half the year, anyway. But I did pester against balled-up socks in the laundry. The day I discovered the technique for removing socks without balling them up or turning them inside-out, all became clear to me: with no effort, from one day to the other, I changed the way I remove my socks — never to look back.
I can feel something similar going on with how I fold my clothes. I’ve never thought much about how I fold my clothes. I just fold them, and pile them up on top of one another. Like I was taught. Or hang them. Now a new world is opening up to me, one where I can pull out a drawer and immediately see all the clothes in it, without having to dig through a pile that inevitably topples over at some point.
The most surprising thing is that I’ve found myself quickly folding my clothes and putting them back in the drawer at the end of the day, instead of just letting them pile up somewhere random — on top of the chest of drawers or on the hooks behind the door. Folding is quick, and they have a place, so putting them there is a no-brainer.
I think my future looks like tidy, organised drawers.
But this isn’t just about clothes. You see, I’m realising that I actually enjoy seeing a drawer full of neatly stacked underwear or t-shirts when I open it, rather than a big mess.
I have to admit it: I care about appearance.
This is a big thing.
You see, officially, I don’t care about what I call “packaging”. What’s important is what’s inside, right? Who cares if you make things look all pretty, as long as what you’re selling is good? Their true value should suffice.
I’m not interested in — or good at — making things “look good”. I don’t really do it for myself, either: forget make-up, and clothing is practical. I do my nails, dye my lashes and eyebrows, wear jewellery and have a good hairdresser, but that’s it. In my professional life, my disdain of packaging has long been a pain-point: I’m sure it costs me, compared to others who are great at packaging (and might not even have as much substance underneath the shiny wrapping).
I have a kind of snobbishness about it, though I’ve never really managed to pinpoint its origin: don’t let yourself be blinded by the packaging, see the value of what’s inside, blah blah blah.
But it’s hypocritical, because I’m expecting other people to not pay attention to something that I, as a person/consumer, pay attention to.
I appreciate it when people dress well and have good haircuts. I appreciate products and services that are nicely packaged. I love the box my iDevices come in. One of the reasons I use OSX is that it looks good, and I’m staring at it all day, right? When I buy home-made syrup my friend here in Gryon makes, I love the little labels she puts on the bottles. I like wrapping on presents. I like the card the vet sends me for Christmas. I like the pretty price-list my nail stylist has on her door.
However, when it’s my turn to do it, it doesn’t feel worth the trouble. For others, obviously, and for myself — and I’m not talking about self-grooming here. I love my flat, for example, but have never put up anything on the walls, though it’s been on my to-do list for 15 years and I would enjoy having pretty things around. Because it doesn’t feel that important. Because I don’t think I care. I don’t think I should care.
But I do.
And this is what this whole clothes-folding-stacking business is opening my eyes to: despite my official stance on the matter, I do enjoy pretty things. I do value packaging. I feel I am allowing myself to connect to something I have most of the time forbidden myself from acknowledging: there is pleasure to be found in being surrounded by things that look nice — and there is also, therefore, pleasure to be found in making things look attractive.
For me, and for others.