I’ve written once or twice here about my deep affection for the the slim, ecclectically-titled Japanese best seller, Marie Kondo’s “Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” and I’ve continued to get great questions about it since I first mentioned reading it back in the spring.
Most of those questions center on practical application techniques, namely, how on earth can this idealistic, vaguely buddhist style system of whole-life overhaul be implemented by a suburban American housewife chasing mewling toddlers and a variety of select larger children with their own personal Lego and superhero underwear entourages?
Well, it can’t be.
Not precisely, anyway.
But even though I’ve gone ahead and disregarded Miss Kondo’s principal tenant, which is to employ her method in an unyielding order and with exacting precision, I’ve still seen truly life-changing and magical results.
And the house is usually tidy, too.
I respect a lot of what she brings to the table in her little book, and I’ll share what I interpreted the basic tenants to be, and how I’ve employed them in our home:
1. Things can and do have a tremendous amount of power over your life, and those which you decide to host in your home should be items that are genuinely useful and beautiful, even if the beauty is only in their functionality.
This concept seems to trip a lot of people up because Kondo speaks frequently of an item “sparking joy” in it’s owner’s heart and I can honestly say that my steam mop does this for me. Is it as beautiful as a fresh cut bouquet of lilies or a starched white pillowcase? Well, in a way, yes. Perhaps not in an objective sense, but it does posses beauty for what it does for me and for the way it enhances my standard of living. So the steam mop stays, even if its beauty is of a more interior sort.
Turning the tables, if an item is ugly/useless/broken…why are you hanging onto it? Because it’s “better than nothing?” Are you absolutely sure? Is it really better to have those curtains that you hate and are stained or smell funky than to have bright, open windows in a (non-sleeping, of course) room, filling the space with more natural light?
There are plenty of things in all our houses that aren’t really all that useful or beautiful. So don’t keep them around as placeholders. Make do with less and see how much lighter (and easier to clean) your home feels.
2. Are you holding on to this because it was a gift? Because you fear the future and not having what you may need “someday?” Because you’d feel guilty discarding it? Time to let go.
That’s right. Toss it/gift it/donate it. A wise friend of mine, pregnant with her sixth child, a baby boy due in just about a month now, sagely observed as she packed up all her baby girl clothes to bless other families with: “if God sends the girl, he’ll send the clothes.”
Isn’t it so Christian, too? To allow ourselves to let go of the fear of not being provided for, the need to grasp and to control and to hoard because something might be useful, one day?
Now obviously I’m not saying you should trash all your baby gear between babies, or box up your never-used wedding china and flatware for Goodwill (unless you want to!), but for those of us who hang on to anything and everything “just in case,” allowing stacks of rubbermaid containers to accumulate in our already overstuffed closets for years and years, there’s a beautiful lesson in detachment and surrender here. Plus, you have no idea how much easier it is to keep a house clean if you’ve filled that house with fewer items. Truly.
Now, we don’t know what we’re having this time around, and so I have a small container of gender neutral newborn clothes and then some that are geared towards either sex. But for all our kid’s clothing, if something is worn out/beyond repair/just plain ugly…I toss it. I don’t hang onto clothes in between kiddos unless I love them so much I’d buy them again (and this is huge) in their current condition.
That leaves very few candidates worthy of retention. And I have no qualms about spending $2.49 at my favorite local thrift shop on a newer/better version of that sleeper or onesie, should the need arise. Clothing is consumable by nature, remember. Especially kid’s clothing.
3. Thank your possessions for the work they’ve done/the time they’ve served you.
So close, but not quite on target.
I have found, however, that being more intentional with what I bring into the house and with what is allowed to stay has connected me in a deeper and more grateful way to God’s providence for our family. So when I haul 5 trash bags filled with generously gifted hand-me-downs from our sweet neighbors to Saver’s? I thank God for the thoughtfulness of the mom friend who brought them by, and for the fact that out of 98 items of clothing, only 2 or 3 were truly useful to us and worth keeping, because He has provided (and I know He will continue to.)
So gratitude, not to the things themselves, but to the Giver of all good things.
4. If it does not spark joy…kick it to the curb.
Okay, this is the toughest one for anyone living with kids or, heck, other human beings period. One man’s trash is another man’s beloved broken Lightening McQueen watch.
But kid’s stuff is notoriously ugly and joyless, at least a lot of the toys and superhero themed clothing, am I right?
So what’s the solution?
Now, my kids are young, and I rule the house and control (most of) the inflow and outgo, so I have the freedom to choose whether or not that stupid Dollar Store tchotchke goes in the cart. And I’m the only one who can avoid the (hypothetical, at least for 6 more months!) Target Dollar Spot.
Are my kids still going to ask for stupid stuff when we shop? Of course. But I’m going to explain to them that we aren’t put on this earth to mindlessly consume, and that we don’t buy things we don’t need just because we feel like it. Plus, hey guys, we’re on a budget. Insert teachable economic moment here.
And that goes for mommy, too. (Gulp.)
I do allow each boy to keep their own freely-chosen and seemingly random “treasures” in a single dresser drawer, filled with such wondrous content as Chicfila kid’s meal toys, broken matchbox cars, anything that glows in the dark, disgusting tubes of chapstick, “crystal power rocks” (looks like a rock from the neighbor’s yard to me) and various and sundry religious artifacts. And you know what? Whatever. As long as it ends up back it the drawer, I’m not losing sleep over their Howard Huges-esque collection of broken paper airplanes.
But as for the rest of the toys – and their entire wardrobes – that’s mommy and daddy’s realm.
If the toy annoys us/makes them fight/breaks/is inherently evil, we toss it. We also have a pretty strict one in one out policy for birthdays and Christmas, so they know that they have to clean house in order to make room for new items.
To top it all off, we don’t really buy that many toys to begin with. Because they play with sticks and cardboard boxes and live bugs and 2X4’s all day long, honestly, and I’m not keeping an endless inventory of plastic in my basement in case they change their minds and want to dump a couple bins of crap on the floor before wandering back outside to spray each other with the hose.
So we have a few tried and true toys, their stuffed animals, and some Legos, but that’s pretty much it.
In the textile department, I’m a big fan of self-dressing preschoolers, so I figure if it’s in their drawers, it’s fair game. And if I hate what they come out in, well, that’s my fault (color blindness aside.) Because I’m the one who put it there.
Whew, this ended up being a real novella, but once I get started talking organizing and – more to the point – purging, I sort of can’t help myself.
If you guys haven’t read the book, I wholeheartedly recommend it. Just read it through the lens of Christianity (as we ought to be doing with everything in our lives) and see how life changing it turns out to be.