The women around me sing
the praises of this purification ritual. It is a spiritual experience, they
insist. They promise I will feel renewed; reborn. I have misgivings about its
sexist underpinnings, but decide to give it a try.
So I bought Marie Kondo’s
book about the Japanese art of de-cluttering your home.
This ode to the
“life-changing magic of tidying” your dwelling place contends that inertia and
inefficiencies in our lives reflect our living quarters; that cluttered homes result
in cluttered minds.
At the core of the
“KonMari Method” is examining every object you own and asking yourself if it
“sparks joy” in your heart. If it does not, you thank the item for its service,
or for the lesson it taught you, and then get rid of it. No exceptions.
I earnestly explained this idea to my husband, watching panic battle amusement on his face. When he thanked the empty yogurt container in his hand for its service while depositing it in the trash, I scowled. This wasn’t a joke, it was about the energy with which we filled our lives!
I opened the hall closet
and pulled out the first thing I touched. “Does this spark joy?” I asked Joel.
“It’s a vacuum cleaner,”
I wavered. Vacuuming might not spark joy, but needing to
vacuum and not having a vacuum cleaner could spark one heck of an argument. But Marie believed in keeping things because
you love them, not “just because.” Joel asked me if she also believed in
providing a renewable supply of cash to replace the appliances to which her
clients did not have deep emotional ties.
Switching focus, I told
Joel that the KonMari Method could help us make more efficient use of space. I
noted that she recommended folding clothes into neat rectangles and storing
them vertically rather than stacking them. I should have quit while I was ahead,
because that’s when I carelessly mentioned that she also believed in treating
one’s socks and stockings with respect.
Joel stared at me, biting
his lip to keep from laughing.
She says it’s
disrespectful to ball up your socks because they cannot rest if they are always
in a state of tension,” I mumbled in explanation.
Joel whooped, and poured
us big glasses of wine.
I took a gulp and sighed. I couldn’t get Joel to move his shoes from the doorway; what made me think he’d be up for turning his wardrobe into origami? I sniffed that perhaps it would be best if I tested the KonMari Method on my own possessions first.
The KonMari disciple is
urged to begin with her clothing, emptying all drawers and closets on to the
floor and then selecting what to keep
rather than what to discard.
Marie Kondo must believe I
have a great deal of floor space—not to mention agility, if she thinks I can
get up and down that many times after having mulched the yard.
Truthfully, it felt like
more than I could handle, so I decided to begin with my books instead. This is
no small feat for someone who has long held that putting up another bookcase doubles
as both home improvement and interior decorating. But it seemed like a safer
place to start, because I was sure I would experience positive emotions in handling
I anticipated delight as I
remembered the first time I read a favorite novel, nostalgia as I paged through
gifts from my dad, and pride as I reminisced about reaching the summit of that college
class that showed me what I could accomplish if I was passionate about my work.
But when I held some of
the books with which I’d surrounded myself for years, I was shocked to identify
emotions that I did not expect: guilt because I’d only skimmed the volumes
about urban blight, shame since I had never read the turgid novels by authors I
was supposed to like but really didn’t, and even resentment, realizing that
certain books had been foisted upon me by relatives cleaning out their own
I tossed hundreds of
discards into boxes and bags, and I felt lighter.
Hours later, I sat in my
favorite reading chair and looked around the living room. The room seemed
bigger, and I felt triumphant. Seeing some empty space on the once jam-packed
bookcases made the mementos seem more prominent, too.
That’s when I realized,
with a jolt, that I’d never liked some of them. There was a vase that had been
a wedding gift, but never my taste; when I held it, I felt guilt rather than
joy. Fingering a trinket given to me by a
childhood friend reminded me more of the end of our relationship than the friendship
itself. Another bauble, given to me by a relative’s relative, made my face go
hot with embarrassment as I remembered learning that it had not been bequeathed
to me; the family had just decided it was easier to give it to me than bring it
to the ARK.
I boxed them all up and
felt a surge of relief. There was something to this!
Once done purging the
bookcases, I began looking at all of the objects around my home in a different
light. I realized that I kept a plethora of items in an attempt to feel rooted,
but that some of these possessions instead made me feel burdened.
Truth be told, I haven’t
used my childhood desk as anything more than a deficient filing cabinet in 40
years. I never actually sit in my
grandmother’s uncomfortable tapestry chair, which gathers dust in the corner of
my bedroom. I have never used the tiny
silver chafing dish that my parents received as a wedding gift, and never will.
I imagined carting them
away and creating some space for new memories. And why just stop with my own
Like any evangelist, I
wanted to share my newfound wisdom, and sat Joel down to ask how he felt about his
deceased father’s many possessions on display in our home. The cameras, the
photos, the display case with tokens of his dad’s military service—how did they
really make him feel, really, truly, in his heart of hearts?
“Good,” he said, slightly
And then it hit me: In her
book, Marie Kondo barely mentions the family, beyond warning that it will cause
great consternation if one’s parents witness a household purge. She never speaks
about the items that represent your family’s history, however bittersweet, much
less those that are a touchstone to one spouse and an albatross to the other.
Perhaps she was
deliberately single. I googled her and found that Marie Kondo is not only
married, but the mother of an infant. This is the woman who, to be true to her
personal brand of asceticism, wears only white. I smirked unkindly, imagining
her with spit-up running down her snow-white sleeve as she stepped on scattered
legos. And then I let the image go.
Instead of picturing
Marie, I imagined myself, with perfectly-folded clothes and minimalist
furnishings, far removed from the boxes of baby clothes in my attic and the
shelves of haggadahs in my pantry, divested of the ancient pull-out table in my
dining room and the candlesticks in my cupboard, freed from the wine-stained
tablecloths and the cache of Costco paper products in my basement. I pictured myself
in a spotless living room, unburdened, in a home that is calm, minimalist and
And I didn’t recognize
The truth is that Marie
Kondo is right: the home does reflect
life. But life is messy, not tidy. Complicated.
Alternatingly heartbreaking and heartening. And it sure as hell does not
always spark joy.
I have heard it said that debating whether the glass is half-full or half-empty misses the point, which is that the glass is refillable. Just like our closets and our lives, which doubtless will once again overflow with treasures and trash, love and loss, no matter how many times I purge them.