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The Terrible Tyranny Of Tidying Up

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Kaz Weida

Guess what I got for Christmas? Yep. Oh, look, it’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I bet someone well-meaning in your life gave it to you, too, like your mother-in-law. She probably gave you that secret, patronizing smile when you opened it. The one that suggests she has infinite patience for your faults. Except, couldn’t we all just keep the house a little neater? Hint, hint, nudge, nudge.

When I picked up Marie Kondo’s book, it was mostly out of curiosity. What was this magic? Did it involve an army of tiny elves who might follow my children around putting away discarded toys and nagging them about grinding bits of snack into the carpet? Because that sounded heavenly. I need to get me some of that magic. Or perhaps she had come up with some miraculous method of brainwashing that would convince my husband that it was not necessary to keep every broken electronic gadget we’d ever owned. I cracked that spine just after the holidays, and like you, I was looking for salvation. We’re all drowning in a sea of possessions, and a little breathing room from the mess is just what my New Year needed.

At first, Kondo made some kind of sense. According to the KonMari Method, everything in your house should have a place. We all need less stuff. Throw shit away. Yep. Got it. I started dreaming of garbage bags full of old birthday party favors and stuffed animals, parading to the curb. But then it got weird, like that one relative who believes in the sanctity of crystals and just won’t shut the hell up about it.

I tried to stick with it. But by the time I got to the part where Kondo insists that it is easier to take your bottles of shampoo and soap in and out of the shower with you every time you bathe, cheerfully drying them off and thanking them for their assistance in keeping you clean, I gave a battle cry of rage and chucked the book across the room. Who the fuck has time for that shit? Who?!  It became glaringly obvious that the author lives in a separate time-warped universe from the one that I and every parent I know exists in. Here are just a few suggestions from the book that you might find charmingly irrational, or evidence of lunacy—you decide.

– Socks should never be folded over and balled together. It exhausts them. They deserve time in the drawer to relax after the hard work they do all day buffering your feet.

– Off-season clothing shouldn’t be stored. Your clothing items deserve to be loved and will be depressed with disuse if you tuck them away for three months out of the year.

– Empty your handbag each and every time you come home, putting things away in a designated box and then taking the time to pack it all up again before you leave.

What the fuck, lady? I know you live alone and maybe Japanese children are better behaved or tidier than their American counterparts in general, but do I really need the added pressure of having to care for my possessions as I would for people? No. I emphatically do not. Just the daily exhaustion of caring for the people in my life has me worn thin. The additional burden of my things having expectations of me—heavy, fucking judgmental expectations that I simply don’t have the energy or time to meet—is terrifying. I have a 3-year-old, and she’s pretty sure she already owns all my time. My Apt. 9 leather boots are going to have to get in line.

Kondo reiterates over and over in the book about how the best way to decide what to remove from your life is to pick each item up, hold it in your hands for a moment, close your eyes and channel your inner captain of woo-woo bullshit. The question you ask is: “Does this spark joy for me?” If you feel a resounding leap of affinity for the item, you get to keep it. The rest goes in the trash. The KonMari Method has many, many problems. Including the fact that if I employed it, all of my toilet paper and at least one of my children would end up curbside. And we know that’s not gonna end well.

So I’d like to suggest that the author of The Magic of Tidying Up follow my methods listed below to determine what sparks joy and let me know how it works out for her.

– Take a child, covered in vomit from a midnight flu episode, and comfort them under the warm stream of water from a shower. Then explain why they have to go to school tomorrow smelling like puke because you didn’t have a spare hand to grab the damn soap and bring it into the shower with you.

– When your husband is livid because you’ve thrown his collection of vintage Maxim magazines into the trash, politely explain that they didn’t spark any joy for you, like not an ounce.

– Attempt to try to reassemble all the necessities for your handbag when your toddler has discovered where you keep them and has decided they belong with her other “treasures” and you’re already five minutes late for work. Wherever the fuck she keeps that stuff. Maybe under her bed? Good luck.

If Kondo can still spend a day pursuing the tyranny of tidying up with my family and have a spark of joy left, good for her. I’m eagerly looking forward to her next bestseller, The Magic of Getting Your Children to Stop Leaving Their Clothes on the God Damn Floor. That’d spark a hell of a lot of joy for me.

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