Monday, January 11, 2016


Tidying is such an odd word in the English language.  When I think of tidying I think of a 1950's housewife in a beautiful dress with perfect hair, make up and nails complete with feather duster straightening an already immaculate house.   "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing" may help you get to that image in the end, but that is not the way things will look or feel during the process.  Author, Maria Kondo, explains in her new book "Spark Joy" that there is a distinction between cleaning and tidying; cleaning pits us against nature while tidying affects the things in our lives.  Kondo is concerned with the things in our lives but we all know that the fewer things you have the easier it is to clean.
The process the book takes you through is a rather a violent way of disposing of the things in your life that do not spark joy.  She doesn't advocate spending 15 minutes a day going through a door or cupboard.  She wants you to take every item you own in a category out from every possible place you have them stashed and put them in one big pile.  Once you have done this, take some time to realize where else you may still have items in that category and get them as well.  Once you have done this you take each item in your hands and ask yourself "Does this item spark joy?"  If it does, you put it in the keep pile and if it doesn't, thank the item for having served you well and put it in the discard/donate/purge pile.  She cautions, to not put it in the pile to give to your sister unless you know your sister is looking for that specific item.  Our goal is to bring joy not clutter to our homes as well as those around us.  
Charlie and I listened to the book and we had some good laughs.  Holding and/or hugging an item to see if it sparks joy is a bit weird to me.  There is another part of me that just laughs at the idea of thanking an item for having served us well.  There is an underlying principle here that is really important and I will admit that it has completely changed the way I look at things and what I am willing to purchase and the way I look at items I discard.  I have been pondering these two thoughts in my head since I first listened to the book about six months ago.  The process felt very violent to me but in a good way because it was like I was cutting away dead skin from a wound.  There was definitely some guilt with the purchases I had made but can also say that I learned from making those purchases and in that regard I can be thankful for the lessons learned.
As a Catholic woman who has written to other women about what it means to sanctify our vocations there is a bright star of wisdom in these two simple concepts.  To me, "joy" comes from those things that bring us closer to God.  Asking myself whether something brings me joy causes me to consider what really makes me happy.  If it doesn't make me happy then I don't need it in my life because it isn't helping me to be the person God wants me to be.  God wants me to be happy!  Having fewer things to care for enables us to spend more time with the One that created us.   There will still be struggles if you only own things that bring you joy but at least as we struggle we will not be further weighed down by things.  Most of us that have lived a reflective life will realize that we can be happy during struggles if we place our faith in God and that it is usually during those times that God is working most in our lives.
If something doesn't bring me closer to God then it needs to be purged from my life... violently if necessary.  We don't go to Confession and just confess one or two sins.  We go and we purge the whole list so we can receive absolution and resolve to live better lives.  This is where I see benefit in Maria Kondo's process.  When I pulled every item of clothing I owned out of closets, drawers and bins I was able to see how much those things were weighing me down.  I had clothes from various sizes in case I lost or gained weight again and they weren't even items I really liked.  I did a first pass with this somewhat brutal method and donated over 7 large trash bags of clothes.  Since then, I have done a second pass and rid myself of a couple more bags of clothing.   Trying on six tops that didn't fit did not make me joyful.  
My goal on the second pass was to get myself down to a capsule wardrobe which is typically 37 items not counting undergarments and workout clothes.  In truth I probably have between 50 and 60 items and I'm happy.  This means that I only have clothing that I really love and that I wear things that are special to me even if the calendar does not say it is a special day.   It makes me feel good and I know I'm not going to go into my closet and take a hit to my self-esteem because all I see are clothes that don't fit or ones that I wonder what I was thinking when I purchased them.  I go into my closet and see clothes that make me happy because they fit or are getting too big.
Shopping has changed for me as well.  Because I have been losing weight, I did have a legitimate need to purchase some clothes that fit.  While I was shopping I would ask myself if the item I was looking at "sparked joy" and make my decision appropriately.  There were several times I was on the fence about an item and I decided to walk away because I wasn't sure it made me happy.  I do not even remember what those items were now.  As part of the capsule wardrobe concept you only add clothes to your wardrobe seasonally which for me means I am not shopping for clothes until mid-March.  I can't help but think that will help our budget!  As a side note, with a capsule wardrobe you do not replace every item but move out the pieces that are not appropriate for the season.  In my case, the long sleeve tops and probably most of my long pants can go away because it is too warm to wear them here.    I am eagerly looking forward to March and even considering whether I want to resume my love for sewing and make a few items.
I have used clothes as an example here but in KMing (the abbreviation that has been used for applying Maria Kondo's techniques) there are so many areas of life this can make a difference.  The fewer things we have the less space we require.  That was a big consideration for me when it came to books.  I love my books but do I them enough to have to pay for that much more home to be able to display them?  It makes me think more carefully.    I tried to do most of the categories as we were packing for our move last September but now that we are settled in I can see there is much more I can do and have started in again.  I recently found a comprehensive list of categories and subcategories to make sure you get everything.  As I can, I plan to go through the list more thoroughly.  It is likely we have another move in our lives this summer and I hope that when it happens I will have a much clearer picture of what sort of space we actually need versus what it would take to fit our stuff.
For years with The Little Way, I wrote about decluttering in 15 minute chunks and for some people that may still need to be the way you do it but I have to say I can truly see the benefit of putting it all out there so I can see the big picture and carving the pieces away that do not make that picture spark joy.  Do what works for you but do not let things rob you of joy and keep you from what is truly important.