Hardcore tidying feels great. But can it go too far?
Scouring my shelves for a good “January by-the-fire” book, I came across a dog-eared copy of Wuthering Heights.
Opening it up, inside were the faded initials of my grandmother, probably inscribed around 80 years ago. An avid re-reader of the classics, Granny knew every Dickens, Austen or Bronte back to front. In fact, watching TV adaptations with her would drive you slightly crazy with her regular cries of “well, that didn’t happen in the book!”.
This special memory would have been lost, though, had I followed Marie Kondo’s advice. Wuthering Heights would have been decluttered away in order to meet the tidiness guru’s limit of just 30 books per household.
It’s not that I don’t agree with a good old tidy up. And, judging by the blockbuster sales of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, millions feel the same. Too much around the place feels overwhelming and Getting Rid is hugely therapeutic. Being able to easily find things we need (phone) or “spark joy” (favorite dress) brings a sense of calm and control.
An extreme clear out was definitely needed when I moved house a few months ago. After 17 years the same home, it was literally packed to the rafters with stuff that I was in no way dragging along. And, as I was finally leaving my “divorce house”, Getting Rid was also part of moving on emotionally.
Kondo helps us to deal with the two types of clutter – undisputed and disputed. Type 1 is quite easy to deal with (as long as you can find it), Type 2, more tricky. In my case, I didn’t get beyond Type 1, that clutter obviously destined for the recycling center or charity shop. There simply wasn’t time (removal van coming) for the Type 2 “joy-sparking against my heart” checking and gratitude. So, things that mattered (even a little bit) moved with me.
Now, as I slowly unpack in my new home, I am thankful for this – it’s made me realize a few things about my things:
Your relationship with your things changes over time
Holding Granny’s book I felt a real closeness to her, the two decades since I last saw her disappearing. Books had been her life-long companion, right up until she died in her nineties. For me, too, books are my refuge and friend, especially in tough times. It’s nice to share that with her.
On a more basic level, something that one day you might decide you don’t need (and chuck), on another day might be exactly what’s needed. Like this year, when I disbanded with the usual Christmas Pud and decided to make trifle instead. Finding in the cupboard a half box of essential ingredient – custard powder – I checked the “use by” date – 2007! But, instead of a hasty binning, I googled the problem and was numerously reassured that custard powder never goes out of date. So, tasty trifle, with no cost or adding to the landfill.
It’s not just about you
Your things have meaning for other people and they connect you to other people.
Something that definitely does not spark joy in you might do so for someone else. Like the other day when my son saw me putting in the car to take to the tip, some paintings I did in my twenties. Truly terrible then and still are. “You can’t throw those away, they are really good!” he protested. Now (unfortunately), they are on his bedroom wall.
A tidy home can feel soulless
Tidy is stunning when you own items of beauty. Peaceful, calm space with an elegant vase displayed, just so, where the light falls, looks gorgeous.
But tidy is sterile when all you have to look at are clear walls and cupboards. Homes like this feel empty in a bad way. The dweller seems to lack any soul. Much rather a bunch of messy kids’ pics splattered on walls with blue tack, shopping lists on the fridge, overflowing baskets of washing.
Serenity can be found elsewhere
So, while spick and span might mean never looking for keys again, there’s the danger of losing “you” in the process.
If you are craving space and calm, there are other places to find it. Parks with green lawns and clear skies. Libraries, with lots of books and not much else. Art galleries with white walls and high ceilings.
Then you can return to your unique, cozy home, scattered with the gentle mess of normal life.
About the Author
After 35 years in the public sector, Rachel Taylor is a recent quitter of the “9-5.”
I now work as a coach and a writer on matters of the heart. I am also mum to several boys. Living and working in Oxford, I am an outdoors enthusiast and specialize in “coaching while walking” in Oxford’s green spaces.
Website: racheltaylorcoaching.comTwitter: @CoachAndWalkTel; 07515646822