Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Why I'm not interested in the life-changing magic of tidying up.

At my local library, there are 10 copies and 48 holds on the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. It's sweeping the Internet right now and I've been hearing about it constantly.

This isn't a review. I haven't read the book. And I don't plan to.

From what I've heard about this book, it tells you to get rid of things. (Surprise, surprise.) Like, a lot of things. Like maybe even a dish rack. (You can put your dishes outside on the patio to dry!)

Now, I don't want to criticize this book in particular, especially since I haven't read it. But its enormous popularity tells you something about our culture. A lot of us (especially us moms) are becoming preoccupied with decluttering and getting rid of things. Things, things, things! We Americans are so obsessed with things! Get rid of everything! 

I mean, yeah, go ahead and throw away the weird art project that your kid never even enjoyed. Give away the clothes you never wear. Good for you. I love getting rid of stuff I genuinely don't care about.

But the decluttering frenzy seems to be extending even to things that are a little more important, like books and heirlooms. People talk about "letting go," and allowing your peace to come from the inside.

Over the last couple years as I've been settling down, I've been feeling a cultural pressure to just get rid of it. I've been encouraged to be ruthless when I'm organizing. I've heard all kinds of rules, like, "If you haven't used it in the last year, get rid of it!" and "Only keep one shoebox of sentimental items."

Now, I know this kind of thing is making a lot of people happy, and I think that's great. If you honestly look into your heart and think that you'll get a lot of peace from giving away your grandmother's jewelry box, then I think you should do that.

But I'm not going to.

I like my stuff and I'm keeping it.

Now, I know that possessions don't create happiness where it doesn't exist. But I think some possessions can actually add to happiness

I have a lot of things that are special to me. I love my books. Yeah, I get rid of a few that I don't like every once in a while, but my dream is to have great books overflowing in every room of my house. (My husband is somewhat less interested in that dream.) In my home growing up, there were plenty of shelves full of books that I could peruse if I ever needed reading inspiration, and I want my kids to have that.

And then there are things that can't be replaced. Handmade things from my mothers-in-law. A doll I inherited from my grandmother. A carved wooden giraffe my parents brought back from Africa.

My mother-in-law gave my daughter a cross-stitched baby blanket that she'd worked on for months. It's completely impractical since we can never use it as a blanket, but I would never dream of giving it away.

When I was growing up, I loved my grandmother's decorations, particularly a certain doll with a crocheted dress. When she passed away and my family was deciding what to do with her possessions, I immediately asked for that doll, and I was overjoyed when it was given to me.

My parents have been in Africa for almost a year and a half as missionaries for our church. They sacrificed a lot to be there, but I had to sacrifice too because it meant that my mom didn't get to be with me when my first baby was born. My parents gave me an incredible gift by coming all the way from Africa to visit a few days later so they could help with the baby.

They gave us a wooden souvenir giraffe from Africa which will always remind me of that special time that they came to help with my daughter and give me their support. My grandmother's doll will always remind me of the happy days I spent at my grandparents' house before they got sick. And who knows what wonderful memories will be tied up in my daughter's baby blanket?

People say that you don't need things because you have the memory, and that's what really matters. But the truth is, memory fades. My memories from the time just after my daughter was born are already getting fuzzy just a few months later. My grandparents passed away when I was fairly young and I didn't get the chance to know them very well. Memories from childhood often fade, and my daughter will forget so many things from when she was young.

Yes, things are just things, but they help us remember. I don't want to fill my house with useless trash; I want to fill it with beautiful things that evoke warm memories from happy times.

To me, that's a lot more special than an empty closet.


  1. I think my ward's book club just read that book! And it sounded to me like an unpleasant read, so I didn't bother with it. I probably should try books about decluttering, because I do have to do that often these days, but I can just see myself checking them out from the library and never being able to talk myself into reading them.

    There are two major kinds of clutter I have trouble with: sentimental items and things that seem really useful but not right now. Until a few years ago, I saved pretty much anything from either category if I thought I wanted it. But three years ago, I encountered two life changes at about the same time that suddenly switched my status from "accumulating" to "decluttering." I had a baby, which meant that the spare room that held a lot of my junk got called into use. And Ken's mom died, which meant that a lot of her extra things wound up in our garage. And a lot of that stuff was very high in sentimental value! Suddenly our garage was packed to the point that if I needed something in the back, it might literally take hours to access it. I don't know if everyone has such a dramatic turning point, but I do think that most people eventually reach their decluttering phase, hence the popularity of the books. In your early 20's, though, you should be accumulating! If you're lucky, you can wait until your kids are grown to declutter, and then you can declutter by passing things on to them.

    1. You said it better than I did! I do anticipate needing to declutter after a while, but I don't really need to yet. (Especially because I keep moving, so I kind of have to go through my stuff every year. Hah.) I do understand getting rid of things that are just in the way, and sometimes you do have to get rid of things that have sentimental value. What I don't really get is why people are so happy to have an empty closet. What value is in an empty closet? In Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin (the author of The Happiness Project), she recommends that you "keep an empty shelf." I never really got the appeal of that. Shelves are for things. Why wouldn't you keep things on your shelves?

      Another rule I've heard of is "If you can get it for less than twenty dollars in less than twenty minutes, get rid of it." The example item was a hole punch. I kind of see where they were coming from, but if I ever need a hole punch, I'm going to grumble all the way to the store to get one. (And then, apparently, I should turn around and get rid of it again!) If there's one thing I really hate, it's discovering that I need something that I got rid of. (It's happened to me quite a few times!) This is the kind of ruthless approach I disagree with.

    2. If you combine two of the rules you listed, Emily, you get one pretty useful rule (at least, it's useful for me). Those rules are, "If you haven't used it in the last year, get rid of it," and "If you can get it for less than twenty dollars in less than twenty minutes, get rid of it." For me, both rules have to apply for me to get rid of something. It really helps with the stuff that I'm saving only because it seems like it will be so useful someday.

  2. I think we're all products of a backlash against our grandparents' generation, the children of the Depression era. They were absolute hoarders, so we have swung the pendulum back the other way--maybe a little too far. I think the most important thing for me is functionality. If my stuff is making me my life easier, better, and more efficient, then I keep it. If it's causing me to lose time searching through it, taking care of it, or using it (just because it's there), I try to eliminate.

    We definitely have a lot of sentimental things, though. Several boxes each for Breton and I.

  3. I have tubs and tubs of "sentimental" items, and also items that "we'll use someday". It's interesting to find that you have moved boxes from house to house and never looked in them in between. We got rid of a bunch of clothes recently that I had been saving, in case I got bigger, but I didn't want that excuse, so away they went. I have a hard time decluttering because I always think I'll use it eventually, when in reality, it will probably stay boxed up forever. I just hope I don't get as bad as my husband's grandparents; when they passed away, we found boxes and drawers of nothing but old keys and batteries. Go figure!