Broom with a View

The Life-changing magic of Tidying up

The Life-changing magic of Tidying up by Marie Kondo is a wonderful book. Leaving aside its powerful message and how urbane it is to city living in particular, I would like to take a moment to say that I really like this writer — she has hit the nail on the head regarding the emotions surrounding things.

I am a tidy person and I haven’t much stuff since I’ve moved countries twice — this rids one of clutter quite decisively. I am also particular and haven’t much furniture. That said, I am also a woman so I like new clothes and shoes and I have to balance this with the sentimental attachment to my old things. I grew up in Madras and there was a strong emphasis on stewardship — of caring for your nice things… so my life and my closet is an eternal tug of war between novelty and nostalgia. So while it is neat, clean etc it is still full of things that don’t necessarily tokimeku - give me joy.

Frankly, there’s a lot of guilt in possessions — the perfectly wearable coat that looks out of style weighs on me in a way that my rarely worn riding things never do — the latter suggests a happy if very infrequent communion with animals I love but the former an indictment of justifiable disloyalty to a coat I once adored. I do not buy things lightly but there just wasn’t a psychological process to let these things go and I feel what makes Marie Kondo so very appealing is that she has thought about this from not merely a practical perspective (I mean it’s not that hard to put things away, make one’s bed, dust etc) but to let go of a belonging that has history is complicated and KonMari gets what this means.

What Marie Kondo has done is elevate the purging process from the mundane to a transcendent — I would love to summarise what this means because I feel very much as she does about the importance of everyday — how we live everyday matters more than on holiday but she has hit a nerve in detailing the complex relationship between people and their possessions. Every so often we confront this because of extenuating circumstances like moving but her strategy is far more persuasive because it’s proactive, precise and incredibly personal. I mean how wonderfully civilised to thank an object for what it has meant to you and let it go with love.

My favourite part of the book is that she doesn’t view this as a kaizen style endeavour — it’s a one-time thing per category and then this frees you to live your life. It’s meditation for your living space. It’s an excavation of emotion to dramatic after-effects that include — wait for it — radiant skin people! She’s very guarded about the scientific basis of this but she does cheekily say that when her clients part with excess clothing their tummies become slim and when they reduce the number of cosmetics and tidy up the area around the sink and bath, their complexion tends to become clear and their skin smooth.

Now I have to confess, this is something I have suspected — not merely the psychological impact of decluttering but the epidermal response to a happy life and the fortunate aspects of feng shui and its Indian cousin vaastu. I completed one category last weekend and I can tell you it feels a bit heady. Look at how she discusses how her clients react to things that bring them joy —

“When faced with something that brings joy, their decision is usually instantaneous, their touch is gentle, and their eyes shine.”

It’s like unearthing the Keatsian Grecian urns in your own apartment — a thing of beauty is a joy forever. Let me give you a concrete example — more than a decade ago I had a beautiful holiday in Paris — I make egg whites in the microwave and I got a lovely pearly Philippe Starck designed plastic egg shaped cup from Centre Pompidou — it was part of that show on Philippe Starck. It is totally useless at making egg-whites — or eggs for that matter. It lived in my kitchen in Philadelphia, Hyderabad and London — I have been lugging this ineffectual thing all over the world all the while aware of its impotence with no process to let it go. Thanks to KonMari — I thanked it properly and let it go. When you contrast that with how I feel about Blendy my blender ( see Smoothie Operator) acquired contemporaneously that I love using you know it’s got no psychological baggage and is a thing of joy even though it’s bigger, noisier — that micro-egg was all style and no substance and a psychic hassle — a small thing that weighed heavily — but these are not to be ignored like the beautiful line in Edith Wharton’s by a baleful Lily Bart in the sublime House of Mirth —

Perhaps I might have resisted a great temptation, but the little ones would have pulled me down.

This is the future the KonMari method is rescuing us from in clutter — like the myriad Lilliputian ropes tethered Gulliver — the quicksand of tiny adherences weigh us down. Additionally she says the act of making these decisions helps us be more decisive — this is a big 2015 goal of mine that I will write about separately even though I alluded to it in the post about confidence (see Comfortable in my skin) but the decisiveness required for the Big Tidy has spillover effects in our lives. It’s like a juice cleanse for one’s apartment and office and I can’t wait to finish the next few categories…