konmari-ish

This was an unfinished post originally written in early 2019, shortly after Marie Kondo‘s reality show, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” had debuted on Netflix. I wasn’t going to post it, but figured some of you may be using your quarantine down time to declutter, so perhaps it still retains some relevance! 

In 2014, I read Marie Kondo’s now-famous book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up“. At the time, I had just been forced to move from a house I loved into a tiny apartment, due to circumstances not of my choosing, and I deeply resented having to dispose of large amounts of my belongings. My mom, rightly and logically, pointed out that it didn’t make sense to pay for storage to house items that could be replaced for less than what you’d pay in storage costs, but I stubbornly rented a unit to house what I deemed the most indispensable of my stuff. I reasoned that I’d be in a new house soon enough, and on some level it was faster and easier to move things than spend the time sorting and getting rid of them.

Fast forward to the present, 4 1/2 almost 6 (!) years later. I still haven’t bought a new house, and much of that stuff is still in boxes or garbage bags in my basement, so unless I take action, next time we move I’ll still have all of those belongings to reckon with. I recently sold another house and had to clean out the basement… I only ended up keeping maybe a third of what was down there. It actually wasn’t hard at all to part with most of it— if I hadn’t looked at it or touched it in years, how much did I *really* need it?

I remember that first year living in the apartment, on New Year’s Eve, instead of going out I decided to stay home and clean out my closet using the KonMari method. I blasted some music, drank some wine, and said goodbye to a decent chunk of my clothing. It felt good; an appropriate way to start the year fresh. Since then, I’ve practiced KonMari a few times on my clothing, but haven’t yet gotten past that step of the process to apply it to other items in my house. Still, the philosophy of KonMari–only keeping things that “spark joy”–has seeped into my consciousness, informing daily decisions and making it so much easier to part with things. Now, instead of feeling resentment, it feels liberating to be able to lighten the load and have less attachment to physical objects.

With the debut of Marie Kondo’s Netflix show, she’s been the subject of many a HuffPo or Buzzfeed opinion piece, usually written by millenial white women either breathlessly describing how transformational KonMari has been for them, or defiantly proclaiming that Marie will have to pry such-and-such personal item out of their cold, dead hands. I tend to fall somewhere in between, but the main problem I have with KonMari is how it assumes a certain socio-economic privilege. I watched a couple episodes of the series and literally felt physically ill at the amount of consumer goods that some of the families had accumulated. It was painful to witness that much crass, needless consumption when there are so many people in need, not to mention the environmental impact. Kondo assumes that you can fairly painlessly dispose of items you’ve paid good money for, simply because you don’t get a thrill from them any longer. This is a luxury many people will never know. Personally, although I can and do get rid of clothing I no longer wear, I own several items that don’t spark joy but that I have to keep anyway, because I either can’t or don’t want to spend the money to buy a version I like better.

It’s no surprise that a feeling of scarcity breeds hoarding and clutter. If you’re poor (or grew up that way), you’re going to cling to an attitude of “what if I need that someday?” rather than easily letting go. Through KonMari, I have gradually shifted from this attitude, drilled into me from my thrifty and frugal mother (to her credit, she’s evolved a lot on this over the years), to a realization that the advantages of alleviating the stress of clutter far outweigh any economic disadvantage to having to re-buy something you may have owned 5 years ago. When I cleaned out the aforementioned basement, there were a few items that were still new in their boxes. I knew I would probably never use them, so the hardest part of letting go was knowing they were worth money and feeling guilty that I should be having a garage sale or selling them on Craigslist rather than just giving them away. But my reasonable side (the one that knows I will realistically not do either of those things, and the items would continue to follow me around) won out, thankfully.

My partner is radically anti-getting rid of things, which makes for a stressful household at times. He has moved twice since I’ve known him, and I’d say about 3/4 of his closet is comprised of shirts I’ve never seen him wear. He keeps books that he’s either read and will never read again, or will just never read. He has several boxes of VHS tapes (we’ve never once watched one.) But, this is just how he was raised— his parents have an attic, a garage, and not one but two pole barns filled with old stuff that they see no reason to part with, seeing as how they have the room to store it. While it’s true that some of it has come in handy (when our son came along, they already had plenty of toys and books at their house for when he visits, which is often), I personally can’t imagine the psychological weight of all those possessions. Then again, we are still in a stage of life where we’ll likely move a couple more times at least, whereas they are in their “forever home”. When I think about whether to keep something, what I *really* try to consider is whether I want it enough to deal with packing and moving it. 

I realize this post is over a year past being “on-topic”, but that’s life with a toddler! I’d still love to hear comments… are you using the extra time on your hands to do a quarantine purge, or is the crisis strengthening your hoarding instincts? Did you watch Marie’s show, and if so, what did you think? For further reading, this is a great article analyzing the show and surrounding backlash.

 

on being awkward

No one likes to feel awkward. The word itself makes me cringe as I type it, with its strange w-k-w string of consonants that just seems more wrong the longer you look at it.  Awkward situations, awkward relationships, awkward phases… the adjective connotes something not merely uncomfortable but discordant; askew.

I-Love-Dick-Kathryn-Hahn
The inimitable Kathryn Hahn in “I Love Dick”

I have been awkward ever since I can remember. I’d like to think that at least sometimes it’s in a cute or charming way, à la Clare Danes in My So Called Life, or Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles (and yes I know I’m dating myself terribly with those references!) Although I’d love to be one of those supremely self-possessed, polished women who always says the right thing and never does anything embarrassing, I’ve come to accept that that’s probably–no, definitely–not ever going to be me, and that’s ok. As I get older, I gain greater self-acceptance with each passing year, and I try to embrace my awkwardness as one of the many personality quirks that makes me who I am.

Even now in my forties,, I still occasionally gravitate towards shows about awkward teenagers. I recently discovered two such shows on Netflix, both British, one called The Inbetweeners about four teenage boys, and another called Some Girls. They’re terribly funny and I think anyone tired of today’s polished teens (you know, where every girl has perfect hair and a dewy glow and looks like she was dressed by a stylist, and even the supposed “nerd” characters are just hot chicks with glasses) will find them refreshing. Incidentally, did anyone watch “13 Reasons Why”? I have so many issues and complaints about it (not least of which is that the main character is a perfect example of the aforementioned super-cute-but-supposed-outcast girl), but I hate-watched the whole thing anyway.

Of course there are plenty of shows for adults with awkward females as the main character, à la Bridget Jones. I find most of these pretty annoying. One remarkable exception is Chris Kraus in the new Amazon show “I Love Dick“. I suppose I identify more with her brand of awkwardness, which is harsh and painful, more so than the cloying cutesy-ness of, say, Zoë Deschanel’s character Jess in “New Girl” (derp, derp). Chris Kraus perceives that she’s obnoxious or abrasive to others, but it’s like she can’t help herself, and we can’t look away. This, to me, is an infinitely more interesting heroine, although there were times when it almost became difficult to enjoy because it brought up familiar, unpleasant feelings of being that person who no one really likes much because you can’t rein yourself in enough to fit in.

I guess at this point in life, I’ve pulled back from social interaction except with people who have mostly known me for years. It helps that I have a mate and am no longer out and about all the time. I can put my head down, not stick my neck out. I am “safer”; less of a wild card. My awkwardness is more contained and bounded.

There are so many feminist implications of the awkward female trope that I can’t delve into now, but here’s a really excellent article about the role of the “female loser” as protagonist.