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.

 

the life-changing magic of being tidied up

Marie Kondo is everywhere these days due to her new reality show, but her book and method of decluttering one’s home have been around for several years. The prevalence of articles and social media posts about her and her method of ridding oneself of things that don’t spark joy, got me thinking about the time someone practiced KonMari on me…

In the summer of 2015, my life was a tangle of loose ends. Living in a tiny apartment after my marriage ended, my existence pretty much revolved around going out way too much, and dealing with the anxiety of dating again at the age of 40. A certain friend of mine, K, had a lot more experience than me in this department… she’d been mostly single over the last decade, so I leaned on her a bit more than my other friends to discuss the ins and outs of Tinder, first dates, etc. I’m sure my boy-craziness got a little annoying or trying at times, but I thought I was at least in a better place than I had been when I was going through the divorce itself, burdening friends with the details of my failing relationship and how awful and depressed I felt. At least now I was having some fun?

Coincidentally, K had recently shed her single status and was dating a guy she had fallen pretty hard for, despite him being 9 years her junior. I’m not sure if she felt like my somewhat desperate demeanor was going to be contagious, but it was almost as if she was afraid my “energy” was going to somehow mess up her otherwise perfect life, despite us living 1200 miles away from each other. Funny, I never felt like her singleness was a burden or threat to me when I was in a relationship. I’d routinely listen to her prattle on about whatever guy she was crushing on, stories of bad dates, good sex, and everything in between. She had a habit of calling when she was getting in the car, talking at me for the duration of her drive time, and abruptly ending the conversation when I tried to talk about my life by cheerily announcing, “Gotta go!” because she had arrived at her destination. I’d accepted these calls as a fact of our friendship, without complaint or feeling put upon, because that’s what girlfriends are for… right?

K is one of those people who has a very busy life between work, socializing and other activities, so between that and the boyfriend, I didn’t think too much of it when she was difficult to get a hold of. At one point I suggested via text that we make a “phone date” to catch up, so that we could talk at a time that was convenient to her, since I had a more flexible schedule. A couple days later, I got the following as a response via email:

I am sorry to be harsh but I feel like you aren’t hearing what I’m not saying.  The reason I haven’t been reaching out to you is because I feel like we aren’t on the same wavelength.  It’s not something you did – I have changed a ton in the last couple years and my life has altered greatly.  I just can’t work to maintain relationships that aren’t feeding me right now and I feel like you want a lot I can’t give.  I care about you and wish you the best but I just don’t feel like talking or visiting – it’s just not where I’m at.  I hope you can understand and respect that.  I really do mean it with kindness.”

It slowly dawned on me as I re-read her email… I’d been Kon-Mari’d! This was well before “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” had become the international  phenomenon it is today, but the book had been out for a couple years at least, and K had read it and been quite influenced by it. In a funny and ironic twist, she’d actually credited ME with being the one to introduce her to the book/ method, although I don’t recall having done so. But the line about relationships not “feeding” her (what are you anyway, a vampire?) made it clear that this was the impetus behind her action. Friend no longer sparking joy? Kick them to the curb! Never mind if there’s 15 years of history there. Admittedly, K had always been more of a surface-y type of person than most of my other close friends, but I never imagined I’d be ditched for asking for dating advice, or because I was single and she was in a relationship.

Initially, I took her missive more or less at face value, at least the part about being in different phases of life and not meaning it in a cruel way. I sent her what I thought was a graceful reply, acknowledging that although I was saddened to hear she no longer wanted to have an active friendship, that I accepted her for who she was and what she had to offer no matter what “wavelength” she was on, and letting her know that should she change her mind, I would welcome her back into my life anytime, no hard feelings. I even thanked her for the support she had offered through the worst parts of my divorce! But just a couple weeks later, I found out that she was in Detroit. This put things in a whole new light—obviously the timing of her email was directly related to the fact that she didn’t want to deal with my messy self hanging with her posse of perfectly poised gal-pals. Her actions seemed motivated less by what was “feeding her”, and more by a mean-girls desire to not be obligated to include me in social activities during her visit. Strangely enough, this realization made it hurt less, not more, since it confirmed the feelings I’d always’ pushed to the back of my mind about her superficiality. 

The most difficult part of all this was not losing her as a friend; I got over that part with surprising speed. It was the knowledge that she would have to tell our mutual friends what she’d done (since they’d wonder why we weren’t hanging out on her visit), and that I’d suffer the embarrassment of having people know I got friend-dumped. (Awkward, to be sure, but I also got over that more quickly than I’d expected.) Looking back, I’m sure it reflected much more poorly on her than on me. I mean, I hadn’t done anything other than be mildly neurotic about my romantic life, whereas she had cast off a 15-year friendship for totally selfish reasons. And she didn’t even follow KonMari protocol by thanking me at the end of it for my service!

For a while, we kept up appearances that everything was “cool” by continuing to follow each other’s social media accounts; she’d even throw me the consolation prize of a complimentary comment on occasion. (I’m sure this was stemming not so much from a genuine warm feeling, but rather to come off as less of an asshole to our mutual friends. Or maybe the relief of knowing I was now at arms’ length—phew!!—made her feel more comfortable to interact once in a while.) Then, on her 40th birthday, she posted something about how proud she was that she had made it to 40 with, among other things, “no divorces and no children out of wedlock”.

At that point any desire I had to keep up a friendly rapport went out the window. What a self-aggrandizing twat! I messaged her something like, “Funny, in spite of my divorce and kid out of wedlock, I’m doing better than ever.” I didn’t think the original comment was necessarily meant to throw shade at me personally (and if it was, all the more reason for her to piss off), but like, what a self-involved and judgmental thing to say. I know she has many friends other than me who have suffered the trauma of a divorce, or who have kids “out of wedlock” (what are we, in the 1950’s??? This is from someone who considers herself a proud feminist, FFS!) I also know for a fact I was not the only one taken aback by the comment, but I was apparently the only one who called her out on how it came across. For doing so, I got promptly blocked and deleted. I thought the dramatic and disproportionate reaction was pretty funny given that this is a person who prides herself on being extremely enlightened and self-aware. My message was merely intended to convey, “Hey, maybe step back and think about how your comments sound to people who have gone through those things,” or, “Everyone does life differently, there’s no need to act superior if people have had different life experiences than you.” (I suppose I could have phrased my message that way, but what can I say, my sarcastic side got the best of me.) In retrospect, I should have known that saying something wouldn’t actually get her to be self-reflective, but it really was less about that and more about standing up to someone whose words were thoughtless and offensive.

Ultimately, it was no love lost. I’m kind of glad it had the ending that it did, getting rid of any lingering feelings of nostalgia and freeing me from having her take up any space in my brain anymore. (Ok, yes, I did just write several paragraphs about her, but this is the first time in a few years I’ve even really given her any thought, partly because Marie Kondo is everywhere right now, and partly because I heard K was just in Detroit again.) Consider this MY final KonMari purge of anything having to do with her.

The boyfriend, incidentally, dumped her not too long after she sent me that email… I didn’t receive this news with any malice or glee whatsoever (in fact I felt sincerely bad for her), but it did reinforce for me that there’s a reason why I take a long view of friendships and don’t just abandon them when they aren’t actively “serving” me (maybe because I don’t see my friends as my servants?) I would have offered support and a listening ear, had she wanted or needed that, as I had many times before. Of course I have let certain people drift away in the course of my life if things aren’t jiving, but if I’ve made it a decade and a half with someone, I consider that person almost like a sibling, and treat it as a “for better or worse, in good times and in bad” situation. I place a high value on shared history; on the loyalty and commitment that long-term friendships represent—unlike family, it’s a chosen bond. Unsurprisingly, I also choose not to part with many of the sentimental items KonMari would have me throw out, such as old letters, photographs, etc. But if these things and people add a little clutter or disorder to my life at times, I’m OK with that tradeoff.