Not Deferential Enough: Organizing Without Losing One's Mind

Posted Monday, January 21, 2019 in Opinion

Not Deferential Enough: Organizing Without Losing One's Mind

by Gina Hamilton

There is a new organization guru around now, whose motto is "If you cannot touch an object with joy, it is time to thank it for its service and let it go."

That sounds so delightful, I'd like to try it, but I know what would really probably happen in my case. Let me first say that the lady in question thinks 35 is a good number of books to have, presumably including hers. OK, you can stop laughing. I know, I know. Thirty-five hundred books is more like it; never mind journals and magazines and all the other brain food that tends to linger in one's home.  So the book thing is right out, although I do tend to agree they should all be in one place.  Happily, we have such a place, called a library/conservatory, and except for a handful of children's books located upstairs in the office, and a few art books in the living room, and of course all the cookbooks in the kitchen, that's where the books live. Not counting Kindle books, and whatever one happens to be reading at the time.

This is after getting rid of thousands of books, mind you. I wanted to use a spare toilet room for seasonal storage -- Christmas decorations and harvest home stuff and spring and that sort of thing, so the books, which were piled in boxes in the head had to go. Most of them were dross in any case, stuff I'd picked up at yard sales and the library's annual used book sale and either read immediately or never opened at all. Off they went to new homes, after I thanked them for their service. OK, I didn't really do that, but I think I sent them to happier homes, and someone no doubt appreciated them and passed them on.

Over the years, I've donated many things. Clothes to the Goodwill, used linens and towels to the animal shelter, duplicate kitchen gadgets to new households, furniture no longer being used to Freecycle, toys to the local preschool. What Marie Kondo is really suggesting, though, is a completely different way of life -- a life without clutter. That seems attractive, but also terrifyingly stark.

Part of the problem most people face is a lack of space to store things they aren't ready to part with but which don't bring them a spark of joy. And for those of us who are not Martha Stewart, who don't alphabetize bed linens -- heck, we don't even have a linen closet -- and don't have a dedicated pantry for crafting items -- life brings a lot of clutter. Think about the things you do regularly. Wrapping gifts. Sewing buttons back on shirts. Helping the kid make a school project or put together a Halloween costume. Baking cookies for the holidays or a cake for someone's birthday. Storing dog treats. Writing condolence letters or thank you notes. Cooking dinner. Now, think about the space you have to store all the items that go along with those activities. If you are like many (if not most) of us, you will admit you have no space to store such things. It's unlikely that most of these activities provide a spark of joy, either, but they still have to be done, and the cake pans and cookie cutters and construction paper and little pom-poms and the jingle bells still have to be somewhere.

And all the things that do spark joy? The things your son or granddaughter made for you? The baby books? The photo albums? The christening robe or the wedding gown? The wedding cake topper and the one for your 25th anniversary? The baby quilt your grandmother made for your firstborn 30 years ago? Or even just your college sweatshirt or your first ballet recital costume? The playbill from your favorite show? The program from the first major league baseball game you attended with your son? In Marie Kondo's world, there is no room for such things. In Martha Stewart's, such things are wrapped up in color-coordinated boxes, labeled and dated, and stored in a box room designed expressly for that purpose. Neither is feasible.

Don't get me wrong. We all live with an inordinate amount of clutter. I think we can all agree to get rid of a lot of it. Our children will thank us, posthumously, if we do. But the how is the question. And so far, I haven't found a good "how" yet.

Let me know if you do.

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