Spark of Regret
It's easy to get hooked on Marie Kondo. She promises not just a tidy house, but the transformation of your very being. If you follow her methods, she assures us, you will be released from the clutter around you, and within you. Once scraped clean of the detritus you insist on bringing into your home, your brain will be crystal clear and sharp as a diamond. Presumably, you can then focus on the deeper questions of existence and start reading Kierkegaard (or in my case, Moby Dick, which continues to be my Moby Dick).
When I read "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" a few years ago, I was thrilled by the prospect of decluttering my living space. I have always made an effort to purge my belongings while perpetually bringing in new stuff. This way, I would never be one of those people who has to clear a path to the bed. I would never die in a fire starting in a tower of old newspapers. I like to buy things from thrift shops, things I don't need but can't resist leaving behind. And the result has always been a shortage of closet space and collections of knick-knacks related to current obsessions.
I was ready to follow Marie Kondo into the paradise she promised. I started by emptying my t-shirt drawer, and beholding the mountain of its wrinkled contents. Why did I have so many fucking t-shirts, I scolded myself. I was able to collect the ones I really hated into several grocery bags. Some I had to review twice to make sure there was no spark of joy. Then I did the same with my underwear and socks. By the time I got to sweaters, I was mentally and emotionally exhausted.
I decided to put off any further Kondoing. I was dismayed when Kondoing became a verb but look, I have stopped fighting its use. Hearing people go on about Kondoing made me question whether I had been unduly influenced by a Japanese woman with a personal pathology of extreme spartanism. I grew to accept that she was nuts and I was okay. What step is that?
I reverted to my usual self, buying stuff I didn't need. This includes thrift shop items and beauty products. The bottles of nail polish and tubes of hair conditioner and palettes of eye shadow kept rolling in, with nowhere to put them. The pleasure I took in looking at them outweighed any residual Kondo-induced anxiety (or Kondoshande, a German word I just invented by combining Kondo and shame).
I was happy to forget about Marie Kondo until I heard she had a TV series. A friend confided that the series was having a huge impact on her. Then I read that charity shops were experiencing a 500% increase in donations, attributed to the series. Now I felt guilty again about all my crap. What a greedy, shallow loser I was! All this crap everywhere, while people are starving and sleeping in the street!
I went around the house, gathering stuff I had only just acquired. I grabbed the cute little vintage dolls I had just started collecting and put them in a bag. I hesitated about the one that almost gave me a spark of joy. I put her in the bag, took her out, put her back in, and then took her out. God damn Marie Kondo, I thought. Why can't she mind her own business?
Now I am back on the wagon, having quit Marie Kondo and the sense of unease she brings with her. I'm on the step where I admit I have too much crap but don't need a tidying messiah bossing me around. My higher power is shopping. It's a nice distraction that isn't going to lead me to debtor's prison or cancer.
Zen calmness and mindfulness have nothing to do with tidiness. Conflating tidiness with spirituality is too much like "cleanliness is next to Godliness" and unless you are a monk, living like one won't lead to salvation. Some people are messier than others, and some people take comfort in their stuff. They like to look around and think, This is my stuff, it reflects my taste and personality, good!
Marie Kondo feels a spark of joy when she sees empty space. That's her problem, not yours or mine. If you like the feeling of self-denial and purity that she promotes, go right ahead and fold your clothes into tiny squares. The rest of us can just relax, luxuriating in our sloppiness like the pigs we are. Skipping straight to step 12, I'm bringing my message to fellow Kondo-ites struggling with recovery. Enjoy your stuff, one day at a time.