Tuesday 9 February 2016

Finding the Joy in Life

I have been waiting for 'The Life-changing Magic of Tidying' by Marie Kondo (that's a Wiki link, she has a blog but its in Japanese) for MONTHS. It's really nice for her that she can make a living doing this, but this book really could have been a leaflet. I guess what you get with the book is her gushing enthusiasm for her own cleverness to convince you that you can change your life; I imagine that for those working with her in person she is a veritable force of nature. I guess also that she did realise the need to hector her acolytes to make sure they do not stray from the path of righteousness. Is it sounding a bit like a religion? well you could be right there. It is a bit like AA for messy people, and she claims to have no relapses amongst her followers. 

If you wish to create and sustain a brand image you have to insist very hard that there is a right and a wrong way to do things, so she discusses at length (such tedious length) how wrong she had been in her childhood and then her early career as a tidiness guru. At least, I suppose, she is not trying to sell you anything else. (I confess to being nearly suckered in by those suction storage systems that promise to reduce the volume of all the crap you own.) No, her system is very simple, you throw most of it away. There is nothing very new in this, blogs and websites have been hammering on about simplifying your life for years, Marie Kondo's twist is to turn it into a bit of a ceremony; holding each item in your hands to consider if it 'sparks joy', if not you discard it with a word of thanks for it having fulfilled its purpose in your life ... no hard feelings or anything but you are for the rubbish heap. Which brings me to my first criticism. Through the entire book she uses the phrase 'throw away'. At no point does she say 'recycle' or 'donate to charity' or 'pass on to someone else' or 'repurpose'. I have this image of people throwing out these 20 or 40 or 60 or 100 rubbish bags full of perfectly usable items that no longer give them joy. I makes my blood run cold. My second criticism is the anthropomorphism, which Helen Macdonald managed most successfully to avoid, but Marie Kondo does not:

"I have never encountered any possession that reproached its owner. These thoughts stem from the owner's sense of guilt, not from the person's belongings. (well duh, I thought she was making a sensible point for a moment, but then ...) Then what do the things in our homes that don't spark joy actually feel? I think they simply want to leave. Lying forgotten in your cupboards, they know better than anyone else that they are not bringing joy to you now." (p.222-3)

She then goes into a waffle about possessions releasing their energy back into the world and returning to you as something else. What a big pile of bollocks. *They are inanimate objects, they do not have feelings*. So how am I supposed to take this woman seriously, she spoils what is a perfectly good system for clearing the useless crap from your life with all this hokum. At other times she makes such good sense but it was often hard to spot the sensible bits amongst the waffle:

"Clutter is caused by a failure to return things to where they belong. Therefore storage should reduce the effort needed to put things away, not the effort to get them out. When we use something, we have a clear purpose for getting it out. Unless for some reason it is incredibly hard work, we usually don't mind the effort involved. Clutter has only two possible causes: too much effort is required to put things away or it is unclear where things belong. If we overlook this vital point, we are likely to create a system that results in clutter. For people like me, who are naturally lazy, I strongly recommend focussing storage in one spot. More often then not, the notion that it's more convenient to keep everything within arm's reach is an incorrect assumption." (p.165)

What I was left with after reading this book was the feeling that clutter is such a 'rich world' problem; we have so much money we don't know what to spend it on, then we don't know what to do with the stuff when we have it, and then we are bored with it almost instantaneously because we did not really want or need it in the first place. It is the perfect example of what is wrong with the world. What I think she has tapped into here is simply a treatment for the symptoms of the modern disease of buying stuff to satisfy some inner craving. She claims that once they have 'seen the light' her clients find that they no longer crave new stuff but I don't find myself convinced. She claims she is teaching people to appreciate the possessions that matter to them and so think more before they buy things, and while I am all for people thinking harder before they make purchases I am not sure this is a solution, it certainly is not tackling the root cause of blind consumerism.

Having said all that I made a start. She does say do the whole job in one go, but most of us don't have the luxury of time and energy to deal with things in that way. I cleared my wardrobe of (nearly) all the clothes that did not spark joy. I don't think that my Royal Mail uniform was ever going to fall into the 'spark joy' category, unfortunately it has to stay. I found that most of what I kept were clothes that I love and wear regularly and have had for many, many years. The cupboard is nearly empty. I am not happy to just dump things in the bin, that would not spark joy, and so the process of ridding the house of clutter will take much longer. She does have a very hard message about letting go of thing that you keep for 'just in case' and sentimental reasons, but talks a lot of sense about valuing the memories is not the same as having to keep every little nicknack that you have ever acquired. The idea is not to feel guilty about keeping things you value and spark fond memories, but to be honest about the difference between real mementos and bad photos from a beach holiday that you don't really remember. 

So the stages are: get your stuff out, see which things you love (you have to hold them to do this, she says, then the decision become easy) and get rid of the things you don't. Then store items of one kind all in one place, and have a place where everything goes. On one level I do know what she means: if you think about something you have loved owning, and then it getting damaged, and you keep it because you used to love it, but it makes you sad to see it broken, it is better to throw it out. She doesn't talk about things you own that are functional, I am not sure where they fit in her scheme of things. Even though my financial situation has mostly not allowed me to follow the principle I have always been with William Morris on this one, who said "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." I don't think that this book will magically change my life, the big problem is how to persuade other members of the household to consider tackling their own clutter.

1 comment:

  1. It's good to de-clutter but it does sound as though this book may be as annoying as it is useful. And very poor that she doesn't mention any form of re-use or recycling!


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