Part Three of Three
In all of this cleaning and organizing, there is no ignoring that at some point two things were true—that I had the financial resources to buy these now-unnecessary things and that I thought I somehow needed these things. Divesting myself of unnecessary or no-longer-needed items has become its own sort of problem. It started at a bookstore in 2014 when I happened upon Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I bought the book hoping that simply owning it would make me a tidier person.
Kondo is a woman who started organizing her room and her life at such a young age she presents an impossibly high standard, especially for someone starting in their late forties. I figured out that she doesn’t want me to be like her, though. She just wants me to learn the things she’s learned along the tidying way. I’m not sure what to think about any of the advice she gives, but I feel more virtuous having read the book, even though it took me another year and a half to implement some of her ideas.
I tell my friend about the book and, after reading it, she immediately divests herself of clothing and odds and ends. Fourteen bags! she reports in one email. My heart sinks (although I am happy for her) thinking what 14 bags would look like. Do I have that many clothes? Do I have that much stuff?
Yes. I am ashamed to admit I do.
There is a great divide between decluttering and minimalizing by choice and by circumstance. Stephanie Land addresses a type of “forced minimalism” or streamlining based on our economic circumstances in her article “The Class Politics of Decluttering.” Moving to smaller apartments forces her to pare down her belongings regularly; storage costs money whether a rental storage unit or a larger square foot apartment. Land also found herself reflecting on items that were not just “stuff,” but things that reminded her that she had “a foundation of support growing up […]”
I have never had to get rid of anything meaningful because of a move or financial circumstances. Everything I get rid of now is by choice. But I am still chasing some imaginary ideal of a living space where every surface is devoid of books and paper, bookshelves are tidily organized, and the only small items I have are meaningful gifts from friends, not things I purchased to “decorate” or to make myself feel better.
Although I no longer purchase the home/lifestyle magazines, some of the images of minimalist perfection are burned in my brain. I can’t forget Sunset’s zero-waste house with the pantry stocked with tidy glass jars of bulk food. Or Martha Stewart’s recipe for vinegar window washing solution or her monthly cleaning calendar.
I am still thinking about that Christmas tree stand. Now it is bothering me. Was it irresponsible of me to foist this piece of metal onto the local nonprofit—should I have just taken it to a recycling center or the dump? Shoes, clean clothes, books—I can see other people needing these things. A tree stand? I’m not so sure.
None of the decluttering projects I started this summer are completed and I have thrown in the proverbial towel with the beginning of the school year. The garage is starting to take on more things again now that I cleared some shelves. Books are on the floor, papers are back on the table. It may be because these orphan objects have nowhere specific to live in this house. It may be because as much as I try not to consume, there is always another book to buy.
As I go to reference Kondo’s book for this post, I can’t find it on any of my bookshelves. And then I remember—it wound up in a bag of other books that I dropped off at my local used book store. Hopefully someone else is benefiting from Kondo’s advice.
The Class Politics of Decluttering by Stephanie Land
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
The Zero-Waste Home, Sunset Magazine