Healthy Living

What’s Clutter and What’s Not?

The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up” is a wildly popular book by Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo about de-cluttering. Given how shallow and acquisitive our culture can be (Kardashians, anyone?) the fact that a book about getting rid of unnecessary stuff is on the New York Times bestseller list is probably a good sign.tidying up

Kondo promises to help transform your home from the chaotic mishmash it is now to “a place of serenity and inspiration.“ Essentially, you’re supposed to lighten your load by taking a good look at each item you own and asking yourself one question: “Does this item spark joy?”

If it does, you hang on to it. If it doesn’t you get rid of it.

I went around my house recently with this question in mind.

Does this salt shaker give me joy? (Yes! I love salt.)

Does this bicycle bring me joy? (No, but if I ever get around to dusting off the cobwebs and putting some air in the tires, it might.)

Does this lamp bring me joy? (Nope. But sitting in the dark doesn’t bring me joy either.)

Does this vacuum cleaner bring me joy? (Are you kidding me?)

I soon realized that, for me, this wasn’t exactly the right question.

Still, I’d like to move from this house to an apartment, which means that I definitely need to downsize, so I came up with my own version of this little mantra: “After I get hit by a bus, eaten on safari by a ravenous gnu or flattened by a falling anvil and my son inherits this object, will he keep it or throw it out?”

If he’d throw it out, I figure I can save him the trouble and get rid of it now.

The stuff that my son will undoubtedly want to get rid of includes most of my books, all of the dishes I inherited from Grandma Sadie and almost everything in the attic. It’s fabulous how freeing this has been. Employing this principle, I’ve given away, tossed or recycled:

A beautiful (and very expensive) pair of glasses that I no longer need now that I’ve had cataract surgery.

500 “Let’s Get Started” AOL discs.

A Steinway grand piano.

A crate for the Yorkie-poo that the Yorkie-poo refuses to go anywhere near. (Being crated has never brought Captain joy.)

Hundreds of cassettes containing wonderful music that nobody will ever listen to again because let’s face it, it’s 2015 and who has a cassette player?

Half a dozen books about, ironically, downsizing and clearing clutter.

And then there are the things I’m not sure about, like my son’s childhood toys, his kindergarten artwork and his baby clothes. For instance, my favorite of his onesies. Tom, at 27, no longer needs a onesie. (Which is a good thing.) But when he and my daughter-in-law have their first kid, maybe he’ll want to dress that child in his old onesie? And give him his plush tigers to play with?

Throwing out my son’s baby clothes and plush tigers, I’ve decided, is where I draw the line. Do they spark joy? Not exactly. But they do bring back loads of happy memories, as well as a bit of where-did-all-of-those-wonderful-years-go melancholy. (Cue the song “Sunrise, Sunset,” from “Fiddler on the Roof.”)

If, after I’m dead and gone, contemplating his childhood tigers don’t bring my son joy, he can throw them out himself.

I’ve given myself a year to clear out this house, put it on the market, find a terrific apartment and move there with only my Truly Necessary Items. Plus a bunch of plush tigers.

In the meantime, what about this fondue set? And this spare fan? And what about this unflattering portrait of me that my Aunt Freida painted back in the 80s which makes me look like a deranged serial killer?

Wish me luck.

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  • Pamela

    We are moving and received the Marie Kondo book as a gift (from nephew Grant) to help decide what to take to the new house. Not quite finished reading the book, but I understand the concept. The question about bring joy will now be supplemented with Roz’s question which is definitely applicable to the Zest Now crowd.

  • Phoebe

    Good writing, cute article! For some reason it makes me think of an article I saw in an old newspaper about a fire in Malibu where many wealthy celebrities lived. They had only moments to grab something and get out. Leaving expensive jewels and art objects, people left carrying a potted houseplant or some other easily replaceable object but also an irreplaceable photo album.

  • Leanne@crestingthehill

    oh man I hate clutter – it just hangs around waiting to annoy me. I have been fairly ruthless with my “holding on to treasures” routine (only one onesie for each of my children) but it still builds up and needs to be culled regularly – coffee cups – where do they come from??? ~ great post ~ Leanne

  • Dianne Morris

    My excuse is that those television shows about hoarding are scaring us so much we could loose things that bring memories. Those tiny elephants I bought in that shop in Hong Kong, etc, etc.

  • penpen

    I consider it my legacy to my children to leave them cleared closets. Like you, my inspiration was a decision to sell the house and move to an apartment. And, like you, the pleasure principle (joy? not joy?) took second place to Would My Kids Want It. I texted them photos for a tumbs up or down on whether to keep or dump. My mother’s 18-place set of gold rimmed china elicited this response from my daughter-in-law–married to my son for 10 years: “I haven’t used the dishes I got at our wedding yet.” A lot of stuff is being thrown out, but it’s an act of love to do it before they have to.

  • penpen

    I consider it one of my legacies to my children to leave them cleared closets. Inspiration, like yours, was a plan to sell the house and move to an apartment. I, too, did a work-around the pleasure (does it give joy) principle by texting my children photos of various items and asking whether to save it for them or dump it. The photos of my mother’s 18-place settings of gold rimmed dishes elicited this response from my daughter-in-law: She still hadn’t used her wedding-gift dishes. Bottom line: there is a lot to give away but it’s an act of love to do it before they have to.

  • Risa

    We’ve been Kondo-izing around my house this summer. My hat is off to you (but I got rid of most of my hats!) for making the effort. I think yours is a perfectly good system as well. There is, I have to admit, a sense of lightness and freedom after getting rid of things that no longer have usefulness or meaning. On the other hand, I’m keeping the fuzzy Snoopy.

  • Cheryl Nicholl

    I love this post! I could talk about decluttering for hours! Just reading about it gives me goosebumps! I’m NOT a clutter bug. I LOVELOVELOVE an efficient space. I should have gone into this business… Anywho, I like your question to yourself. What will your child do with it? Another one I like is ‘What will give me joy at my end of days?’ I have a glass cabinet that’s full of little things that all have wonderful meaning to me. It doesn’t take up much space. It keeps them all together. The kids won’t probably want any of it BUT I can gaze at it for hours (I usually do in the morning) and it makes me smile- so I’m keeping THAT and THEM. But I do agree with Kondo; tidying up your living space helps open up the heart and head. SO FUN!!! Post pic’s!!! Before and after!!!

  • Mickey

    Yes, indeed, and in ‘deed’, ha!, I wish you luck, and a la Masaru Emoto, The Hidden Messages in Water, Love and Gratitude. Thank you, Roz. I love you unconditionally and I am grateful to ‘know’ you via the internet and your writing.

  • Dave Astor

    Roz, as someone who did the move-from-house-to-apartment thing last year, I totally relate to your downsizing piece. Very funny, and more than a little poignant.

  • Laurel Regan

    Love your approach to what must be a rather daunting task! We’ve moved several times, most recently across the country, so have done quite a bit of downsizing by necessity – still, it’s amazing how quickly the “stuff” all starts to pile up again. I wish you luck!

  • Suzanne Fluhr

    Been there. Done that. You need to box up the baby clothes and plush toy tiger and ship them to your son and daughter-in-law because it is unlikely that your apartment will have an attic. OTOH, if you think they’ll be apoplectic upon receiving such a box because you are meddling in their very private procreation plans, then donate them. BTW, baby clothes with elastic don’t hold up very well over 27 years in the attic.

  • hillsmom

    Oh how I can relate! I even have a plush Steiff tiger…well had as it went to a grandson. As to clearing things out, Roz…I’ll believe it when I see it 😎 But good luck. I have several books on de-cluttering and cleaning, too. Will be glad to loan them to you.
    BTW your link didn’t work as it sent me to something like a 401 “leaving Facebook” (which I’m not on) So glad to be able to outsmart the computer and find this which means I’m still with it.

  • Mister Wonderful

    This is wonderful, but there are actually things that you might not wish to know about me. I actually own a fully-functional JVC cassette deck upon which I can not only play tapes, but clone them as well. I also used to know how to get the plug-in right to I could record LP to tape. Plus this, plus this, I happen to like yr Aunt Freida’s portrait …

  • Carol Cassara

    The reviews on Kondo’s book are rather brutal in terms of its practicality or it usability. I’m always looking for ways to declutter that aren’t a lot of work but discover every time that you just have to do it. I hate that.

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