“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.
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.