The Life-Changing Magic of Leaving My Stuff Alone

You may remember back in 2014 when Marie “KonMari” Kondo took the world (or at least the US) by storm with her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. For those of us who didn’t bother to read the book (hi!) the one phrase that was everywhere was “spark joy.” As in, you were supposed to look at everything in your house and get rid of the things that didn’t spark joy. Jokes about getting rid of your tax paperwork, cleaning supplies, and spouse abounded. Well, the life-changing magic of tidying up has never really gone away (it’s even been applied to technology and social media), but it’s back in full force now that Netflix has launched Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.

This time, I decided to watch a couple episodes and see what the fuss is all about. Y’all. I’m not a fan. Watching the people on these episodes is like watching families who are one birthday party or gift-giving holiday away from starring on an episode of A&E’s Hoarders. On the first episode, the mom literally tripped and fell into a pile of her kids’ crap because there was so much of it. These people either do not have your average amount of clutter or my family should be proud of (or at least fairly comfortable with) the of the level of clutter we usually find embarrassing. I just didn’t find what I was watching to be relatable. I don’t have nearly as much stuff as these people—so why do I need to be getting rid of it all?

I guess that’s my problem with the whole “KonMari method.” There seems to be an assumption that to declutter I have to “get rid of,” rather than organize; that a mess means I have too much stuff rather than that I don’t have a good system for storing it. The life-changing art of tidying up and its insistence that my things spark joy doesn’t take into account that there’s more than one reason I may own something. (And before we get started making fun of “sparking joy,” I’m 99% sure she doesn’t think that practical tools and home office paperwork need to spark joy. They tend to leave that part out of the shows, but I think it’s a fair statement. I’m talking about clothes, toys, books, decorating items/tchotchkes, and the like here.)

You want to know something weird about me? I have, like, no long-term memory. I don’t remember my wedding, which was seventeen years ago. I don’t remember my college graduation nineteen years ago or getting my master’s degree six years ago. The bigger the event, the less likely I’ll remember it. But if I have a thing to go with the event, I’m more likely to remember, or at least to remember the story of it. So, for example, I have a fairly large collection of jewelry (nothing fancy, don’t get jealous). And each piece goes with an event so that I can remember it. My dresser is pretty cluttered with jewelry boxes and I’d be happy to learn a better way to store that stuff, but it’s not going anywhere—at the same time, not all those pieces go with happy memories, so they most certainly don’t spark joy.

Oh! And here’s one that I bet a lot of us can relate to. Do you have a box of memorabilia from high school or college? When was the last time you looked at it? My husband and I tended to go through our boxes each time we moved until we got down to one box apiece and then we stopped. But now our daughter is really curious about our lives before her. Dad was in the marching band? Mom was a cheerleader? She wants to see pictures! The same is true of our childhood photo albums. What did we look like at her age? What did we look like when we were at summer camp like her? This stuff is just stuff to us and we were keeping it because who throws away their memory boxes? But now I’m glad we didn’t, because our things that didn’t matter to us matter a lot to her right now.

What about the things that decorate our home? My husband and I have very—very—different perspectives on this one. I actively dislike décor items because all they do is collect dust (something I’m reeeeally noticing as I’m getting the house ready for weekend guests), but they definitely spark joy in my husband. In a fight like this one, who wins when the goal is decluttering? Me, because I want the clear, clean space? Or him because these are things that make him happy? Can there really be a winner?

So to Marie Kondo and her many, many fans please keep your hands off my stuff. It may not all spark joy, but I like it just fine.