okay, clothes, line up HERE, shirts to the right, coats to the left...

I opened Blogger with my usual good intentions; I planned to do a post on decluttering, because I'm not a fan.

As newly-weds, we lived upstairs from Sally and Andrei, the minimalists. To them, not having things was a religion. Andrei had 3 shirts, 3 shorts - wearing, ready, in the wash. Sally, a nurse, had 3 uniforms, same rotation. They proudly refused to own a television.  I pictured them listening to other people's radios, leaning against a wall with jelly glasses at their ears. They seemed admirable, as people with strong but irrational principles often can. Their apartment always looked like they'd just moved out in a hurry. I liked them but I also found them scary.

We on the other hand, had two people's books, dictionaries, grammars, mysteries, biographies; two people's albums (I had better blues and jazz, he had more classical); two people's gadgets; two people's clothes; two people's suitcases - you get it.

We had Wedding Presents. When the thank-you notes were finished, we tried to return things, until we ran into one of my aunts in Bloomingdale's, and we had to buy napkins to go with the awful tablecloth we'd brought in to return. After that, we even hung on to the re-gifted things because the stories of finding two or three previous gift cards in the tissue paper never wore out. He would sneak small tributes from my relatives into a briefcase when he left before me in the morning, I would hide away baroque objets from his relatives to be disposed of if he hadn't noticed after a few weeks... slow and ineffective.

Then there were kids. You don't just have a kid, oh how cute, oh look a smile. Oh no. You become a warehouse of Stuff. Which the kid outgrows - so the Stuff is given away, or held onto and cherished (but it was her first Wabbit!) - or if another pregnancy looms, you store. And of course you get more Child Stuff.

As time passed, we learned what it means to your stuff and storage space to be an Only Child (Himself) or an Alternating Good Daughter (me - or my only and beloved sister, we took turns). Stuff arrives. MIL enters a nursing home, and a sterling service for 12 arrives, including serving pieces for who knows what, although the spring-loaded pickle fork is a hoot - I might have been thrilled to have that in the days when we had dinner parties for the older generation at his firm. Now it's oxidizing in its felt wrappers, and people entertain us by taking us to noisy wine bars. I used to swear I wouldn't have Royal Crown Derby in the house. Earlier, I used to swear I wouldn't have a house.

I'm suspicious of donating. Some of my unworn NEW J.Crew things were rejected by a local thrift shop - you know, the one with the catchy motto: Bringing Airs and Graces to the Probably Undeserving Middle Class?

Goodwill once made pick-ups at your home, you called them and a truck arrived, driven carefully and courteously, no doubt by one of the Deserving.  St Vincent dePaul volunteers would not only come to the house but would pray for you or your intention (please don't let any of this stuff come back). It seems now that you make an appointment and your stuff is interviewed by the suspicious mothers of the gifted and entitled.
there are no garage sales on Park Avenue
So I like many others was curious to see what Marie Kondo had to say to me. As it turns out, not much. Different lives, different stuff, different climates.

And here is where my post basically stops, because here is a link to the last word on decluttering by a Real Person who actually Has A Life.  Another case of my computer anticipating my thoughts and wishes.

Lisa Miller, who I have decided must be a long-lost member of my very own family, or Himself's, because she is clearly more than just some Random Genius - confronts the spiritual dimension of decluttering as expatiated by Marie Kondo - disposing of things because they do not bring joy to the soul. She goes right to the heart of that proposition: things are not meant to bring joy to the soul.

Here's a quote, but she has a lot more to say.

  • This is a belief system handed down by Depression-era parents or parents who were raised by Depression-era parents - my insert - who teach that objects have value because you bought them with your own hard-earned money or acquired them through fate or some stroke of savvy, and if they’re not totally broken or torn, their merit is intrinsic. Objects are worthy if they’re useful, and — conversely — a use can be invented or imagined for almost every thing. Thus, to live solely among objects that bring us joy would be a repudiation of everything we ever learned. To toss belongings that, in the lexicon of my family of origin, are “perfectly good” simply because they don’t make you feel a certain way would be a heresy.  
OK, I am totally on board with that. My socks and forks and knives and Stuff are not what is meant to bring joy to my youth, check Psalm 42 if you doubt me on the joy-bringing. I didn't grow up in wartime, but as I've often complained, I did grow up with unreliable utilities. To this day I can identify a long-time resident of the East End by the candles cunningly nestled in the bookcases, on an end table, under the bathroom sink. They are not scented, they are not decorative, they are there for when - not if - the power fails, because we remember times when a power failure could last for days. Hard-core version: there are ice chests out back on the deck.

I really urge you to peruse Lisa Miller's post and then, please, let me know your thoughts.

23 comments:

  1. So with you! Marie did teach me to fold - I seemed to have had a learning disability about that - but the rest? Well I tossed a pot that only one week later would have been perfect for a certain dish. Won't make THAT mistake again... Minimal spaces make me very uncomfortable. I suspect would have been sucked out. I am afraid...

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    1. Oh, yes, I forgot, kitchen stuff. Well, I showed up at my sister's once, and one of her exes was glad to see me, because his contribution to the event was a medium-sized salmon. Fortunately it was dead, but it needed cooking. Sis had recently decluttered her kitchen, a few pots were out on the deck and the rest had been "disappeared." I had to send ex-BIL to a nearby mall with list: dill, white wine, Hennessy XO, butter, lemon, shallots, LARGE POT, tinfoil. Oh, the simple life. The cognac was for the cook, of course.

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  2. I have this book waiting to be cracked open for the first time.

    I thought this line in the article was interesting:
    "There is, in other words, an apocalyptic aspect to the religion of the perfectly good that’s absent in the Kondo way, which might be better characterized as a live-for-now-and-see-what-happens approach to owning stuff. "

    There is definitely a different mindset behind the methods. I think I could stand to tip more in the Kondo method's direction. There is no fear of me ever taking it too far, I'm too much of a perfectly-good type to let that happen!

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    1. if I had to prepare my closets and shelves for every disaster, need, unforeseen guest, I'd beg for a lobotomy. Still, it's relaxing to know that I don't have to do laundry every other day because there are spares and extras. My decluttering, such as it is, occurs when I realize how much it costs to house all this stuff. Yikes!

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  3. I found the first comment to Lisa's article pretty damn funny. So what to keep, what to trash because it does/does not bring me joy. I love my undies...they cover my ass, don't wedge up in my crack. Looks like the bras are going...watch out world, here comes the braless Boobster. I am more about practical. I do need, and love, all twelve wine glasses I own..gotta have back up.

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    1. Yes, back-up is vital to a contented life. And being prepared, we used to say that if people were running through the streets shouting "Flee, flee, it's a tidal wave/earthquake/mudslide/end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it," Mom would say "Oh, I have the perfect outfit, just a second." Now that is back-up.

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    2. Uh oh. I think I have about 40 wine glasses, as I sometimes throw big holiday parties and hate rental glasses. "Hangs head"

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  4. There's so much to say that I don't know where to start..!!!! Love your post and the nymag article. Thing is - it's so complicated. And I don't say that in a way people use that term when the coupe have broken up but are co dependent. The Kondo lady freaks me out and I think the more I see she's made her presence felt in the west she's sctually as much a sociopath as those people on hoarders. Might have to do a post on this soon!

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    1. Hi, Naomi, first thank you for the definition of "complicated," I've been trying to pin it down for a long time but didn't want to ask people exactly what they mean because I felt it would be intrusive or result in me learningTMI.

      My first - and consistent - reactions to Kondo are: (1) her agent is probably working on a TV series (2) for those who live with other people some accretion or accumulation is inevitable, even my old neighbors the Minimalists freaked when Andrei Jr. arrived; (3) too much time spent dwelling on the meaning of material things is just as repugnant as mindlessly accumulating.

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  5. I am the child/grandchild of the depression and laughed out loud at some of the perfectly good justifications. My grandmother had a saying for when they would find a way to stretch food on their farm, you would use everything but the oink. I myself hate leftovers and refuse to eat them for mental reasons I have a hard time articulating to my husband but now it makes perfect sense :-)

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    1. Same feeling about leftovers, and can't bear reading or hearing about "good" recipes for leftovers.
      For apartment dwellers, holding on to things - whether because they're "still good" or "bring me joy although not as much joy as a whopping bonus would because after all they're still just teeshirts" - comes with a measurable real estate cost. I have to take this into account.

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  6. Love her article and I admire the theory of "perfectly good". That lifestyle requires organization and know-how, my own Depression era grandparents kept everything but what a disaster, some people do it well and some turn into filthy hoarders.
    The Kondo thing is very strange indeed, I've tried to formulate how I would write about it as I did read her book and applied some of her principles to my house when we moved back in, post-reno. Discard the paper was a good one, and it did help me donate items that I felt bad about it (that had either been dumped on us or even worse were relics from my husband's first marriage ewww).
    Another tip of hers I did like was to refrain from buying all of the organizing stuff that just creates more clutter, there's a whole huge industry around this: the Container Store etc. I have enough baskets to last me the rest of my days and I've found a place for every item in my house, finally... going forward I am trying not to buy new things unless I'm replacing something and I do have extra items in the kitchen etc, as well as blankets for a power outage, candles, things my kids might need someday for their own homes... Many of the Kondo principles just do not apply to family homes in any way. Or old houses, like she never mentions tools or garden supplies for example.
    Of course pretty items of clothing are another matter and the Kondo method let me keep some things I don't wear, (well that sequin dress does give me joy to see it so I guess I'll keep it!)
    Great post Fred and I really enjoyed that article.

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    1. Ooh, you brought back memories! My MIL freaked out when I tossed the sheets & towels from the Ex, and actually called me to rant. "Perfectly good" is in direct and dangerous opposition to "that's not my monogram."

      Another thought - quite a few people have written on the subject of single women in their 30's, 40's, 50's who are still living in tiny apartments that were meant to be shelter until they got married. The thought and it's a good one (I think) is why come home to a place where every hand-me-down, every discomfort, every sad accommodation (sweaters stored in the oven for instance) is a reminder that you won't deserve a nice home until you find a guy. At some point, you should say this is my life, I own it, and I want a real bathroom and nice towels.

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  7. Love your post and Lisa's. I own the clutter and I can live with it. I don't do minimal. Our daughter lives in Japan in a studio apartment, she can do minimal for me.

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    1. Pretty much my feeling. I like not having to run out and buy things at the last minute - I'm the girl who brought birthday candles to Paris.

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  8. There was an article about her in the WSJ this week, too; I showed it to MLane who commented that, well, she'll never have to work another day in her life, will she? I'm sure she has quite an agent.

    That said, stuff and our relation to it is complicated. I'm just back from Cuba and have been contemplating all week about this place where there is literally almost no stuff to be had. (Also about how we use/misuse freedom, heavy week). I'm more in the camp of perfectly good-we -might-need-this -someday, but, although I have not read this book, I've been trying to deaccession what I don't really love or need. Of course, I love and need all my thousands of books... I think it's too much to emotionally freight objects with
    supplying us joy. I'll never be accused of minimalism.

    We have a drive through Goodwill-- so great to leave stuff and flee. I have a bag of things given to me in the course of my profession I am afraid to bring there as may be recognized by a patron.

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    1. I want and need a drive-thru Goodwill.

      We love our housekeeper - but she grew up under communism and can't dispose of anything. I have learned to do the heavy throwing-out on the days when she's not here. It's too upsetting for her otherwise.

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  9. Oh darn it, I had a witty post all typed up and Blogger ate it. I did read the Kondo book, twice. My first thought is that she had some serious psychological issues. My second thought is that some of this is cultural and doesn't translate. I tried her folding tips-filled a drawer with beautifully folded tees and now there is much more room in my closet.

    For a couple of reasons, her theories won't work for me. Fear for the Future creates a pretty powerful impulse to save. First, what if the apocalypse comes and I need those extra socks because civilization has broken down and I don't know how to knit a new pair? More importantly, the rare phenomenon of Pants that Actually Fit. It's such a rare thing that when I find them and they go on sale, I buy every color plus a back-up or to. And finally, Fear of Being Discontinued. Like those inexpensive Hanes dupes of the DNKY Nudes hosiery. Or my beloved Bath & Body Works Vanilla Noir (which actually smells deliciously grown-up and not like a cheap mall spray). The space under the spare room bed is reserved for my hoard of discontinued favorites.

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    1. Rueful smiles here, Hexicon, I share all of those fears. L'Artisan Parfumeur claims to have brought back my beloved Jour de FĂȘte, but - not. There's a new formulation that goes right to my sinuses. Fortunately I learned of the discontinuation while traveling and came home and bought what may have been the last few bottles in the US. So I see you on pants, hosiery and fragrance, and raise you by - Gap all-cotton hipster panties.

      And while were on the subject of pre-Apocalyptic shopping - several of my secret ingredients have vanished from supermarket shelves.

      I'm predicting we'll see Marie Kondo on HGTV in a year or so. I'll watch once.

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  10. Maybe because I am so busy with work, I don't have time to worry about "stuff"- whether I have too much, too little, the right kind. I don't need one more angst inducing parameter, and don't read self help de-cluttering books for that reason.
    The pendulum has swung here, from my older son asking why we had furniture if no one was ever allowed to use it, to my younger son asking if he could have friends over because there was so much unfolded clean laundry in my family room. In media res.

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    1. Apparently Marie Kondo has already established her empire. We are lost.

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  11. I couldn't do minimal. I did that for a year, when I moved to London with a suitcase and then had to endure student poverty that prevented me from purchasing more clothes. Let me assure you that while everything went with everything else, and I was always appropriately dressed, it was incredibly boring. I was sick of the sight of those clothes by the end of my year away. So I'm afraid I can't do minimalism, it's too boring.

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    1. I agree, I need choices. For so many reasons, mainly the uncertainty of what's next.

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