Back Off, Marie Kondo

The life-changing magic of NOT tidying up…

Bear hunting in our neighborhood

I have mild hoarding tendencies—nothing serious, but sometimes I find it difficult to discard items for which there may be some future use. My biggest problem is paper—articles I’ve saved for future reference, notes and handouts from conferences, and scraps on which I’ve scribbled brilliant, budding ideas that I hope will grow into mature, wise, and literate prose. One of my goals during this period of enforced isolation is to tackle the piles and files and miles of paper. I try not to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task, but to devote a certain amount of time each day to purging, sorting, and deciding what stays (and where!) and what goes.

I am frequently reminded of Marie Kondo’s best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I read it when it first came out and was inspired to . . . do very little.

Marie and I would not be friends. While I am sure she is a lovely woman, “tidying up” is not something I aspire to. I have, at times, felt guilt and even remorse over the fact that I sometimes hang onto things long past their usefulness. However, over these last six weeks of state-sanctioned self-quarantine, I have found use for countless items Ms. Kondo would have had me dispose of post-haste.

Stuffed animals: Here in my neighborhood—and in many others across the nation—bear-hunting has become a family pastime. The idea is that families take walks through their neighborhoods and spot stuffed bears or other animals that their neighbors have strategically placed in windows. I take a daily walk and enjoy seeing the creative ways my neighbors have displayed their menageries. Our own display includes a five-foot-tall Bugs Bunny, a portly brown bear I adopted in Boston about 45 years ago, and a fluffy white cat I named Grushenka after a character in a favorite book (for other Brothers Karamazov fans, yes, there is a companion black cat named Dmitri waiting in the wings for Miss G.).

None of our stuffed animals are treasured relics from childhood. I actually had no stuffed animals as a child, which may explain why I was drawn to them as an adult. Marie Kondo would find little justification for keeping these admitted dust collectors for as many years as I have. Yes, they spark joy, but they also take up space and sometimes spark sneezing. However, they have become essential members of our family in quarantine.

Likewise, the collection of bandanas that I have accumulated over a 35-year career, during which I attended countless western-themed conferences, has proved to be invaluable. On those occasions when we venture out—to the grocery store or Costco—we don our bandanas in lieu of the masks that aren’t available and feel at least somewhat protected from the virus. After each wearing, we drop them in a laundry basket for an extra-hot, sudsy wash at week’s end. If we didn’t have bandanas, I have no doubt we’d have come up with something equally utilitarian, but I doubt we’d sport that fetching stagecoach-robber vibe.

Here’s where Marie Kondo and I completely diverge: Books. In her own, Marie stated that she saw no reason for people to keep more than half a dozen books or so (it was at that point that I abandoned all hope for any life-changing magic from Ms. K.). I understand that she has since relented and allowed that some people may want a few more books—perhaps 15 or 20.

Is the woman crazy?

I don’t know how many books we have, but it is well into the thousands. They are my friends, my teachers, my entertainment, my solace, and some of my best memories. Yes, there are many that we no longer need and I now have a good-sized pile of books ready to be donated once libraries and Goodwills reopen. Still, other than mint chocolate chip ice cream, nothing is more essential in a pandemic than books.

Another thing one can do when one has a lot of books—and surplus time—is play the “book-spine” challenge that is going around, wherein you stack books from your own library side-by-side so their titles combine to form a message for our times. I’d like to see Marie Kondo do this:

Or this:

Or this one that I made (it’s harder than it looks—please supply a few missing verbs, connecting words, and punctuation):

If you enjoy these, you can see more here.

I’m a little worried about Marie. If, like the rest of us, she’s hunkering down at home, how is she occupying her time? I hope she’s gathered some books, some huggable toys, a game or two from her childhood, and is sharing them with a loved one. I hope she’s not organizing her sock drawer or alphabetizing her spices.

But, that’s just me . . . .

I could almost be serene, except I just became aware of the fact that the professional qualifications of the man tapped by our president to be the nation’s pandemic taskforce chair consist almost entirely of his many years’ experience as a breeder of Labradoodles.

That, along with so many jaw-dropping moments of this surreal year, reminds me:

Sleep well….





36 thoughts on “Back Off, Marie Kondo

  1. I have felt so lucky to have a wobblingly tall To-Be-Read stack during this stay-at-home time; I am with you on the books. And going to dig out a teddy, and looking to see what my shelves might spell out… This is a rich and lovely post, Donna!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Ha ha Marie Kondo would not make it past any door in my home! I love absolutely everything I’ve collected over the years. I also do a turf and donate of books, clothes etc every now and then. The scraps of papers, note books, pens would cause her to quail let alone a few books here there and everywhere. Also probably about a 1000 on the bookshelves.
    Great post thank you – love those bandanas 😀

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    • Thanks, Susan! I know Marie has a lot of loyal followers and their homes are undoubtedly neater than mine, but sometimes it’s the clutter that makes a house a home (I keep telling myself).

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I have shelves upon shelves of books once read, still cherished. I also have a few stinkers, but I am loathe to get rid of them. Although I’ve donated many books to our community college’s reading library, I still retain hundreds. When I look at them (which is all I do — look), I relive the feelings I had when I read them so long ago. I cannot imagine being “surrounded” by only six books. How sterile!
    Wonderful post, Donna. Your thoughts and mine run parallel when it comes to tidying up.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Kathi! It’s true, sometimes just looking at a book reminds me of where I was when I read it, or what was going on in my life, or how it touched me at that moment in time. Those are memories worth saving … and savoring.


    • Whenever I’m in someone’s home, I gravitate to their bookshelves. It’s always so fascinating to see what people read and save. I hope it’s not snoopy or invasive. I’d never look inside their medicine cabinet … but bookshelves, you bet!


  4. I was always a little underwhelmed by Marie Kondo and her reasoning. I like tidy but not austere which is what I thought she was promoting. I like you calling her out here, and I like your book collection. Plus nice teddies.


    • Austere is a good way to describe it, Ally. I know that appeals to a lot of people, and perhaps I shouldn’t knock it ’til I’ve tried it … but that’s not gonna happen. Thanks!

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  5. Thank you, Donna! It’s so funny to me imagining you saying, “Back off” to her face–not in a mean way, but just the expression. And YES about the books! We went through a few shelves and took a few boxes’ worth of old books to donate, so now I have more space to store all the stacks on my nightstand, dresser, file cabinet, and under my desk! 😀 And thank you for the book spine challenge–I had seen the one image, and not thought of participating myself! Fun! Peace and health to you, friend! 😀

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  6. Minimalism appeals to me, to the degree that less “stuff” in my personal space helps reduce the anxious clutter in my mind. But as a fellow bibliophile, I draw the Kondo line at our overflowing bookshelves. Why settle for a spark of joy with a little coffee-table stack of books? I’d rather a blaze of ecstasy.
    We just watched the documentary “The Booksellers”, a film “for anyone who can still look at a book and see a dream, a magic teleportation device, an object that contains the world.” Isn’t that a splendid definition of a book?
    While I likely won’t live long enough to read what we already own (in addition to all the wonders found in the library stacks — oh, how I’m pining for our beloved library!), we, too, continue to order more books online from our local independent bookseller, from Powell’s, and from Abe Books. And what would we do without friends who share their love of books with us? Thanks for the creative challenge, Donna, and for all the books you’ve shared with me over the years:-)

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    • I love that description of books as “magic teleportation devices,” Kris, and I must say my shelves contain many you have recommended over the years. We, too, are pining for our local libraries to reopen. In the meantime, I’ll check out “The Booksellers.”


  7. A heartwarming tale needed so much at this time! Ah that explains today’s news…it was from the taskforce chair that the person who leads your country learned that injecting yourself with disinfectant was a good idea to beat Covid19!

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  8. It wasn’t a Marie Kondo moment but, last fall, I got rid of some fabric and notions through our area Buy Nothing site. I figured that I hadn’t used them for a long,long time and it was time to pass them on to someone who would make good use of them. Now I would kill to have the yards of elastic I gave away.

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    • Isn’t that always the way, Janis? I attempted to make some masks, and, having no elastic, I cut up old underpants. The result wasn’t quite what I hoped. Hence, the bandanas. Hopefully the persons who got your elastic and fabric have made good use of them.

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  9. Great post and I’m with you! I didn’t read Ms. Kondo’s book and don’t intend to. I know it has been mostly well received, but I have my own ideas about creating magic in my life. I don’t hoard objects, but I do love (I REALLY MEAN LOVE!) my abundant book collection. I also enjoy having various sentimental collections and they bring me joy. Your book spine challenge looks great! And if these aren’t times with “Places That Scare You,” then we aren’t paying attention.

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  10. Thanks, Cheryl. I read Pema Chödrön’s “The Places That Scare You” years ago and loved it. It’s now at the top of my TBR pile for a reread. What could be more timely? Like an idiot, I just reread Albert Camus’ “The Plague,” so I definitely need to counter it with “The Places That Scare You.” After that, maybe some Dr. Seuss?

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  11. I like tidying up, but like you, there are things I just cannot throw away — for the memories they bring.

    And I love that you named a toy cat, Grushenka! I once named our pet cat, Rasky (for Raskolnikov!) We sure are Dostoevsky fans!

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