The life-changing magic of NOT tidying up…
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:
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: