Stuff 3: Books 5 July 13, 2016

According to an article in the New York Times magazine, Marie Kondo has been in the U.S., whipping up controversy about her KonMarie de-cluttering method. Her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has now sold nearly six million copies, keeping it on the Times best-seller list for almost a year and a half. The article focuses on a trip she made from her native Japan to set up a training program for U.S. organizers, along with the push-back she faced from home-town de-clutterers.

Kondo can obviously draw on legions of acolytes for her new initiative, including one woman quoted in the article who “KonMaried a bad boyfriend. Having tidied everything in her home and finding she still distinctly lacked happiness, she held her boyfriend in her hands, realized he no longer sparked joy and got rid of him.”

Leading me to wonder which part of her boyfriend she held.

Unwanted stuff

Unwanted stuff

Yet according to the article by Taffy Brodesser-Ackner, members of the U.S. National Association of Professional Organizers aren’t impressed with Kondo, who find her methods unrealistic for people with families. They also seem to have a personal hate-on for the tiny, pretty, non-English-speaking Kondo that probably has something to do with book sales, and something more to do with cultural differences, to put it kindly.

To quote a woman interviewed by Brodesser-Ackner, whom I have trouble not calling by the delightful name of Taffy: “’It’s a book if you’re a 20-something Japanese girl and you live at home and you still have a bunch of your Hello Kitty toys and stuff,” another NAPO member told me, which, while not the only thing a professional organizer told me that was tinged with an aggressive xenophobia and racism, is the only one that can run in a New York Times article.”

After exploring the clash, Taffy (I give in) reaches a sensible conclusion: that we all want happier lives and that cleaning our houses by whatever method isn’t going to give us that.

Yet sometimes we have to clean house, and in passing Taffy mentions U.S. personal organizers who have found useful niches, despite the racism that might blight their lives and, more importantly, the lives of people with whom they share a world. There are specialists in closing down social media profiles and retrieving passwords when people die suddenly, and others who help dispose of effects after a parent dies, which I’ve had to do and which was important to me, but which takes time that many people don’t have.

And of course, at heart, Marie Kondo proposes that we spend some time deciding what’s important to us, and we all probably need to keep checking in on that, as long as we don’t get all obsessive about it.

Still, the article leaves out the main problem I’ve found in de-cluttering: how to responsibly shed unnecessary stuff. I don’t mean to criticize the reporter for not writing an article she didn’t set out to write. It’s a good, funny piece and I recommend it.

Yet there’s a connection. I wonder how many of us give up on whatever form of de-cluttering we’ve chosen because it’s so hard to find a new home for things we don’t want anymore, and we know it’s environmentally irresponsible to just chuck them in the garbage. We also feel the pull of nostalgia. Or I do, finding it hard to just toss an item that has meant something to me, however fleetingly.

If I take Marie Kondo’s advice and hold whatever it is in my hand, it looks up at me with invisible pleading puppy dog eyes, and I want to find it a new home where it can be happy, and make people happy. Weird. But I don’t think I’m the only one who feels that, and finds it easier to just shove the whatever-it-is back in the closet and slam the door, hoping it closes.

Which brings me back to books–which to a writer, have the biggest invisible eyes imaginable.