Monday, August 31, 2015

Clutter and Joy

Ever since Thoreau said “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify” people have been trying to find a way to live with less stuff. My friend Amy is doing the 30 articles of clothing thing – paring down her wardrobe to only the 30 most essential, most often-worn items. Other friends are trying different kinds of minimalist lifestyles, inspired by blogs like Clear Space, Be More With Less, and The Path to Simple. The names differ, but they all encourage living with intention, doing with less, and most importantly, shedding stuff.

Shedding stuff can be hard, but there are many books that offer help in kicking the clutter habit. In the best-selling The Life Changing Power of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo encourages us to purge by category – clothing, household items, heirlooms – and to keep only those things that “spark joy.”  Kondo says it’s easy to discard things if we hold our soon-to-be-jettisoned objects in our hands and thank them for their service.

Using Kondo’s method, I’ve been sorting through and discarding things in preparation for a move. It’s hard work, but as sunlight spreads across empty expanses of countertop and magazine-free coffee table, the incredible lightness of tossing stuff fills me with joy.

So thank you green sweater that looked great in the store but in real-life turns me a truly undesirable shade of unripe banana. Thank you Smoothie Master Elite 2000. I hardly knew ye. Thank you fancy chicken bouillon cubes. You expired on January 28, 2013 and I totally forgot you, pushed back behind the cranberry sauce and Stove Top stuffing. Thank you for letting me pretend that I would cook more from scratch. It was a nice dream while it lasted.

But what about the stuff that I can’t get rid of? The things that I try to toss but never fail to return to the shelf? My ballet books, purchased with babysitting money decades ago. Photo albums, it goes without saying, will always be in the To Keep pile.

Using the Kondo method has helped me discover what things are truly essential. I’d give away everything in my house before I would part with two of my daughters’ craft projects: little flowers and hearts that I put on my refrigerator door so I can see them every day. There are certainly more valuable things in my house, but if there were a fire, these are the things I would save. These little construction paper flowers and hearts spark joy for me.

What sparks joy for you?


  1. My daughter used to write notes to Santa every year. I have these notes in my desk. They will move with me when we leave Northern VA.

    Another joy--Kindle. If I didn't read on my Kindle, I would have no space at all in my house since I read so much. Most readers love to be surrounded by books. I did until my parents died, and my sister and I had to clear their house. That job wasn't fun. Kindle will make that job much easier for my kids. Books are heavy to move and collect dust.

    After attaining a certain age, I know what I need. I've tossed unnecessary appliances. Like my electric can opener, I'd rather use a manual can opener that is small and fits in a drawer rather than have more appliances taking up counter space.

    Framed family pictures and framed needle art (cross-stitch and needlepoint) that I've loved over the years when family members gave them to me as gifts pose more of a problem. I can't throw them away, but I have don't have enough wall space to hang them all. What do you do?

  2. I come from a long line of New England stock – you know the kind who build an extension on the barn each generation to store more “we might need it someday” stuff.

    I do have a sign that reminds me “SIMPLICITY” but it is a constant struggle.

    The problem with stuff is that it takes lots of time to maintain it. Lots of time--otherwise one feels guilty about not maintaining it.

    On the 30 pieces of clothing thing: are we talking tops and bottoms, or are we counting shoes, socks, gloves, hats, scarves? What are the rules?

    ~ Jim

  3. Sometimes I look at things we own and think in amazement, "At some point, each of those was deliberately acquired, either by one of us or as a gift to us." Sometimes it makes me doubt our sanity.

    I know some of the excess possessions are the result of insecurity--remembering times when I wished I had things, like more baby clothes when the ones I had all needed to be washed and the baby was sick and the laundromat a few rainy blocks away.

    I vividly remember a time I was looking through a 75% off clothing rack in a store and found a shirt that would be appropriate for work. Something said to me, "But you have enough shirts for work. You really don't need another one." It was a very freeing revelation to me. For the first time, I realized I could have "enough." I could stop worrying about aspect of my possessions. I have since applied it to other areas, and find I don't acquire nearly so much.

  4. I'm shedding, not accumulating, but it's hard work, especially with the basement filled with my children's stuff.

    I have a friend whose daughter is an artist. They have a standing easel, and rotate her paintings every month.

  5. My favorite word has become re-purposing, which is a fancy way of never getting rid of anything if you can find a new use for it. Hence, all of the curtains in my house are made from vintage tablecloths. My problem is that the people in my family know I like vintage things, so anytime a relative dies, I acquire 600 new doilies.

  6. Hi EB, it's those things with a sentimental attachment that I get stuck on, too. I wish I had an answer to that question!

  7. Hi Jim,
    I saw my minimalist friend the other day and she gave me some clarification. You do get 30 articles of clothing per season and they don't count weather accessories like gloves and snow gear - which you would sure need up north! She said it has worked for her. She assesses the weather, goes to her closet, and picks from what's there. She says it's made her life so much easier. Since I am downsizing, I'm going to give it a go.

  8. Hi Kathleen, Ah, the allure of the 75% off rack! Retailers sure know how we women think. it is nice to get to the point where you can think, Yep, I've got enough.

  9. Margaret, I love the idea of a rotating art collection. And you're right - it's not so much my stuff that is the problem, but my kids's stuff. Now I know why my mom did not exactly enjoy storing my old textbooks for so many years.

  10. Ramona, I love the way you are repurposing. Vintage tablecloths are one of my triggers - along with McCoy pottery - I cannot resist them! Must. Not. Buy. But when someone gifts them, that's a different story. If only I had more storage. Some people - like my mom and Martha Stewart - even make their stored tablecloths look good with organized stacking and folding. Sadly, I did not get the organized stacking and folding gene.

  11. My philosophy now is instead of saving something for a rainy day, give it to somebody who needs it today. It makes giving things away a lot easier. We can either do that or leave the burden to our children, and they won't appreciate that very much. I like the approach of getting rid of anything in your house that doesn't bring a smile to your face. Something with marginal sentimental value--take a picture of it and send it on its way for someone else to enjoy.

  12. Shari, I know I have too much stuff, but what to get rid of??? I don't shop much for anything anymore except food and the necessities. And, of course, books or plants. I'm sentimental about things that have special meanings, and as a book lover, who has books in every room of my house, I only part with those I've read and didn't care enough about the book so I donate it to Goodwill, a local library, or a book store that sells used books. Clothes I don't wear anymore go to Goodwill, and if they're too sorry to donate, they turn into rags.

    Another problem is getting rid of all the stuff I brought home from my 20 years teaching third grade. A lot of it I sold at several garage sales I had, but there is so much out in my garage next to my barn that I think would be good for other teachers, but I think all the interesting books on insects, Native Americans, dinosaurs, etc. with lesson plans and worksheets to copy and print, probably wouldn't appeal to teachers who Google everything. For every subject I taught I had numerous books for children to read, too. As a firm believer in recycling, etc. I can't bring myself to toss any of it in into the trash - not the laminated posters that still look good or any of the books. So for now, my car won't
    be in the garage - hasn't been since I retired in 2006, and will continue to be outside in
    the summer and in the lean to beside the barn in the winter - after all my gardening stuff
    is packed away.

    Probably the major reason I don't go through all the stuff in my attic room, the garage,
    and other places is that it is too time consuming, something that I don't have much of, and would rather spend any free time reading.

  13. As a veteran mover, I can only say I have very few things I am attached to. I have found that the more attached I am to a particular object, the more likely it is to be lost or destroyed in the move. So, I have become a class A discarder. It seems to give my mind a bit more clarity. Besides, my husband is a collector (of everything) and there is only room for one in our family! I like the concept of thanking the object and moving on. I think I'll adopt that.

  14. Pictures are always what get me. But I also still have gymnastics ribbons, trinkets from my high school/college desks, etc. If I toss things, it has to be a true snap judgement!

  15. So funny, Shari! I hadn't heard of the 30 articles of clothing, but moths are doing a good job of helping me get pare down my wardrobe. I don't want to walk around with holes in my shirts.

    I've moved many times and have learned the hard way not to become too attached to things. Although it would be difficult to get rid of old photos, old books/newspapers and art. Especially art made by my family and friends.