Another new year, another opportunity to start afresh.....
Every now and then you read a book which contains a truth that had never occurred to you before. It isn't that you were aware of believing one thing and this book tells you you're wrong, it 's more that it makes you aware of what you unconsciously believe and then reveals how wrong you are. And however much you want to hang onto your old assumptions, however distressing it might be to admit that you've got it wrong all these years, what it says is so compellingly accurate that you just can't.
Such a book is The Life-changing Magic of Tidying. By Marie Kondo. A friend told me about it.
If I had seen that book sitting on one of those promotion islands in a bookshop I would have moved straight on. I don't really like tidying. It's one of those things I do out of necessity rather than pleasure, and I would never have imagined that I would a) want to read a book on the subject, when there are so many more interesting books to read or b) that it would contain anything useful that I didn't already know. I mean, tidying, what is there to know? You clear out and put things away. Don't you?
Well yes, that is exactly what you do according to Marie Kondo. You discard and you store. But what I hadn't realised was how ineffective I was at it. It seems that MK made every mistake in the book when it came to tidying, and it turns out I have too.
If I have sparked your interest in the slightest, if your mind has gone to the wardrobe full of clothes you never wear, the drawers that make your heart sink when you open them, the cupboard that you can't open for fear of being hit by items falling off the shelves, or if you simply have the feeling that you would enjoy a spring clean, then I urge you, buy the book.
If you are not remotely interested, and perhaps already have the tidiest, leanest, most beautifully stored set of possessions that you could ever want, there is a surprising principle in this book which extends far beyond personal possessions.
One of the mistakes MK says that most people make is that we tidy by location - ie the kitchen, the bedroom, the odds and ends drawer. Wrong, she says, we should tidy by category. She suggests starting with clothes. So, instead of what most of us do, which is to start with a wardrobe or a set of drawers, and pluck out things that we think we no longer need, she says we should get every bit of clothing we own, from our bedroom, our hall, our shoe rack, our accessory drawer, everywhere, and put them all on the floor. This is the only way you can properly see what you own, she says, and... it is important that you hold each item in your hand.
Now most of us, when it comes to making decisions as to whether we keep or discard an article of clothing, are driven by things like:
- when we last wore it,
- when we are likely to wear it again,
- how much it cost,
- how much we liked it when we bought it,
- how we will feel when we find we need it, at some point in the future, only to realise we've thrown it.
- how much sentimental value we place on it
None of this works, says MK. You just end up keeping far too many things that you never wear and that only serve to clutter up your valuable space. She has a much simpler method - hold it in your hand, she says, and ask this simple question,
Does it spark joy?
If you're like me you may feel a little dumb-founded by this, and perhaps worried. What kind of a method is this? How can this lead to good decisions?
Isn't this rather frivolous, irresponsible, illogical, possibly wasteful and likely, as in a third glass of wine, to lead to regret? Even if you decide that you might give it a go, you wonder if you will know if something sparks joy (what does that mean exactly?), what you will do if the answer conflicts with one of your other parameters, and where it will all end....
But, trust me, this is the key to it all. Does it spark joy? Does it?
I set aside a day to try MK's method out on my clothes. About an hour after starting, every article of clothing, accessory, footwear, underwear, belt, scarf, handbag I owned was spread out in a terrifying array on my bed. There were the shoes that I hadn't worn for about ten years, but kept because I liked them and was sure they would be perfect for.... for what? I can't remember. There was the summer skirt I bought that I never felt quite right in, but had only worn twice, and would probably wear again one day. There was an unworn shirt of the kind I never wear, but thought it a good idea at the time I bought it. The label still on it. There were once-favourite pieces of clothing which I hadn't worn for a half a century.
Once I had them all out I started to choose. I held a t-shirt in my right hand and asked myself, does this spark joy? All kinds of thoughts crowded in about the t-shirt, how often I wore it, what kind of condition it was in, how long I'd had it and so on, but I put them to one side, held the item and just waited to see how I felt about it. Nothing happened. Just dullness. I picked up another shirt. I waited. More dullness. I picked up a cream cashmere jumper. I waited. A pleasant feeling started to arise within, subtle at first, then growing. Joy! Most definitely joy! I smiled. I picked up a pair of burgundy trousers. More joy! I speeded up. The ones that went 'thud' went into bags, the ones that sparked joy went into the 'keep pile'.
I was going to say 'before long', but in fact the whole process of choosing took me all day, and once that was done it took another half day to dispose of the 'unwanted' bags to charity shops and bins, and an hour or two to store my joyful clothes in drawers and cupboards.
I was exhausted. I was exhilarated. And I was delighted.
Because this is what I now have:
I open my wardrobe and there are rows of clothes that I love. Because they aren't crowded and are hung by category and colour, I can see every item at a glance.
I open my sock drawer and every pair of joyful socks is neatly folded, sorted by colour and stacked vertically, and so that, again, I can see every pair that I own.
I open another drawer and all my joyful tops are neatly folded and stacked vertically so that I can see them all.
I open another and there are my scarves, which used to be draped in their dozens over hangers, neatly folded and stacked vertically.
You may, as my daughters have done, feel worried. This is a clear case of incitement to obsessive compulsiveness, you may think, and this Marie Kondo should be locked up. Indeed I had concerns myself. But the thing is that now I've done it I just don't care what other people think, or even what I think, about this level of tidiness. And the reason - because it brings me joy! Every time I open a cupboard or drawer I feel joy. Every time I see the space and the order inside it fills me with good feelings about myself. And every time I think of my cupboards and drawers and shoe rack and cloakroom it has a truly settling effect on my mind. It is as though by tidying up my environment I have tidied my mind. By discarding all the things that no longer bring me joy, I have discarded those feelings too.
When you have this experience it is only a step or two to wondering how this method might be applied to other areas of life. Indeed MK says that some of her clients have moved on from the things in their environment to the people - some spouses, for example, have been found lacking in the 'does it spark joy?' department and have joined their companions on the 'discard pile'. So I was not wrong when I asked the question, early on, 'where will it all end?'
1. If there was an area in your life that could do with a good tidy, what might it be? In addition to your possessions, here are some ideas:
Activities, work, thoughts and reactions, money, furnishings, people
2. If you choose your possessions I do recommend buying the book as there are all manner of gems in there. Otherwise, choose another area of your life and, if appropriate, make a list of everything in that category.
If you choose activities, for example, have a look in your diary to see how you spend your time, think about all the things you've done in the last few days, think about the regular meetings, classes, jobs etc that you attend. For each one ask, does it spark joy? If it does, great. If it doesn't, consider why you do this thing and consider changing what you do, or how you do it, or stopping altogether. You may notice that objections to this method arise in the form of other compelling criteria such as the ones that people use to decide whether to keep items of clothing or not, see above. Don't let them deter you from this frank appraisal.
The same can be done with thoughts. Keep a thought diary for a few days. For each entry write down:
The situation or trigger:
eg my brother forgot my birthday
Your thoughts about it:
He always forgets, he just doesn't care
Ask, does this thought spark joy?
Situation/trigger: seeing my old friend
Your thoughts: I love this person so much
Does this thought spark joy?
What you will find, if you keep this record, is that patterns emerge. There are thoughts that you have regularly, some which spark joy and some which don't. Some which don't may be new and need looking at. In which case they may well spark joy eventually. But others will be the same old negative thoughts, again and again. About work, about people in your life, about aches and pains. Once you see them for what they are you can exert choice. Tired old thoughts that don't spark joy are like an old stained t-shirt, the only place for them is the bin. And when you make that choice, again and again, space opens up for different ones, more interesting ones, joyful ones.
One thought we all have from time to time is, I'm going to die. This tends to spark fear. Fear makes our bodies contract, our lives small, and our hearts close. Another thought we may have is 'This life is precious.' It may spark joy. If both are true, that we are going to die and that life, if only for that reason, is precious, why would we choose to have anything in our lives that does not spark joy? Why would we?
Have a joyful week!
Anita Which part of your life needs a good tidy?