A year or so ago, a cousin announced she had read a book that changed her life.   

Her overstocked closet was suddenly rehabbed to the point of minimalism, and out went extraneous sheets, towels, even furniture.  She began giving away her books, of which she had hundreds. Family and friends received tomes with her name penned on the flyleaves along with notes saying something like, “I loved this book so much, I wanted you to have it.”  

 The litmus test for all of her clearing out was this:  “Does whatever it is bring me joy?” If not, it was outta here.

 By now you have probably figured out that my cousin read and was overwhelmed by Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which at this writing sits atop The New York Times’ bestseller list as it has for 68 weeks.  Kondo has more recently followed up with Spark Joy, an illustrated companion on the virtues of tidying up, also a bestseller.

Kondo’s “magic” requires some organizational work.

First, we must inventory our possessions.  

 For someone who lived for decades in a family of five, most of whom are now elsewhere but many of their possessions are still hanging around, the word “inventory” is daunting, perhaps even terrifying.  Kondo obviously understands this, because she suggests inventorying by category, not by room. I take this to mean starting with my clothes, which span all seasons and many sizes. If they were human beings, some have reached legal age to vote. The stern looking and joyless “go to work” suits will be no problem to let go.  As Kondo suggests, I will thank them for jobs well done all those years in long meetings, and off they will go to an organization that provides such clothes to women who need them. Ditto for the well-used towels I just took to the Fayetteville Animal Protection Society, our community’s no-kill shelter, for drying wet critters and bedding.  A family of five with years of summer camp and college generates a lot of towels.

 More problematic, I suspect, are the records of our lives — photographs, Mother’s Day cards, letters from camps and college — although emails can stay around forever, long-ago awards, sweet notes from Valentine’s Day bouquets, holey-but-much-loved yoga pants, and the like.  They carry no actual value but — oh, my! — do they bring joy!

 Unlike my more industrious cousin, I have not actually undertaken Kondo’s daunting process of tidying up, but I am thinking about it as downsizing becomes more appealing.  We Americans are so blessed in so many ways, but we do have too much stuff.  Way too much stuff.

 Kondo offers a tidying-up method in her chapter titles.

 “Why can’t I keep my house in order?” My excuses include the fact that the Precious Jewels — all grownup and long flown the coop, bless their hearts! — still have possessions at Mama’s and Lilly the Lab who is getting messier as she ages. I wonder whether that is true for human beings as well…

 “Finish discarding first.” Kondo recommends doing this “all at once, intensely and completely.” This is where the “sparking joy” standard comes in, and it has got to be harder than she makes it sound. 

In fact, I can hardly bear to think about it.

“Tidying by category works like magic.” This makes sense, but the sheer volume of stuff at chez Dickson makes this directive challenging. For example, Kondo says “place every item of clothing in the house on the floor.”  Since some of my clothes could vote, I am not sure there is enough open space to do this. She also counsels, “downgrading to ‘loungewear’ is taboo.”  In other words, yoga pants cannot be worn 24/7.

“Storing your things to make your life shine.” This seems to be the reward for getting rid of so many belongings. Her tips: “Make the top shelf of your bookcase your personal shrine” and “Decorate your closet with your secret delights.” We all know rewards work better than punishments, so Kondo is probably onto something here.

“The magic of tidying dramatically transforms your life.” After all the work of tidying and the trauma of letting go, Kondo assures us that “Being surrounded by things that spark joy makes you happy.”  She also asserts that “Your living space affects your body”— think detox and weight loss. She guards her clients’ privacy but writes that with post-magic tidying, her clients have been transformed. “Their figures are more streamlined, their skin is more radiant, and their eyes shine brighter.”

What’s not to love about that?

I think I am sold — at least on giving tidying up a try and hoping to find the magic.

I am a bit concerned, though, about keeping wine and chocolate in my closet.

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