Tidying: It Really Is Life-Changing!

IMG_7375This picture is a treasure, showcasing a hard-working crew of movers who helped my parents move this fall. The story behind the move is a combination of a few films: suspense, horror, and miraculous supernatural thriller. We’re starting to have “normal” days after our life-changing moves, but we are so grateful to have made the big changes our family needed before a crisis forced a much different outcome. The very day I moved to my new hometown and a new apartment, beginning law school orientation, my parents sold their house. The Kon-Mari Method was a key catalyst in helping our family navigate a challenging year with huge changes in location and lifestyle, and allowed me to keep my sanity as I moved into a 900- square foot apartment and started graduate school.

I can now say the tools I learned from Marie Kondo and her book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying-Up”, changed not only my life for the better when I used the method to tidy my possessions, but my parents’ lives as well. We have always been a close family with diverse and creative interests- art, home maintenance, sports, reading, gardening, and cooking, to name a few. Each of these passions and interests led to items accumulating, some which we never used or just gathered dust as interests and times changed. Add to the fact that my Dad was an archivist and I am an amateur historian, everything from our dog’s baby teeth to orange crates full of family photos spanning 100 years were things we simply lived with. My childhood home had become chockablock full of stuff. We also inherited a large amount of items from my grandmother, from furniture to china to newspaper clippings and mementos. We couldn’t bear to part with anything, but we had so much we could often not even access or enjoy what we wanted to use. I dreaded opening doors or closets, knowing the stuff that would tumble out. We weren’t hoarders per se (everything looked neat on the surface!) but we had so much room and so many things, that it became overwhelming.

I was a huge offender, storing lots of items right in my childhood bedroom until Marie’s book called me out on my misdeeds! Three generations worth of things- furniture, collectibles, toys, music, sports equipment, books, clothing, household goods- you name it, we had it. We had as a family made efforts at reducing the items in the house over the years but what we lacked was the clear impetus and initiative to truly clear out the sheer mass of items. It had become a heavy weight on our spirits, and I think we felt trapped. My mother had been a minimalist before the name existed- but my Dad and I were partners in crime with our towers of stuff and stuffed drawers and closets.

Unfortunately, the impetus came from a critical situation with my mother’s health. After she suffered a particularly serious health crisis this spring, it became clear that keeping the family home- a 60 year-old, 2,500 square foot, three-story house in snow country, without a master bedroom on the ground floor- was impractical and bordering on dangerous. The impetus was there- but the efforts to get the house ready for sale, move 150 miles away, and pare the home goods to a lean collection of necessities- proved to be the most challenging KonMari tidying project I have ever embarked on. In the end we applied the KonMari principles and five categories to every nook and cranny of the house, day after day, relentlessly. For months. That meant 25 or so trips to the county dump by my Dad, two 1-800-GOT-JUNK truck pickups, and three dumpsters parked in front of the house over the summer. The expenses to arrange for pickup of junk was close to $3,000.00, with my Dad and a couple of his graduate students providing 90% of the muscle for the remainder of the disposal process.

My Dad provided the muscle, and Marie Kondo provided the framework. The terrifying truth was that the amount of stuff we had was holding up a necessary move. It became a barrier to freedom of choice and flexibility. The things which we were attached to were providing a nearly insurmountable obstacle to a critical new chapter in my parents’ life. It would not be an understatement to say all that stuff was life-threatening.

That magical question: “Does this spark joy?” became the way out of our maze of morass. It was on our lips every day, and when we could see the piles of stuff growing that we could thank and say good-bye to, I think our hearts lifted daily. My mother, as ill as she is, even got involved. My favorite moment was helping her with bedroom drawers, which were filled with her things  I pulled out a recorder, a handcrafted Austrian wooden musical instrument she had painstakingly learned to play decades before, with skill and precision but also a great deal of frustration. I asked Marie Kondo’s magical question aloud: “Does this spark joy for you, Mom?” The look on her face said it all. “I never want to see that again.” Bingo. You know the answer if you ask the question.

The Kon-Mari method came into our family’s lives at a critical juncture full of changes. I’m not certain if we would be in our current situations- my mom enjoying every day in a sunny and warm climate with nary a snowflake in sight, my Dad re-energizing his life by moving back to his hometown, and me pursuing my long-held goal of attending law school- without the Japanese organizer Marie Kondo. She truly “Sparks Joy” for our family!