Hide the Junk: Organizing versus Tidying

Along with the Marie Kondo books, my husband decided to get me a book called “The Complete Book of Home Organization” by Toni Hammersley. I probably wouldn’t have bothered with this one, and as attractive a book as it is, I’m going to say it’s pretty useless. I’d sum it up as “how to organize all that junk for only $40,000!” It is just the sort of “technique” that we’ve all tried and failed at – organizing “zones” and renovating closets (for those who have the money for such things) – yet mysteriously still live in chaos. It doesn’t matter how many attractive rattan baskets you buy for $50 a piece, you won’t get anywhere with this never ending game of “hide the junk” that is like a lifelong game of domestic whack-a-mole. This will have me wanting to make a bonfire of my stuff just to be done with it. Not very enjoyable or useful.

On the other hand, the criticism I’ve seen of the KonMari Method inevitably comes across as negative and defensive, exaggerating to the point of absurdity in an attempt to be funny, and what is known in certain circles as “junkie mentality”. That is, a particular sort of excuse making to avoid dealing with the reality of the emotional/habit basis of an addiction; in this case, the holding onto stuff as either an unhealthy attachment to the past, or fear of the future.

In Zen, the aim is to free one’s self of attachments. It can sound extreme to the western mind as it is applied to everything, including your own children, but it does not mean one becomes indifferent, though it may sound this way on the surface. Kondo’s idea of treating your things as though they were sentient seems to contradict this while at the same time advocating many Zen principles. In Christian terms, it might be seen as making an idol of your stuff. Yet it paradoxically has the opposite effect. When we can’t let things go, we have become overly attached to them. It is the unhealthy clinging sort of attachment. If we have respect for things (and people), we will not cling so hard. Thus, by treating our things with respect, thanking them for their service when we let them go, we do not become indifferent or clingy, but caring and able to let go when it is time.

In one of her books Marie Kondo proposes asking ourselves, when we are finding it hard to decide whether or not to keep something, if our hesitance is due to attachment to the past or fear for the future. When I read that, a light went on. Most of what we hang onto is due to one of these emotions, and identifying it makes it easier to deal with it since we now know why we still have that one item that has traveled the world with us yet we’ve never actually used it (yes, I’m talking to me here). A fear of letting go of the past, or a fear of the future (“I might need it one day!”) keeps us from living now. We live in a physical reality and that physical reality – what we choose to surround ourselves with – reflects our mental, spiritual and emotional reality. The latter can easily become a prison of sorts. Dramatic as it may sound, facing it and dealing with it can be almost like a prison break.

To bring this back around to Hammersley’s book, think about what it represents to hide all your junk and clutter in pretty boxes with labels on them. It may look prettier, but is it actually better than the hoarder with piles of things all over his house? I always think of lines from songs that sum it up in one way or another, and this time I think of a Tom Petty song, “Change of Heart”, in which there is the line, “I’ve stood in your gallery; I’ve seen what’s hanging on the walls.” Ah, the house as a gallery of the mind! The metaphor is true because it is easy to envision.

A life of kitchen islands, massive closets, and endless space for cube shelves with lovely baskets is not how the average person lives. This is not even an option for me and it’s not an option for most people, given all the storage equipment and renovations needed. It is much simpler (and cheaper) to use what you have and discard what doesn’t spark joy. One might wonder at the idea of hiring a consultant to help tidy up, but the cost of this is a lot less than the cost of storage and constant acquisition. I think in the long run and even in the short run, if someone is really struggling with this, it is most cost effective to hire professional help. Most people have probably already spent more on storage bins alone. Only you can stop the madness! 😉

The space we have is well below the average and I believe this gives me the opportunity to learn how to live with less and how to make storage as efficient as possible, which I find satisfying in and of itself. It is imperative in a small space to get the clutter under control. A lot of little annoyances can add up quickly if there is nowhere to retreat to. I used to think the idea of a place for everything and everything in its place was too uptight and silly, but without the daily annoyance of sifting through a too full drawer looking for a vegetable peeler or a clothes drawer that is so stuffed it won’t close properly, one inevitably becomes less uptight.

If you have the appearance of tidy but all you’ve done is hide your clutter, the clutter is still there and having its effect. You know it’s there, and every time you open a cupboard you have to look at it. If you have closets like the ones pictured in Hammersley’s book yet still have to, as she suggests you do, stow away seasonal clothes and swap them out twice a year, you definitely have way too much stuff.

While I’m not down to what qualifies as a “capsule wardrobe” with around 50 separate items of clothing (exclusive of underwear, shoes and socks) that I have out, and probably around 20 to 30 or so in bins (mostly sweaters and winter wear like turtlenecks – I live in Minnesota), this feels like a good amount for me and I will probably whittle it down some more as I wear things and realize I don’t like them as much as I thought. It does feel better even though it’s all out of sight. “Out of sight out of mind” is a fallacy, and one that is embraced wholeheartedly in Toni Hammersley’s book and rejected outright by Marie Kondo. I know which philosophy I prefer.

Yet, I must acknowledge that Hammersley’s very pretty book has not been totally useless, as I would not have written this post or given as much thought to organizing versus tidying. Once we have tidied, organizing becomes a less daunting task, which is why Kondo advocates for discarding first, organizing second. I made the mistake of trying to organize as I tidied and it’s just too much work and I painted myself into a corner. It is really that much worse to try to organize without the crucial first step of discarding.

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7 thoughts on “Hide the Junk: Organizing versus Tidying

  1. As an example of examining yourself… Today I did (what’s left of) my books. As with all my things, those have been whittled down fairly recently so I didn’t have tons, but even so, I had a good number that were about things I just don’t care about anymore. Once I fancied being a sort of scholar with a nice library and all that, and certain books kind of represent a clinging to that long dead dream. Time to give it a proper burial and move on.

    And it’s a lot for me to stop making an idol of books. They’re just books. They do no good just hanging out on the shelf for decades.

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  2. I have completely embraced the difference between organizing and tidying, but getting to the place where the stuff is gone (and not replaced with other stuff!) is a slog, a journey, a headache. LOL.

    Not because I am attached to a lot of things, and not even necessarily that the others in our house are attached to a lot of things. A large portion of the issue is the sheer number or people in here.

    Take the kitchen, for instance.It’s MY kitchen, so to speak. (That’s not a statement of dominion over the man in this space, for the lurkers. He GAVE me the kitchen).

    But there are other women who cook in here who all have a couple of things they like. One likes her mini butter churner. And her professional grade stand mixer.

    Another likes the stuff that makes for an interesting drink concoction. Hand juicer (and big juicer) for instance.

    One thing I am working on is my clothes. THAT I can address, but even that I have to address through the prism of, “My husband likes to see me in a variety of things.” So a standard uniform or wardrobe that doesn’t allow for mix-up or a different item from time to time is not feasible.

    I am getting better though. Not sure if I will ever be able to actually execute the Kon Mari method to its fullness, but I am getting my peeps to embrace the importance of getting rid of *stuff*. I’ll consider that a good start for now.

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  3. So yesterday, we pulled EVERYTHING from the two youngest kids’ room. Clothes, toys, trinkets, the whole nine. We are going to paint the room so it has to be emptied. I figure, “Perfect time to purge this room of all this crap.”

    9-year-old was completely on board. 10-year-old is fighting me tooth and nail every step of the way. There is still too much left. So today, I am going to free them from *having* to assist, let them go out and play till the heart’s content, and purge further.

    The interesting thing about this exercise is that every. single. time. that I do it, no one misses most of what’s missing. I got rid of about 8 board games a month ago. How many people do you think have noticed that they are gone?

    If you guessed zero, you’d be correct.

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  4. Exactly! Lol In some cases you’re better off not telling people. It’s a great lesson for kids if they’re on board, but I’ve purged my kids’ stuff without them noticing too. All they noticed was how much nicer their room looked.

    I have a box labeled “games no one plays” lol. That’s communal stuff though, so I’ll just leave it for now while I deal with my own stuff. 😉

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  5. Now I’ve had coffee… This isn’t the sort of thing I’d normally go in for, but it really resonates in a way others – like flylady, and whoever else – don’t for me. I think because there is some philosophy behind it rather than it being simply a technique. I suppose this would make a good topic for another post but I don’t know if I’ll have time today and this can either serve as a note to self, or the TL;DR important bit so there’s no great need for a whole post. 😉

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