I think people are missing the point of Marie Kondo’s book. The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up came out nary a year ago and unleashed a flurry of gushing testimonials and a smaller but not insignificant collective eye-roll. The point is not to have less for the sake of less, to get on some smug millennial “I’ve figured out the secret to happiness” high horse. The point is to keep the things you like.
I think most people’s homes are full of crap. But that’s because it’s not my crap. I don’t know what value it has or doesn’t have. Of course, people accumulate years worth of junk because on some level, we buy into other people’s value systems that say “you need this! You need this! You need this!” But feeling like you have to chuck it all, as if not owning things is some default moral good, is—guess what— just another way of superimposing someone else’s values onto your own. That is not really useful.
If any decluttering program is going to have any value to you whatsoever, it has to be based on your values, not some Elite Daily bullshit guru’s. On the one hand, it sucks to feel overwhelmed by stuff you don’t want. On the other hand, it sucks to feel bad about yourself for having things. While it may sound obvious, it’s your home. It should feel like your home. It should support you in the things you want to do. This, to me, is what makes Kondo’s book special. Shinto animism aside, your gut won’t lie to you about what you actually value.
If you need to build yourself a nest of first edition books and yard-sale pottery, DO IT. If you need an apartment that feels like a contemporary art museum where your thoughts are free to echo in the chasm surrounding a half-dozen carefully selected objects, DO IT. If you need to live in a tree, DO IT. If you don’t f*cking care, GOOD.
A few years ago, I went through a major stuff-related guilt trip. I felt downright shameful at the thought of having too many things. Aghast at the error of my free-spending ways! Guilt seeks punishment, and thus began many apartment purges and trips to Goodwill. As it turns out, depending on where you are emotionally, decluttering can be a very soothing, liberating activity, or it can be a cleverly disguised form of self-flagellation. If you decide to do a declutter, let it be an exercise in being honest with yourself, not beating yourself up.
One trend that concerns me is that having the ultimate, consecrated pristine home is just another item to pile on top of all of the other things you have to do as a young person with an internet connection. You know, once you make your daily Soylent green smoothie and get back from two hours of CrossFit or whatever it is you’re supposed to do to be merely adequate in the world, who the hell knows. If you’re not performing a daily tea ceremony off a spotless floor, I guess you can just resign yourself to never actually becoming an adult. You can continue to slink through life as a kind of wretched impostor teenager, dreaming of actualization while a single tear falls into your coffee mug full of Lucky Charms. I guess.
Jesus. Sometimes I hate the world. But you know what I don’t hate? Everything in my apartment, because I liked it and decided to keep it. Truth be told, I really do still love a good clean out, but only because I don’t feel bad about it anymore! Do I need 20 kinds of tea? No! But I like tea! I will never use this samovar, but I like looking at it because it reminds me of my mom! I also like these fake flowers and Christmas lights and Sailor Moon box set and this lamp from Ikea that glows in the dark and looks like a giant pear! Hooray! I never wear these little Korean stick perfumes, but they look like tiny people in bunny suits and that makes me smile. I will never read this Soviet history book again, but looking at it reminds me of the good parts of college.
Honestly, I love Marie Kondo (and Karen Kingston and her team of Feng Shui genies). I hate it that people feel down on themselves for not living in Pinterest-ready homes. But God almighty does it feel good to let go of the stuff that amplifies your guilt—guilt about other things, not about having stuff to begin with. Perhaps the good lord will strike me down, but I recycled my beaten up study bible from high school that filled me with a sense of failure and dread whenever I saw it. When I got rid of letters, cards, mix CDs, and gifts from a nasty ex-boyfriend, I felt like a f*cking exorcism had been performed. Over the winter holidays, my sister and I gave our rooms at our father’s house the Kondo treatment, and it took a while, but it was a huge relief. Bad experiences from the past have their value, but there’s no need to constantly dwell on them and look at their remains. You don’t have to hang on to the dross of bad memories in order to grow from them. Having the time to clean and declutter is a gift, to be sure, but there’s something meaningful about being able to sort through the material side of your life and actively choose what matters to you and what you consciously want to let go of. Having more space and being able to move more easily are also worthy bonuses.
I am firmly on team declutter. But I will never be on team “make your life look perfect because the f*cking internet.” If you’re thinking about decluttering, go for it. Or don’t. Do whatever you need to do. The only real value in decluttering is gaining clarity on what is meaningful to you.