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  • Deborah

My whacky, Japanese-Style, decluttered New Year

According to Marie Kondo, a life is best-lived uncluttered and surrounded only by the things that bring joy. Undeniable, right? Who isn't a neat-freak like me? When a friend showed me this book, I thought to myself, "Rats, I should have written that book!" But, oh no. How wrong I was! Ms. Kondo thinks nothing like me. She's kinda… whacky.

As anyone who's seen my alphabetized spice rack can attest, I'm organized. I believe in storing tax receipts for 7 years, color-coding my t-shirts in rainbow-hue order and using my label-maker to identify the contents of every box stored in my garage.

Ms. Kondo thinks inanimate objects have a calling, the unncessary words on boxes scream out in the silence of the night, and you'll lose weight, embark on a new career, have clearer skin and discover new relationships if you clean out your closet.

Whacky, right?

I wish.

Turns out, being organized isn't the same as being decluttered. And while organization is something at which I've excelled, decluttered living is not. And you know what sucks about this? Ms. Kondo's right. A decluttered life is magic.

The book, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of DeCluttering and Organization" is one of those quiet reads that, at times, feels child-like and self-published. Maybe that's typical of Japanese-to-English translations? But, having read the whole book two weeks ago (yes, you have to read the whole thing), I can attest that it grows on you more each day that passes. It speaks to you like the wisened Zen-master you never had. I hazard to say… it's profound.

As a consummate organizer, I quickly took to Ms. Kondo's general thesis that I could declutter more from my life. I'm a high-achiever. I strive for the 99% -- and who doesn't like to spend Saturday night rolling their socks into sweet-rolls? Plus, I was intrigued by her way of doing it. She asks you to hold up every item (done by category) and ask yourself if the item is either actively useful or "sparks joy". If yes to either question, you keep it. If no, you throw it away. And if you waver in answering the question, you throw it away. It's so simple, I tried it immediately in my closet.

I was shocked how few of my clothes elicited the "Ah, this brings me joy."

Instead, I found myself saying, "Well, this might work one day if…" or "Yeah, I don't love the way I feel in that but.." Ms. Kondo says we keep many things in our lives out of guilt ("It was a gift from my mother," or " It's still in good condition") even though they don't make us happy. That sweater that makes you feel frumpy? It's cashmere and you got it on sale at Neiman Marcus. It's wasteful to throw it away, right? NO. That's not joy. That's a version of Catholic-guilt. Throw it away!

She also says we shouldn't keep those wishful things (the jeans we hope to fit into again, those cooking magazines we hope to use for dinner some night, those funky shoes we might want to wear to a funky party, should we ever get invited to one). Every day we see those things, they remind us of what we DIDN'T accomplish today. That's like a nagging, negative mother-in-law who hates your guts -- and yet, shadows your every movement in life. Throw those things away! If you're serious about your "dreams to one day be proficient in Italian," then sign up for that Italian class at the Community College. But in the meantime, throw away that Italian textbook you bought at a yard-sale. You can buy a new one on the first day of class. Stop living in the "maybe one day I'll do that" place. Live in the here-and-now. Only surround yourself with things that spark joy in your heart, here-and-now.

And don't EVEN think of keeping that frumpy and kinda-itchy sweater to just "wear around the house." Ms. Kondo laces in to the reader that loungewear-is-loungewear and, why shouldn't you be filled with joy in your loungewear? Ill-fitting shirts, slightly-too-tight pants, a dress that is comfortable enough to sleep in but makes your breasts look like oblong pancakes? No joy. No loungewear. Throw 'em away!

On-and-on she goes, giving advice on how to throw away the things you thought you needed -- or worse, kept because you felt bad about giving it away. She'll even help you say goodbye to those things in the most corny way that "honors" their presence. Seriously, it's so corny (it involves talking to inanimate objects as if they were people)… but more seriously, it alleviates your guilt & lets you release all those things from your life. I'm raised on the East-Coast. It's malarky. But it's brilliant malarky.

Trust me. Everyone needs to try this. Decluttering isn't about your closet. It's about living the true potential of your life.

But how can I be so sure?

Last week, I started "decluttering" my clothes closet, one linen closet and two kitchen shelves. I threw away the 5 pairs of jeans that haven't fit in 2+ years as well as 8 bags of "wishlist" stuff (which included dozens of vases for when I thought I might take up flower-arranging, 4-sets of spare bed linens in case I ever needed to house a displaced family on a moment's notice and too many pairs of shoes that pinched my toes after an hour but hey, if I wore them to a dinner party, I could slip them off under the table).

Since doing this? I've lost 8 pounds, reconnected with two great friends and completed a PowerPoint presentation on which I've procrastinated since December 11th. Those jeans I threw into a bag in the garage? They now fit.

Now, isn't that whacky?

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