First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.
Sure, I heard the evangelical call of only keeping things that “spark joy,” the crusade that inspired my daughter to hop onto Marie Kondo’s decluttering bandwagon. I marvelled at the neatness of her home. And yet, I didn’t feel the need to accept Marie’s life-changing magic.
Then Netflix posted eight episodes of Tidying Up, the Japanese organizing consultant’s TV show. Although I learned more about this diminutive diva who as a child organized bookshelves at recess instead of playing with classmates, I dismissed her KonMari Method and its decluttering frenzy.
Three weeks later, on a miserably cold Friday, Netflix seduces me. I watch as Kondo and her cheerful interpreter enter clutter-filled Californian homes and guide owners toward a minimalist lifestyle. The first episode, Tidying with Toddlers, fails to engage me. Episode two, Empty Nesters, should be in my wheelhouse, but the retired couple’s hysterical consumerism repels me. Why buy mountains of Christmas decorations including an intimidating army of nutcrackers? As the owner proclaims, “enough for a retail store.”
Blaming the polar vortex, I binge watch four more episodes. And despite professing indifference to the craze, I begin to compile detailed handwritten notes.
I remain reluctant to worship at the foot of the KonMari throne until I need to don a warm winter hat. I scurry upstairs to find one. Yanking open a dresser drawer, I heap a plethora of items onto the bedroom floor. Summer stuff enmeshed with winter things; a mass of tangled scarves; intertwined pantyhose; unmatched mittens; plump cotton and woollen hiking socks; a pair of ancient orthotics; and an array of travel necessities, including two sets of plugs for every country and continent.
Success! I unearth a black Roots tuque purchased in support of our 2002 winter Olympians in Salt Lake City. No, too scruffy. Then I discover the chic red wool cloche acquired during a glacial visit to the Niagara Icewine Festival. Chic, yes. Warm, no. Where is that toasty white Columbia tuque? I try the bottom drawer. It, too, contains mounds of long-forgotten and rarely used items, but delivers the tuque.
And I realize it’s time to practise the art of KonMari. I review my notes. I study Kondo’s YouTube tutorials. One must tidy by category, not location and each of the five categories must be conquered in a precise order: clothing, books, papers, komono (miscellany) and, lastly, sentimental items. I learn how to fold trousers, T‑shirts, sweaters, socks, undies, bras (I only have two), and how to use boxes to store similar items together.
Kondo’s multimillion dollar corporation makes pricey pastel-coloured storage boxes to create compartments within drawers. I scrutinize Amazon for inexpensive alternatives. After measuring my bedroom’s 12 drawers and shelves, I create paper templates to determine which ones to order. Within days, I welcome 33 boxes, about 10 too many.
Snubbing the prescribed KonMari Method of decluttering clothing first, I purge my jumbled drawers and shelves. I do not touch each item or ask if it "sparks joy," nor do I thank unloved items for sharing time with me. Things are useful or not. I do not need seven pairs of worn pantyhose.
My undies and socks love their new accommodations. Summer things divorce winter things and both emerge to enjoy togetherness with their peers. Scarves, gloves, chubby hiking socks and travel gear each share a box with their fellows. During the reorganization, my vintage Lady Buxton jewellery box loses its prime location in a dresser drawer. Its frayed cream-coloured leather edges expose stuffing and a wooden frame. Although its shabby blue velvet interior reveals decades of use, I regret dispatching this Canadian-made object to the local landfill. Its modern Chinese-made replacement implores me to transfer treasures into it.
My focus shifts to the bedroom linen closet. A large crimson suitcase with unknown exterior stains is doomed, but its accompanying duffle bag will live to find a new home. Two twin bedding sets will go,and, yet, I cannot part with two sets of underused queen-size flannel.
Next, I attack clothing. My flowchart is straightforward. Does it fit, feel comfortable and look good? If yes, keep. If no, discard. The survivors snuggle into dedicated storage areas.
Last week, the first bag of broken and useless objects disappeared into a florescent-green garbage truck. The filthy suitcase won a temporary reprieve because of a mountain of snow out front. Two bags of clothing, folded the KonMari way, await pickup by a charity. Sheets, sheers, tablecloths, a mattress pad and pillow protector lounge atop the guestroom bed hoping a family member adopts them. My bedroom has been Kondoized.
But wait! The ottoman beckons from the foot of my bed. I lift its beige damask-covered lid and expose my too-tight MEC rain pants and gaiters. Beneath the rain gear, a treasure trove of eclectic items awaits: Chum Charts from the late 1950s listing the top 50 hit parade tunes; my Grade 8 geography and history notebooks written with a pen dipped in an inkwell; Halloween decorations; and a baggie containing crokinole rules and 24 small polished wooden disks.
Suddenly, I freeze. I reach down to pick up my husband’s black leather jewellery box. I hesitate, then open it to release suppressed memories. As my fingers trace the top of Gord’s elegant pewter cufflinks, I imagine standing in front of the glass counter where I chose them for him almost 50 years ago. I open a small turquoise box with the label “Tennis Doubles,” and rediscover the medal he won in university. I time-travel back to the tennis courts in High Park where we met for the first time. He was my instructor, and I was his energetic albeit inept tennis student.
Fourteen years without him seems like forever.
I broke Kondo’s rule of focusing too soon on emotionally laden items, and I hit the decluttering wall. Perhaps life-changing magic only occurs when you follow all the rules.
Gina Clark lives in Toronto