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Sunday, Sep 22, 2019

Tidying Up

Do you want to “Marie Kondo” your life and home? I am not so sure about that…

brunch Updated: Feb 10, 2019 00:22 IST
Seema Goswami
Seema Goswami
Hindustan Times
Japanese tidying expert Marie Kondo says, decluttering your surroundings will automatically declutter your life
Japanese tidying expert Marie Kondo says, decluttering your surroundings will automatically declutter your life(Photo imaging: Parth Garg)

You know what doesn’t “spark joy” in my heart? The thought of emptying out my closets and dumping every item on my bed so that I can touch each of them and see if they “spark joy”. If anything, the very thought of undertaking such an enterprise strikes terror in my heart.

There are many people across the world who have bought into the message of tidying up to “spark joy”

In case you have been living under a rock (or more likely, don’t have a Netflix subscription) this is, apparently, the litmus test to determine whether you should keep an item of clothing or toss it. And while the rest of the world seems to be going a bundle on this method of de-cluttering and tidying up, I can’t help but think that’s too much pressure to put on an inanimate object – let alone its owner.

An outfit can do many things. It can help us project a professional image when we set out to go to work. It can be a marker of our personal style. It can take us from day to evening with a few key changes of accessories.

An outfit can have emotional heft. A pair of skinny jeans that you no longer fit into becomes a talisman of sorts as you promise yourself to go on a diet so that you can wear it again. You may never slip on that short skirt again now that you are past 50; but discarding it seems too much like bidding goodbye to that youthful version of yourself. The saris you inherited from your mom make you tearful rather than joyous; and yet you can’t bear to put them someplace you’ll never see them.

But how many outfits in your wardrobe can really “spark joy”? Maybe I am turning into a crusty old curmudgeon in my middle age, but I can’t summon up that sentiment for more than half a dozen pieces. And all of them are special occasion outfits that have sentimental value to me. I certainly couldn’t devise an everyday wardrobe around these choices.

So, if I went by the “spark joy” motto, I would end up with some beautiful occasionwear that had special meaning for me. But I would have nothing to wear every day as I set out to work.

But that’s not how the new guru of tidying up, Marie Kondo, sees it. According to her, if an item – not just clothing, but any household item ranging from kitchen utensils to decorative items to books – does not “spark joy” when you hold it in your hands, then it is time to let it go. Once you have administered this test to all the stuff in your household you will be left with a pared-down house that is cleaner, tidier and less overwhelming to live in. And while I remain a sceptic, there are many people across the world who have bought into this message.

A tiny doll-like figure with a porcelain complexion and a 1000-watt smile, Kondo is the personification of the tidy houses she likes to create. She embodies the aesthetic of less is more; of pared-down perfection that allows no room for mess and clutter. And it doesn’t exactly hurt that she is from Japan, the land of curated interiors and landscaped exteriors, that exerts a strong hold on the popular imagination with its refined culture and eye for detail.

So, it’s only fitting that Eastern mysticism also plays a part in this de-cluttering process. The “cleaning” sessions begin with Marie leading the residents of the house in an impromptu meditation session in which they thank the house for looking after them. And before you can discard a single item from your household, you have to hold it and thank it for its service over the years.

I am pretty sure that if a new-age American guru from San Francisco tried this, he or she would soon become a figure of fun, but because Marie Kondo carries the weight of Japanese mysticism on her slender shoulders, the entire world seems happy to play along.

But if this was just about tidying our living spaces, throwing out the junk that we all tend to accumulate and hold on to over the years, I could understand the appeal. What I can’t get on board with is the equivalence that is drawn between de-cluttering your space and decompressing your mind.

Kondo maintains that letting go of things and making your surroundings less cluttered will make you feel better about yourself and more in control of your life. That a tidy space will have a calming effect on you and allow you to function better. Declutter your home, she says, and you will automatically declutter your mind.

Well, I have my doubts about that.

I find that it is the people who feel that they have no control over the rest of their life who try and impose some sort of order on their immediate surroundings. They try to create an ordered universe around them precisely because they can’t deal with, or are overwhelmed by, the messy world that exists outside their door. They try and deal with the chaos inside their heads by trying to create order in the physical realm that surrounds them.

The true test of a decluttered mind is that it can exist peacefully with a bit (or a lot) of clutter.

Or, at least, that’s what I tell myself as I sit here, writing this column surrounded by the clutter that I call my life. Marie Kondo would be appalled, but I find that a little bit of a mess makes me feel right at home.

(Journalist and author Seema Goswami has been a columnist with HT Brunch since 2004. )

Spectator appears every fortnight

From HT Brunch, February 10, 2019

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First Published: Feb 09, 2019 20:55 IST