Much More Than Cleaning

I’m in the middle of a rather large cleaning job in my house right now, and it has truly changed my outlook on life. Well, if it hasn’t exactly changed my outlook on life itself, it’s certainly changed my outlook on the stuff that life contains.

When I describe the project as “rather large,” I’m not exaggerating. I’m following the guidelines in Marie Kondo’s wonderful and extremely popular organizational guidebook, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” I’m not really sure what made me finally read this book, as I had heard about it many times, seen the title on the list of “100 Books to Read Before You Die,” and seen the author listed as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2015. Really? Life-changing magic? Of tidying? Who even uses that word anymore? And how can a cleaning program be so earth shattering that it can land an author on a list like that?

Well, I finally read it, and I put it into practice, and my life has changed.

I have so much. My life is full. I have been surrounded by so much that I’ve been drowning in excess, but now I can see a bit more clearly. I see the abundance in my life. The excess has been replaced by the abundance, and just as I’ve donated and recycled unused power cords and forgotten cosmetics, I’ve started to unearth the simple and powerful things that have been here all along. Things like peace, and confidence, and gratitude.

I don’t need to go into too much detail about the book, because there are literally thousands of blog posts and Facebook support groups and book reviews that cover the book’s recommended practices in great detail. I’ll just share the most impactful areas that have affected me personally.

First, the author recommends that you do this all in one fell swoop. This is the Tidying to End All Tidying. Once you do it, you’ll never have to do it again (though by the end of the process you are well versed in tidying, so you find yourself naturally throwing things out as you no longer need them). I’ve given myself six months, because realistically that’s how much time it takes to go through 37-years worth of stuff that has accumulated in at least a dozen apartments/houses/condos/dorm rooms, especially given the only time to do so is in stolen moments while your 3-year-old “helps.” I’m doing this once. I’m touching every single thing in my house and deciding where it goes once and for all. It’s a lot. But it’s once.

Second, you are to go through items by category, not by room or drawer or closet. It seems counterintuitive at first but then, as you are struck with the visual image of 7 nearly identical long-sleeved “Race for the Cure” t-shirts in one spot, the logic of this tactic becomes clear. I was clearly tempted to save each t-shirt, but since I saved them in various spots around the house (my closet, my “seasonal clothes” basket in the basement, the back of my car, in with the painting clothes and also tucked in with the camping gear), I wasn’t fully aware of the sheer excess that I had. In one room, at one time, I was struck with the excess, and better able to whittle it down. This worked brilliantly for every category of item, not just t-shirts. Embarassingly, our household used to have 16 extra pillows. That’s not a typo. That’s 16. Extra. Pillows. Not decorative throw pillows, either, but actual twin/queen/king sized pillows for beds that we don’t even own. I’m not taking into account the six on our master bed, the two in the boys’ bed, or the four that we keep in our RV.

Clearly, we needed to rid ourselves of some pillows. That’s not the only benefit of looking at items by category, though. It was also very important when we didn’t have the sheer excess. Seeing everything together visually surrounds you with a feeling of abundance. The panicky feeling that can creep in when you start thinking you don’t have enough is abated when you’re presented with clear evidence that you, in fact, do. The panic and doubt is replaced with calm and security. It’s okay to throw away the expired Aspirin. It won’t cause you pain.

Third, you only keep what brings you joy. I know this sounds hokey. I thought so too, at first, and I’m not a girl that shies away from ridiculously cheesey or hokey things, but even I was skeptical. You’re supposed to sit with each individual item, decide if it sparks joy or not, and use that one requirement alone as the basis for saving or tossing each item. I have found this challenging at times, and I’ve seen myself spinning off into a whirlwind of worry when I’ve gotten off track. Last night, I stared at a Sony Walkman for more than 10 minutes wondering if I would ever use it again, or if I could get money selling it, or if my kids would want to see the vintage relic someday or if I needed to use it to hear the mixed tape my high school boyfriend made me. Then I remembered the rule – “Does this spark joy?” No, it doesn’t. I peacefully set it aside, as I have now done for thousands of items in my home.

Setting aside the Sony Walkman brought me joy. The entire process of tidying my home has brought me joy. It’s brought me joy, and abundance, and peace.

As I’ve written before, we have so much stuff. We really do. Our society is a society of excess. We want more money, more time, more food, more vacations, more sleep, more relaxation, more laughter. We want a bigger house, a better car, a better body, whiter teeth, shinier hair, more fashionable clothes, faster internet service, more channels to choose from and a stronger cell phone signal.

All this amassing of stuff and searching for more cannot fulfill us. When we are constantly focused on getting more, we naturally look at what we already have as lacking.

Maybe our culture of excess has resulted in this vague feeling I have that I’m just not good enough.

It’s when we stop trying to amass more that we start seeing that we have enough. That, in fact, we are enough. That’s what I’m doing, when I’m sorting my sock drawer. I’m starting to realize that I am enough. I have enough, and I am enough.

That’s pretty life-changing, indeed.

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