My husband has minimalist tendencies. A few years ago, he started bringing up the idea to me, and I resisted…fiercely.
“Minimalism makes me sad. I don’t want to have the minimum. When it comes to things that make me happy, I want the MAXIMUM!”
He backed off a bit. He gave up on me reading that Marie Kondo book, which frankly sounded batty to me with all the thanking of inanimate objects and throwing out of all your books. But still, I kept finding boxes by the back door full of things he was purging. “Why are MY CUPS in this box? You are NOT ALLOWED to purge things from MY KITCHEN!”
He just kept taking things to donate to the thrift store and mostly left me (and my kitchen) alone.
I should mention that I’m not some kind of major mess. I feel stressed by clutter, and we keep our house pretty picked up. I own a label maker and take great pleasure in using it. I’ve even been known to save little boxes (the boxes from beauty box subscriptions are the best) and use them to corral things in drawers. I discovered Poshmark thanks to my sister and for the past year have been selling clothes I don’t wear much and buying used things that actually do “spark joy” and get worn regularly. But the idea of purging my whole house seemed extreme. Didn’t we just move 3 years ago and get rid of a ton of stuff? Why do that all over again?
But then my Twitter feed was suddenly full of people talking about the Marie Kondo show on Netflix. I was curious. I watched the first episode and wasn’t super hooked. The husband seemed kind of shitty, and the advice seemed pretty basic. Still, I couldn’t deny that Marie wasn’t the strident, judgmental clean freak that she seemed in print. Instead, she’s a joyful Japanese pixie who gently guides people to cleaner habitats. And the show was just boring and soothing enough that it made for good pre-bedtime viewing. I kept watching.
Some of the weirder things made more sense when I could see them in action. For example, at the start of every decluttering, Marie sits on the floor in the family’s house and sort of communes with it. I am sure there is some Japanese cultural stuff I’m missing, but seeing it, as goofy as it was, I realized she was taking a moment to take seriously the way a home feels and to imagine the way it *could* feel. I know that things give me feelings, and science backs up that clutter literally stresses us out, causing our bodies to secrete more of the stress hormone cortisol. It’s not just woo, it’s an actual body response to our environments.
Also, as I watched her help these families, and as I sat astounded that she actually let people keep say, a wall of boxes of stuff, I realized that she wasn’t expecting perfection, just improvement. If something is important to YOU, no one else can tell you to get rid of it. Even if, were it me on that show, I’d be yelling at you that a wall of boxes full of baseball cards is not a good look for your master bedroom, and probably not good for your sleep or sex life.
I could also see the way her weird folding methods make things more visible and accessible in drawers. So I Kondo’d my folded items. I taught my husband how to Kondo his tee shirts. I Kondo’d my kids’ leggings (though I deviated from her folding method, opting for a roll instead for those). I found myself peeking into my drawers throughout the day, just to smile and feel soothed by the tidiness.
And then yesterday my husband didn’t have to go to work until 2, so after we dropped the kids off at school, I turned to him and said, “I think I am ready to Kondo the kitchen.” He gave me some gentle teasing about how he’s been trying to get me on this bandwagon for years. I told him I’m like a dude– you just have to float an idea and then let it rattle around in my brain until I decide it’s MY idea. So, we set to work. EVERYTHING came out of cabinets and drawers, excepting the pantry areas that I had already reorganized recently (I realize this means we weren’t fully following the KonMari Method, but I also let myself eat cheese on Whole30 because I didn’t want to become lactose intolerant. I am not a rule follower). I also said “WE ARE NOT TOUCHING THE SPICE CABINET” to which Jon responded, “OK, but realize you are at about max capacity there.” (Joke’s on him, we cleaned out that cabinet and now I could expand to a whole ‘nother shelf if I wanted.)
It took most of the morning, and I continued putting things away even after Jon went to work, but we purged an 18 gallon tub full of stuff from the kitchen and ended up with a much more useful system of organizing. My miscellaneous baking supplies went from a jumble inside our smallest cabinet to an organized, easy to see arrangement where the drinking glasses used to be. The kids’ water bottles ended up in a deep drawer where they can reach them for themselves and fix their own drinks. I agreed to part with a whole stack of plates and a few teacups (which had been in their original boxes since we got married…). My husband decided 6 beer glasses is enough for him. I realized I needed fewer casserole dishes and tossed a bunch of kitchen “unitaskers” as Alton Brown would say– though the cherry pitter remains because I am a person who cans her own cocktail cherries.
The thing I have realized about Marie Kondo, and the reason it turns out it works for me, is that it’s not about that sad word “minimalism.” It’s about a word I like a lot better: curation. So many of us have more stuff than we need. We have to move the stuff to get to the other stuff that we actually do need. We have to move the stuff to actually get things done. We lose stuff because it’s behind the other stuff. We have to dust the stuff. And we don’t actually care about that stuff or need it, but we keep it for all kinds of reasons. “Sparks Joy” seems like a high bar, but honestly “is it useful, beautiful, or does it make me happy?” is good enough for me. Does it fit me? Do I wear it? Do I like it or am I holding onto it because it was a great deal? Is this something I think I might need someday except someday has never come?
Now, I feel the same kind of joy looking in my tidy cabinets and drawers that I *still feel* when I look at my shelves full of books, which to me are like old friends that I am not interested in parting with at this time. And it turns out Marie isn’t going to make me. She may not want to keep around two different editions of the same crit theory anthology from college, but *I do,* and I actually refer back to them from time to time!
I think part of why I am receptive to all of this at this time is we are now passing the point at which this house becomes the place we have lived the longest. We no longer need to move every 3 years. We are putting down roots, and we might as well make this the place we know it can be for us. Jon’s dreaming of new storage in the entryway, we’ve been fixing up the back yard, we even got solar panels that offset all our energy use. And we’re getting rid of the stuff that we don’t need to take forward with us for our future in this home. And it turns out it’s not sad minimalism, but a joyful creation that affirms that sometimes things make us really happy, and sometimes things are completely unnecessary, and we can figure out the difference and get rid of dead weight.
I really recommend checking out the show with an open mind. Enjoy yelling at the shitty husbands, the lady who needs therapy (ok, wait, that’s all of them), the neurotic dude who needs to stop worrying what his parents think of him, and the guy with 160 pairs of never-worn sneakers. You’ll feel better than some of them, and you just might feel inspired to “tidy” a little yourselves. It doesn’t have to be rigid. It doesn’t have to be everything. And before long you may find yourself staring into your kitchen cabinets as if they are a beautiful sunset.