Clearing the clutter and cobwebs

tidying two

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Middle class, middle-agers have a lot of stuff.

We’ve spent a lifetime earning, buying, and exponentially adding things to our homes.

It’s understandable. In the beginning of our adult lives, we had nothing. But as the years and then decades have gone by, each economic victory meant more purchases and a greater accumulation of possessions.

I’m tired of all this stuff.

When precious time is spent looking for an item—searching through this stack or that pile—my stress level climbs and I begin shouting, “We have so much stuff that we don’t even know what we have. I’m going to start throwing out all this stuff so we can find what we need.”

That was always an empty threat.

The book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” by Marie Kondo, though, has me looking at the concept of getting rid of stuff with new intrigue.

I thought the book would offer some concrete and easy to follow rules for tidying up a home. Keep no more than 100 books. Own no more than 10 pairs of shoes. One filing cabinet is all that’s needed for storing documents and important papers. Reasonable limits that I could adhere to and finally put my home in complete and satisfying order.

But those kinds of rules can’t ever work, because we’re all unique individuals. For one person, limiting the library to 100 books would be a tremendous sacrifice while another would find 100 books too cluttering. Generic rules would initially be simple, but not sustainable. It’d be a constant battle of trying to remain true to the person you are, while also complying with the rule.

Instead, the criteria that Kondo uses to determine whether or not to keep or throw an item is to ask if the item sparks joy for you. If it does, keep it. If it does not, dispose of it.


Joy is a pretty strong word, and way too solid to apply to inanimate objects. But the intent is clear. Ask yourself, “Do you really want this item, or have you been holding on to it for a reason other than really wanting it?” If you don’t really want it, you can now give yourself permission to dispose of it.

This approach isn’t very concise, and therefore seems like a haphazard way to organize your home. But if you keep an open mind and make an effort to follow the joy factor, you begin to see the wisdom of it.

I haven’t jumped in with the zealous and intense approach recommended by the book, but I did experiment with the cookware section. Old habits die hard, and I was stalled by the same mental arguments I had in the past when trying to organize my too-much-stuff. “This is still in good condition.” (Even if I haven’t used it in years.) “This is a high quality piece.” (It’s too wasteful to get rid of something this expensive.) Or, “This lid fits this pan perfectly.” (Even though I have four other lids that also fit that pan perfectly thanks to wearing out pans faster than lids.)

But this time, I did manage to dispose of all those pieces that weren’t sparking joy—or at least weren’t sparking contentment. Out they went.

My reward is a cupboard left only with items I really want and use.

There’s something unexpectedly fulfilling about all this simple decision-making, too. With each choice, you’re declaring what you like and what you don’t like. It reinforces who you are as a unique individual. And that feels good. I don’t need multiple types and styles of cookie sheets because, although I love to cook, I don’t like to bake. I’m a cook, not a baker.

And when you put this much effort into organizing something—that is still just cookware—you make sure there’s a specific place for everything that you do keep. If there’s no room for anything else, you won’t make the same mistake of buying additional items when there’s no place to put them. Putting cookware through the joy test is something you only want to do once in your life. And now, the stress of looking for a pan or lid or casserole dish has been eliminated. I know where it is before I open the drawer.

Removing clutter from our home can be like removing cobwebs from our brain.

It’s hard to completely rest when there’s clutter around because it shouts that there’s unfinished work that needs attention. Our minds are continuously and oh-so-subtly preoccupied with this disorder in our lives.

Imagine a home where everything was in its proper place and those things were only items that you really wanted. Our minds would be fully free to think about more important things in life.

Kondo says, “…pour your time and passion into what brings you the most joy, your mission in life…putting your house in order will help you find the mission that speaks to your heart. Life truly begins after you have put your house in order.”

Now, to get the rest of my home like my cookware.