Musings on Marie

The newest Netflix entry, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo”, premiered on the first day of the New Year. It should come as no surprise that the show debuted on the day when the world collectively begins to put into practice well-intended resolutions. Many of those resolutions have to do with decluttering and getting organized, and this show is the personification of Marie Kondo’s wildly popular book on the subject, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

People often ask if I’ve read the book, so yes, I read the book and watched the episodes. This show will certainly continue to be fodder for those discussions. What struck me most about the show has little to do with the method of decluttering Marie suggests, nor the infamous instructions to keep only those items that spark joy. The order of decluttering that is suggested: clothing, books, documents, komono and sentimental items, and the fact that there is an order, can be debated. (The one exception being that sentimental items should be addressed last.) The very fact that komono, translated into miscellaneous items located in the kitchen, bathroom and garage, certainly garner a multitude of opinions. There aren’t too many professional organizers I know who encourage using the word miscellaneous as a category label. 

It's encouraging that the show acknowledges the time lapse of each organizing project. Entire homes are being decluttered and organized after all. Moreover, Marie offers initial guidance and it’s largely up to each family to carry out the work of decluttering and organizing. She pops in and out over the course of several days and weeks and squeals with delight to see the progress that’s been made. However, the impact that she has made is real. Her promotional tour includes segments on many TV news, talk and lifestyle shows with quick demonstrations of how to fold a shirt, and social media is bursting with testimonials from people who have dived in to their own clutter and have lived to tell about it.

What struck me most when I read the book is that Marie’s work was centered in a very different culture. It’s quite evident to see that difference come to life in the show. There is a genuine aura of gratitude (an important pillar of the Japanese culture) that Marie brings into each household. The cultures merge as each family ultimately shares that sense of appreciation and gratitude. There’s an appreciation for the decluttering process itself. It takes longer for some than others to fully engage in order to get to the point of gratitude, but they do. There’s appreciation for gaining insight as to how and why they arrived at the point of overwhelm.  And there’s certainly appreciation for the results. It’s one of the best parts of my experience working with clients, too. What seems unreachable is reached, and the gratitude is palpable. Kondo herself sets the tone for appreciation and gratitude by greeting the house and thanking it for its service before the life-changing magic begins. Kondo’s ritual, silently kneeling on the floor, may catch some of her American students by surprise, and is the first glimpse of what identifies the differences between these two cultures. One steeped with gratitude, the other overrun by consumption.

That’s not to say that the participating Americans have no appreciation for what they have. We see plenty of examples of the families expressing just the opposite. However, the shock of seeing just how high a pile of clothes can reach is humbling. The method of piling clothes, the first decluttering category, is indeed meant to be shocking. It begins the process of being infused into the Japanese culture of gratitude, expressing appreciation for the usefulness of each item. It’s a brand-new experience for many.

Along the decluttering way, each participant learns something about themselves and other household members. They begin to understand one another’s point of view and appreciate not only what the process has done to transform their physical spaces, but their relationships with each other as well. They appreciate living with less having removed the visual noise and the burden of clutter.

An attitude of gratitude. Not a bad way to begin a New Year.


Explore Your World

I recently spent a delightful fall day with my sister and brother-in-law being together, long overdue, doing the things that make fall in New England a unique and special time of year. The day began with a Mass in memory of my parents. While attending a church service is not unique to New England, it’s setting certainly made it so: a tiny chapel set on a quintessential New England landscape. Soft rolling hills and farmland surround the site. The more unique feature was that the Mass was said in Latin. It’s been several years since I experienced that. It was a throwback to my youth and available so close to home. Who knew?

After the early morning Mass, we were off to the General Store for coffee and breakfast treats, energy for the activities the day would bring.  Next up, apple picking.  The local orchard offered rows and rows of favorite varieties, Macoun, Gala, and McIntosh among them to fill a bag, snack on, and use as a backdrop for a few selfies. And of course, what apple-picking adventure would be complete without enjoying an apple cider donut? Not this one, for sure.

Our next stop was a visit to Fruitlands Museum. It’s not just a museum as its name implies. Rather, it’s a collection of museums and exhibits set on over 200 acres of meadows and woods. One most interesting Natural Historical Landmark on the site is the original farmhouse that served as home to the Fruitlands experiment of 1843. It may better be known as the childhood home of Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women. As one of my favorite childhood books, it was fascinating to tour the rooms and learn how much of an impact this farmhouse, the family relationships and her father’s failed utopian experiment had on her as a young girl.

How often have I seen the museum sign as I drove down the highway? The beauty and the history of the land and its people is all right here for the taking. Who knew? It reminded me of a story my dad used to tell. When he arrived in America as a child, he settled with family in Charlestown, MA, home to the Bunker Hill Monument. It wasn’t until he was married with children of his own that he made a visit to the monument. It was just a few miles, and yet, a world away.

A craft fair was being held on the grounds of Fruitlands on the day we visited. It was complete with many characteristic artisans offering jams and jellies, hand-crafted jewelry, and photographic artwork. One vendor, BeezbyScranton who turns books into handbags, caught my eye. The vintage book purses are works of art and give beloved books new life while protecting their integrity and the memories that go with them. So often I see that books are precious commodities to clients. They represent so much in a person’s life and are one of the most difficult possessions to let go when decluttering. If it weren’t for my fall day in New England, I may have missed out on this unique and special way to preserve a cherished memory and share with others.

Explore your world. You never know what you might find.