Tidying Up as Spiritual Practice Part 1: My Life as an Unrepentant Slob

I can’t recall a time in my life when I was tidy. Not for want of trying. When I was a child, I was expected to clean my room, but the end result never seemed to last more than a few hours. My mom was frequently exasperated by the state of my closet. While I did make an effort to straighten up every weekend, my drawers were perpetually overfilled, and my closet truly was a disaster.

 Admittedly, while I went through the motions of cleaning, I honestly didn’t care much about being tidy, beyond not wanting to get in trouble at home. In college, I full-on embraced my slovenly ways.

Confession: I haven’t made my bed since 2006 except for visits home. Even now, deep in the KonMari method, I have yet to make my bed in the morning. But as of this writing, I’m only about halfway through the process. So perhaps there’s still hope.

I was truly the worst person to live with. My second year of grad school in Cleveland, I lived in a house with four other women. One was tidier than the rest of us. She became so frustrated by the mess in the house that she decided to institute a chore chart. I refused to participate.  

Confession: the only reason I got out of it was because we hosted a party, got drunk, wrestled, and I won. I was pretty pleased with myself at the time. Now, I look back, and I repent. I was not a fun person to share a space with. I doubt Kathryn Anderson is ever going to see this, but I extend a much-belated apology nonetheless.

I went from grad school to being married. My then-husband wasn’t much neater than I was. We would clean whenever we hosted a party, but that was it.

About halfway through my marriage, it occurred to me that keeping a clean house was something adults were supposed to do. Yet, as I mentioned, he and I were both slobs. We were also unhappily married, financially unstable, and cycling between bouts of unemployment, underemployment, and jobs that demanded more than 40 hours a week. Some people create order in their homes as a way to resist the chaos of life. Our home simply fell prey to the rest of the chaos in our lives. 

I got divorced 15 days after my 30th birthday. Still a financial trainwreck, I moved in with a very nice stranger from Craigslist. Suddenly entering into a roommate situation, remembering what a pill I’d been to my last roommates, I was determined to do better. I was determined to be a tidy person.

 Clearly, that didn’t work out, because it’s five years later, and I’m writing this.

 I first heard about The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up soon after it was published in 2014. One of my friends got the book, loved it, and recommended it to me. I was definitely not ready to hear it. I’d very recently upended my life and gotten rid of so much stuff as part of the divorce process. I was also at a point in life where I wasn’t experiencing much in the way of joy. I was not in a place to be receptive to the KonMari message. In fact, I forgot all about it.

When the Tidying Up Netflix special launched in December of 2018, I spent several days unable to avoid mention of the KonMari method. Everyone had an opinion. At first, I was irritated that everyone had an opinion. Who cares about a cleaning show? I asked myself. Why is this worth arguing over? If you don’t like it, don’t watch it. And also I am not getting rid of my books. Ever.

Then, however, I became curious. Were the people claiming I could only have 30 books perhaps taking things out of context? Was this method really as extreme as people claimed?

Perhaps it was that extreme, and I needed that in order to finally have a neat, organized home?

And so, in mid-April, I began the process of tidying up. I also read both The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy, and watched a few episodes of the Netflix special. As of this writing, I’m maybe halfway through. I’ve gotten through clothes, books, and papers. Now I’m working on miscellaneous items. It feels like the end is nowhere in sight. But I’m also finding great value in the process.

Spoiler alert: I actually got rid of most of my books!

 What I’ve learned so far:

1. This is not a perfect system that will work for everyone

And that’s okay. No system is perfect. No system will work for everyone. I’m not even going to try to convince my boyfriend to try this. It really won’t mesh with his style.

2. If you are chronically messy, this might be the system for you

Obviously, I still have a long way to go, but I can tell the process is changing my approach to how I think about and treat my belongings.

3. This system does require a degree of privilege

That’s my biggest complaint about it. Marie Kondo really does not seem to be aware of the extent to which this method will not work for people who are financially insecure, or who live in remote areas and thus need a lot of stuff, because you are an hour away from the nearest anything.

4. That being said, you don’t actually have to get rid of utilitarian items

The second book, Spark Joy, addresses the fact that you do need practical things in your life even if they don’t necessarily spark joy. Marie actually admits she’s made the mistake of getting rid of things she genuinely needed.  

5. Nor do you need to go full-on minimalism and you can have more than 30 books

Marie Kondo is a minimalist, but truly, you could have a maximalist aesthetic and still fit within the system. And the thing about only having 30 books? That’s her preference, but it’s not a hard and fast rule. Anyone who tells you otherwise took that out of context.

6. The second book, Spark Joy, is better than the first

It’s more comprehensive, and really clarifies things. I do think you need to read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up first to really get the framework, but provided you liked that one, definitely read Spark Joy.

7. The method is worthy of criticism; please read at least one of the books before you criticize

So much about the method is taken out of context, and the content on the Netflix special is really watered down. The first book is a fast read. Just know what you’re criticizing before you go off on it. 

8. This method really is about clarifying your relationship and attachments to your possessions

And that’s why it speaks to me. It’s not really about purging. It’s really about asking yourself why you choose to keep things. And, by extension, considering why you’ve held on to things you didn’t really like. That, for me, has been a very worthwhile endeavor.

This is literally just random stuff I fished out of all the bags and purses I had lying around.

This is literally just random stuff I fished out of all the bags and purses I had lying around.

There’s more to say on this topic, but I’ll stop for now. Stay tuned as I work through the process!