Photo by Andy Fitzsimon on Unsplash

I read Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up in January of 2015 (thank you Goodreads for being my reference on my entire reading life since 2007). I remember thinking two things at the time:

  1. That tidying process is going to take forever and,
  2. She must not have children

I was correct on #2, though that has since changed and Marie Kondo has pictures of her very young toddlers on Instagram, folding laundry along with her.

I had it on the back of my mind for months that I would go through her tidying process, slowly but surely. There was never the time, and kids make the process seem futile, but I was determined.

Then in September of 2015, I had a stillborn baby girl. Grief hit me and stayed, and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I took a few weeks off of work, but the days were completely empty. I formed this notion in my head that I could spend my days going through Marie Kondo’s tidying process, as a distraction and a way to occupy myself. But quickly found that it couldn’t be done — I was so overcome with sadness that getting out of bed was a chore.

Flash forward three years… I lost another baby girl, in February of 2016. In August of 2017, my rainbow baby was born. She is now 17 months old. Adding another human into our house, along with a now 9-year-old and 6-year-old has only escalated the chaos. It has also brought to a height my feeling of living in clutter. Baby gear has invaded every room. And however I felt when I wanted to start this process four years ago? Guess what. We’ve accumulated more stuff in that time.

Now Marie Kondo has her Netflix show, and I have watched a few episodes. While I don’t think it has the same quirk and charm as her book, visually watching people go through her steps has re-awakened in me the desire to go through the process again. But the participants in her show spend weeks and dedicate themselves to examining every inch of their houses. I don’t have weeks of free time.

So what can I manage? I’m trying. I started having my older kids spend 15 minutes before bedtime each night “tidying” their rooms. The first night I tried this, my younger son told me it wasn’t enough time. I took two drawers in my dresser and folded in her style (I think Kondo would be proud). And I took one side table in the master bedroom and took everything out. Threw things away, took things to a different designated spot, and arranged everything in an orderly fashion. I told my husband to take a few minutes to pick up his office every day, and I’m trying to form a better laundry routine.

Am I following her prescribed steps? No. I’m going to have to go room-by-room — or corner by corner — instead of by category, because that’s all I can manage. I cannot tear multiple rooms apart at one time. If I’m lucky, I can squeeze in about an hour a week. But I have at least made the effort of writing down in a planner I use for the week which area I want to tackle.

One of the biggest struggles I have with Kondo is that her style is so minimalist that any clutter is banished from the house. One of her categories is “books” and I cringe when I think about it. I have large bookshelves in several areas of the house. Beautiful books on display that not only represent what I love, but also add to the style of the room. I recently taught my 9-year-old son to alphabetize, because his collection of chapter books was flourishing. After asking me “Why do I need to learn to alphabetize?” and my response “because it’s a life skill,” he quickly learned how it brought order to his shelf and eagerly put the books away.

The books are like my friends. Even books that I may have read once and will never re-read earns a place on my shelf if I liked it. The books are like friends, representing a history of changing pastimes, from the heavy literature I read in college as an English major, to the New York Times bestsellers I would pick up while wandering through Barnes and Noble as a young adult, to the prize winning novels I try to read every year, to the memoirs and books on loss that I began to gather after my daughters died.

So as I plan to Kondo-ize my house, I hesitate on the books. Then I read Austin Kleon’s post “It’s a Good Time to be a Pack Rat” and it gave me permission to see my books as a collection and exclude them from the purging of the rest of my house. Not only my books, but all of my other creative inspiration: notebooks, paints, markers, scissors, binders, pictures from magazines, and a lot of other miscellany. He writes:

What disturbed me most — as a writer and an artist — was the idea that how you feel NOW in this very moment is the most important factor in whether you should keep or discard something… Most artists are collectors, if not hoarders, and we don’t just collect the things that “spark joy”: we collect things (objects yes, but also hunches and ideas) that we’re unsure or ambivalent about. Things we get the feeling we could use later.

So as I continue on this endeavor throughout the year, all of my writer-ish stuff will remain respectfully off limits.

However, after organizing my one drawer and working to keep the master bedroom tidied by picking up every day, I found a change in myself. I arrived home late last night, after spending the evening enjoying tapas with some friends. On the floor were a few outfits that I had tried on and discarded before hurrying out the door. I could easily have added what I was wearing to the pile, reasoning that I would pick it up immediately in the morning and maintain the clean room. After all, who cares if there are clothes on the floor while everyone is sleeping?

But instead, I took the outfit I had worn and put it in the hamper. I then picked up the clothes from the floor and re-hung them on hangers. It only took a few minutes and I felt better when I was done — like I had made a deliberate choice to tidy “now” versus “later.” Progress.

To read the writing that I do about pregnancy loss and grief, you can head over to my blog, Grieving Out Loud.

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