Thursday, January 17, 2019

Gotta thank somebody (KonMari Tidying)

I probably don't need to repeat this, but I'm old. I've been around through a lot of decluttering and organizing fads. I always wished for a magic clean-up wand, but I never connected success with seriously purging my belongings (weren't they all important?), or with not buying more yarn on sale. I grew up without much sense of "stop, that's enough stuff." If someone gave you a present, you were supposed to keep it. When the dolls on your dresser outgrew the dresser,  you didn't stop collecting, you built them a shelf. I had no idea that anyone could have too many books.
Here's an awful example of not knowing when you've passed reasonable limits. We just watched an old Columbo movie about an artist who wanted everything, all the time. He lived with his current wife and a young woman who modelled for him. A third woman, his ex-wife, lived next door, and the four of them ate dinner together every night. Anybody except the main character could see that was a recipe for trouble, and in the end, he was left with nobody.
But I did try. I moved out on my own with books by Don Aslett and Sandra Felton (and stayed just as Messie), I survived house moves with It's Here...Somewhere and Deniece Schofield, and I watched Peter Walsh do the Clean Sweep.  I attempted Sidetracked Home Executives, but somehow escaped the FlyLady. The old advice to Keep Just What You Need is as obvious as Don't Spend Money So You Don't Go Into Debt, but we got better at that than we did at keeping a handle on Stuff. We didn't buy a lot of new Stuff, but we did find a lot of used Stuff, and had a lot of free Stuff given to us, to the point that we had trouble sorting out the Keeper Stuff from the rest (or what one person called Keeper, the rest of us called the rest).
Pop psychology time: Mr. Fixit and I are both firstborns, and both of us were close to our grandparents. We felt a lot of expectation that we would be keepers of the family story. You can figure out the rest. 
Fast forward through our full-on decluttering and downsizing, which brought in more library books, Tiny House videos, and Apartment Therapy posts, plus Project 333, but not much awareness of Marie Kondo or KonMari. (I did post something about it once.) When I went to the Tiny Wardrobe Tour lecture, the summer before last, I got there early and sat beside a woman who introduced herself as a professional KonMari organizer. She didn't know much about Project 333, and I didn't know much about KonMari, but our attempt to compare notes got cut short by a loud argument over priority seating. I seemed to be sitting in the middle of the war zone, and I think the KonMari lady blamed me somehow, so I did not learn any more about it that night.

Then Tidying fell into my lap while I was sorting books at the thrift store. Our move to a smaller space had sparked a new kind of Tiny-House-ish deliberateness about what we were keeping and where it should go, so the book helped us get over some storage bumps.

Now, suddenly,  Marie Kondo is on the Lifestyle page of our local paper, not to mention all over Youtube and everybody's media. Folding your clothes is suddenly cool. And the Big Thing that I am picking up from this came from a brief review where, I think, they got the reason for her popularity absolutely right. Even if you don't literally hug your sweater to see if it sparks joy (I don't), KonMari appeals to our emotions, because it is about valuing and thanking. If you arrange your shoes on a rack from lightest to heaviest, top to bottom, you're not saying "look at all the shoes I have" but "I am taking the time to appreciate how each pair fits into my life and into my space." If you're a bit animistic, you add "And I want the shoes to know that." If you're a Christian, you use that boring term stewardship, which means, essentially, that you're Jeeves cheerfully polishing Wooster's silver spoons. Stewardship is just taking care. Guardianship, sort of. You get the privilege of living with and caring for the shoes, but you know Who really owns them. When they're dirty, you clean them. When they wear out, you get them fixed.

And here's the rub: you can't do that with as much stuff as North Americans typically live with. Lots, in this sense, is not better than a few. Or one. We are finite beings, with limited time and attention spans. But, as Charlotte Mason says, we can develop habits of attention. We can invest time into knowing where pieces in our collection came from, hearing their stories. We can value loyalty. We can be thankful. We just can't do it so well with an overload of stuff.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Intentional Thrifter: When clouds are green

I like this painting of clouds in Algonquin Park. It was painted by Tom Thomson over a hundred years ago, but it reminds me of the view from our city balcony  (well, not today when it's all foggy and snowing). I guess clouds are clouds!
Thomson used an unusual variety of colours in his clouds and skies, and the land and water below: purples, pinks, even greens. You can see greens as well in this one:
 Northern Lake, Winter 1912–13. Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto

I recently found a linen shirtjacket in a dusty sage green that reminds me of Thomson's paintings.
I know you don't wear linen so much in the winter, but I'm thinking spring.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

A year of KonMari tidying here

Marie Kondo seems to be getting more popular than ever--she now has a show on Netflix (which I can't watch because we just unsubscribed). The word most often applied to her personally is "cute," but she also has her firm side. In one You-tube video, the owner of a messy pantry shows her a package of spoon-shaped cookies, drawing appreciative coos from Kondo but followed quickly by a pointing out of their months-old expiry date. Cute cookies aren't worth much if you don't eat them.

In 2017, I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and described some of my early experiments on the blog. Someone commented (kindly) that it would be interesting to know how long I'd stick with it.

Well, it's been a year-plus since I made my first t-shirt stand up straight, so I guess that's long enough now to call a habit. The food in our storage room has remained organized (and the wrapping paper I used on the bins has held up pretty well). The bathroom has stayed uncluttered. We had already gone through a lot of decluttering, during our downsize to the apartment. I had also done quite a lot of putting things into containers, and containers within containers, before I read Tidying Up. 

What I think KonMari added to our vision for a newer, cleaner space here was a sense of aesthetic pleasure, an extra bit of harmony. One of the odd bits I picked up from Kondo's books was the idea that containers and boxes with clashing labels and random printing may contribute to a sense of info-overload. They can feel like commercials that never get turned off. Solutions to garish containers include peeling off a label, painting or covering the box (as I did with the very miscellaneous pantry bins), or emptying the contents into a jar or something else neutral. If it's a shoebox or something to be repurposed as a drawer organizer, then the outside printing doesn't matter. But if the storage container is going on a shelf, you might want to pretty it up a bit. That doesn't mean crocheted cozies for the toilet paper, but just keeping in mind how what we look at every day can boost moods (or bring them down). If we have to look at words in our homes, let's make them important and beautiful words.

I appreciate Kondo's encouragement to use whatever you have instead of buying new (often plastic) storage goods. One thing she does like are the sets of large plastic drawers for closets, partly because they keep storage behind closed doors. I don't have any, but I've compromised by treating a couple of under-bed baskets as if they were drawers. (We don't get as many dust-bunnies here as we did at our old house, so under-bed storage is workable.)

Another KonMari idea that I found useful was sorting by categories, especially with seemingly miscellaneous stuff. Not that we hadn't already done a lot of that, but I appreciated her emphasis on its usefulness. It helps us know not only where things are in the apartment, but also when we need to re-stock.

Finally, Kondo's knack for turning even an underwear drawer into a sort of Bento box array should lead not to obsession with one's undies, but to appreciation and gratitude for what we have. This is something we can share with and model for children. Look--we have socks! They're nice colours! They're clean! They're (mostly) hole-free! Let's take care of them! Even small things arranged carefully can make our days brighter, and that echoes Edith Schaeffer's thoughts on tabletop flowers, sandwich plates for hobos, and writing little notes to cheer people up.

I still don't talk to my shoes. But I'm glad for the help KonMari has given us.
"Yet it was chiefly her body that was tired now; her mind, which had been so weary and fretted in London, had been wonderfully rested by this house that was now her home....[Nadine] stretched out a hand and laid it upon the paneled wall beside her; it was warm in the sun, as though it were alive....This house was maison-dieu [a house of God], and the stripping away of all that was unworthy and the building up of new beauty was in the nature of a crusade.  And the house had agreed and collaborated."  ~~ Elizabeth Goudge, The Herb of Grace (Pilgrim's Inn)

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Project 333, Winter 2019: A Quieter Space

In a recent article for Simplify Magazine, Myquillyn Smith described a New Year's ritual at her house. She chooses a room to "quieten,"  and removes everything but the basic furniture. (If you've ever read Myquillyn Smith's home books, you know that her decorating style is not bare-minimalist, so this is an undertaking.) For a short period of time, that space is allowed to just "be," giving it a fresh start. Stripped to essentials, does it feel bigger? Lighter? Is it easier to think in a clean space? The accessories and art are re-introduced gradually and carefully, with appreciation but also with deliberateness.

Courtney Carver's Project 333 could be called quieting the wardrobe. When you empty a closet, what goes back in? 
Scarves aren't essential (or quiet), but they're nice!

Do two pairs of pants and one skirt make us feel unburdened, or too limited? How many shirts or sweaters do we need until the next load of laundry? Do some of them suddenly feel like excess? Which things are fine in themselves, but don't work well with others, don't fit our current lifestyle, or (we finally admit) don't look wonderful on us? Pared down to the essentials, what shines through? 

I thought about all of this. I realize I could get along with fewer clothes, but: 

1. It's winter. I need enough clothes to stay warm.
2. I like most of what I'm wearing, and wear most of what I have. 
3. So a good general clean-out seemed like enough this time, rather than trying to pick this over that. I do have a bag of no-that-didn't-work things headed for the thrift store.