Decluttering and organizing: What do I keep?

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By now you've probably heard of the new book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by organization expert Marie Kondo. It's gotten a lot of attention and coverage due to Marie's unconventional and slightly wacky, yet apparently eye-opening and yes, life-changing, approach to decluttering. I haven't read it yet, but my Mom recently did, and the other night we got to talking about it. I recalled her showing me the NYT article about the book a while back since she knows I've always had a thing for decluttering and organizing. At the time I thought it seemed interesting, but because I've always been really good at decluttering, organizing, and getting rid of things, I didn't feel like the book was something I would need to read. I guess I figured I had nothing left to learn, but after talking to my Mom about the book, I think I may have been mistaken...

After reading the book, my Mom was really impressed with Marie's unique approach and many of the techniques involved. One philosophy that the author uses really struck us both. It's more of a thought process than an action - and that, of course, makes perfect sense, because the things we buy, the things we have a hard time getting rid of, and our possessions in general - they're so psychological. It all has to do with our emotions and the meaning we attach to possessions.

So, as my Mom described it to me, Marie says you must use a certain phrase when going through your belongings. Instead of saying "what do I want to get rid of?" which is the approach that most organizational philosophies use, Marie says you must think: "What do I want to keep?"

That simple phrase struck me so much! What a mindset shift. First of all, it turns the process from a negative one to a positive, and makes it feel more like a fun undertaking: what do I get to keep? What wonderful collection of items that I LOVE am I going to wind up with? It makes it feel like you're weeding, and at the end will be left with a beautiful bunch of flowers - or, lovely possessions. It also places the emphasis on keeping a small, carefully selected number of things (because how much can you really LOVE), and getting rid of the vast majority of, basically, crap that we all cling to.


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Talking to my Mom made me realize that I definitely need to read this book and implement some of the strategies in my apartment. Not to toot my own horn, but I really am good at getting rid of things that I don't love or use. I'm definitely not a minimalist but I hate clutter and I just love to get rid of things that I consider to be "stagnant" - i.e., things that just sit there, not being utilized. However, I have an Achilles heel: my books. And I know why. It's not only because I love reading, but I also love books as a design element. I love them as a personal collection that says something about who you are and what you're interested in. Whenever I walk into someone's home, the first thing I tend to gravitate toward is their bookshelf. Somehow you can always strike up a conversation about the books they have that you've both read, or the books they have that you want to read, or whatever. When looking at Pinterest or any room, nothing draws me in more than an absolutely huge, stuffed bookshelf. I mean, wall to wall, library ladder and all (like this). I feel like you can never have enough books...but there is a caveat. You have to have the ROOM for all of those books!

Because of all of this, I've onto books that I've read and thought were just so-so (and that I won't read again), because they were okay, and I feel like one day I'm going to have a giant bookshelf, and I'll be able to fill it with all of these books. I didn't see the point in getting rid of them! Whereas with my closet, I dream of a relatively sparse wardrobe, only populated by a small number of items that fit perfectly and that I love, with books, I just envision having the big, eclectically stuffed bookshelf.

But, after talking to my Mom and thinking about Marie's philosophy, I've realized two things. The first is that I don't live in a space currently that can accommodate a giant, wall to wall bookshelf. I do not have a library in my home. I kept telling myself "but one day I might!" And yes, one day I might. And if I ever do, I'm sure at that point I'll have no problem buying tons of books and and I'll have a blast filling my brand new bookshelves. But I need to live within the parameters of the space that I currently inhabit, and my possessions need to fit within that space. It's like people who hold onto clothes that are two sizes too small because they're planning to lose weight and wear them. You can't live for future, might-happen-someday goals like that. You need to live in the present within the parameters of your present situation. The second thing I've realized is I need to let go of things that I don't love! With a lot of my books, I kept thinking to myself "I might reread that!" But really? Is that true? My to-read list is a mile long, so why would I ever spend time re-reading a book that I only felt lukewarm about the first time around? Oh, the ways we delude ourselves into keeping stuff.

Truthfully, this is still a work in progress. I'm currently weeding through my book collection, and even with those ones that I didn't love, when I pick them up, I think of something that I liked about them, and feel compelled to put them back on the shelf. It's just really interesting, because with literally everything else in my possession, I truly have no problem tossing things in the give-away pile - and indeed, derive real enjoyment and satisfaction from doing so. But, we all have our weak spots! In the interest of being real, here's a perfectly unstyled, poorly lit, crappy picture of some of the books I've culled from my collection (this is the corner where I keep things that are going to make their way out of my apartment, to the thrift store or Goodwill or whatnot):


Keepin' it real, folks. The thing is, I just shouldn't even look through the pile again, because if I do I'm sure I'll find some justification for putting many of them back onto my shelves.


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My Mom also came up with a great strategy. As she goes through her things and finds stuff to get rid of, she's making collections to give to people in her life that she thinks may enjoy them. Her thought is to give them to her loved ones and friends by simply saying "I'm paring down my belongings, and I thought you might like this." She's found that she's gaining more pleasure from the idea of gifting these nice items to people who may enjoy them than she does from having the items just stagnating on her shelf. Isn't that nice?

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