Don’t count your chickens on that.*
On Sunday I was visiting my sister for our usual Sunday Lunch gathering (Sunday is a good day for that by the way,) during which she got talking about a reality TV series she had been watching about a foreign lady that would visit the homes of different people and help them with their decluttering problems. As she explained more and more it suddenly became clear that I knew who she was talking about and to confirm it I asked “Does she ‘Spark Joy’!?” She laughed: “That’s her!”
Perhaps you have figured it out too: it’s none other than Marie Kondo. I’d learned about her and her efforts to Spark Joy, first from a short Radio 4 show segment and later by her book of that title which I absorbed as an audio book back in 2016.
Anyway, back to the Sunday Lunch event and my sister and I talked more about decluttering and we watched a couple of episodes of struggling families struggle with their hoards. I’d seen it all before, not literally, but in other such TV shows and how the clutter builds up and hoarding can take over; I’ve been through it myself and seen others close to me be consumed by it. I thought, on Sunday, that I was past all that myself having long since put into practice the act of not keeping things that I haven’t used for over a year, or recognising (in my mind’s-eye) the effect of not politely turning something down that I’m offered and don’t really need. I also try not to start one project before finishing another, or I make a point of getting rid of some things before accepting others into my life and home.
Towards the end of my visit my mum contacted my sister with a message for me, (since she knew I was there and since it was the weekend likely guessed I would have my phone switched off): someone was getting rid of a carpet and did I want it – it was in good condition? We let her know that I would consider it and I returned home to do some measuring.
Roll forward a couple of days and I’m now sitting in my little office room typing this with nice new-looking carpet beneath my feet instead of bare floorboards, but why am I telling you all this?
Well, I’d woken up on Sunday morning with the recollection of a reoccurring dream. It’s one where we’re all back at our old house and preparing to move house (almost 20 years ago now); this was a stressful time for me and full of turmoil; one of those times of a big change in life. Not only was I faced with the task of packing the contents of my bedroom into just a few boxes (as were also my siblings and parents) but I was quitting college and going abroad. The problem was, and I’m always reminded of this with these dreams, the task of packing was just too much; I packed up a few things – the essentials for my trip and my prized possessions, but the departure time for my trip arrived before I’d gotten to grips with sorting my entire room out and my mum had to do the rest. I can remember the time well; she also had to sell my car for me and various relatives took care of various possessions of mine, including my bike, a plant, and those encyclopedias I occasionally mention. There was a lot of stuff in that room of mine; chests of draws, book cases, shelves, and a wardrobe full of clothes and other stuff. College work and supplies were strewn about, some finished, some not – I was a design student at the time so there was a lot of that stuff. There were numerous computers in my room, old ones that formed a collection, most of which were occupying the space under my bed. There was audio equipment including hi-fi, cassettes, records, CDs and a guitar. Just masses of stuff I’d accumulated in around 15 years. I was a hoarder.
In hindsight, it seems synchronicitus that I’d had that dream the night before the topic of hoarding/decluttering had cropped up with my sister and that my mum had got in touch about the carpet, and this is why.
I thought the task of getting that carpet in my office would be pretty straightforward; just some furniture (including a large wardrobe that would first need emptying) to move out and into my bedroom, my computer to disassemble and general office supplies to move out. I’d give the floor a quick hoover (vacuum) and then drag the carpet up the stairs and get to work fitting that before moving everything back in again.
It all seemed quite straightforward but the reality turned out to be more involving; it took me a good portion of the day and ended up being something of an eye opener; I mean, I knew there was a fair amount of stuff in my office (and wardrobe), and draws, but I failed to realise how much stuff that really was and how much time and effort it would all take. I thought I was on top of how many clothes I keep, doing regular clear-outs of ones I haven’t worn for a year, but I found more. I’d actually given some things away to my mum when she delivered the carpet to me since she collects things for charity. One example was I found a box file full of paperwork dating back to 2011 that I just didn’t need any more. I ended up sorting through everything in the room so instead of pushing it all through into my bedroom to be dragged back later, half of it could got down and out instead.
Similar to when I carpeted my living room, I found myself having a strong reluctance to just move all of the same furniture back in because of the refreshing feeling of being in the room free of all its stuff. Right now I’m sat at a different desk and only have my wardrobe behind me with it’s bare essentials in. I did have another desk in here and two chests of draws, along with boxes and trays of paper; they are full of stuff which is needed but I’m thinking about where best they should be situated and do they really need to all be in here cluttering up the room?
I thought I’d done well to move beyond clutter and hoarding but it wasn’t until I came to empty this room that I discovered how blind I had been.
I think there is a good lesson in that and the way to learn it is to, every once in a while, actually empty a room and put back into it what you actually want in there.
Marie Kondo’s TV series is currently on Netflix: Tidying up with Marie Kondo.
*Actually, do count your “chickens” but either pick each one up in turn and ponder if it sparks joy, or employ the 100-item limit rule.