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Marie Kondo’s bestselling book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” makes its readers a handful of lofty promises: a future devoid of clutter, a home filled with peace and a more productive life. All one has to do is follow Kondo’s strict tidying method to a tee. It seems simple enough, but the task of parting with every single object that no longer brings joy is a lot like saying goodbye to a life.
At first, the method seems magical. You hold each item in your hand, as instructed, and try to hear Marie Kondo’s voice in your head.
Stage 1: Denial
As instructed by the book, you agree to be methodical. You start with clothes. You pull everything out of your closet and pile it onto the bed. Not so bad, you think, as you head for the drawers. You add the contents of your falling-apart-Ikea dresser to the bed. You begin to sort through the pile and think, Oh right, the other closet, and retrieve the remaining items. Jackets, scarves and hats are added to the growing mound, and you decide, against Marie’s wishes, that you’ll lay the shoes out on the floor because you don’t want to dirty the bed. Honestly, though, you don’t want to see just how much you have in one place.
How could I have this much? you think. I’m not even into clothes. I shop at OLD NAVY. It must just be awhile since I’ve cleaned out my drawers.
Oh shit, you think. Drawers. The drawers under your mostly-falling-apart-Ikea bed. You empty them, too. You begin to sort.
Stage 2: Anger
At first, the method seems magical. You hold each item in your hand, as instructed, and try to hear Marie Kondo’s voice in your head. Over the coming months, you’ll hear that voice a lot, sometimes almost scolding, but in this first hour, she uplifts you: Keep only the things that bring you joy.
You savor each moment. That grayed T-shirt from your 2nd grade indoor soccer team, that sunshine yellow dress you haven’t worn since you sweat through it on your college graduation day: you hold them, thank them, and add them to the growing discard heap. Everything gets clearer.
Then, suddenly, you attempt to discard a T-shirt, and the "Discard" pile topples onto your precious “Save” pile. Anger consumes you. All of that work to keep my things separate! And I haven’t even gotten anywhere, you think. This isn’t bringing me joy. It’s destroying my bedroom! And it’s a SATURDAY. I SHOULD BE FREE. You look for an exit but realize you couldn’t even leave the room if you wanted to. Trapped by your own clothing, you return to sorting.
Stage 3: Bargaining
You catch yourself lying. Maybe I’ll fit into that dress, you say to yourself. What if I put on weight and need those jeans? You stop yourself. Keep what you’d buy right now. Marie Kondo’s wisdom washes over you again.
But then you get to another T-shirt: a well-worn, faded black cotton tee with the words, blaring in hot pink capital letters, "THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE." A token from your Vassar College Feminist Alliance days. You never even attended a meeting — you just bought the tee in the College Center, like everyone else did.
You look around, as if Marie might see, and slide it into the “Save” pile. You’re not sure if it brings you joy or not, which means you should discard it, but you argue it would be hard to get a new one and hope Marie doesn’t notice.
Stage 4: Depression
Four hours into the work, you start to feel like you’ve gotten nowhere. Rather than clear a space on the bed, you sit on the floor amongst the mountains you’ve created. You can’t believe how you’ve lived this way for so long. You’re having trouble remembering which pile is which. You think you’ve forgotten what the outside world looks like.
You call your sister, who recommended the book in the first place. "I can’t believe you got me into this! What the hell am I doing? How have I lived this way for so long? How will I ever look at another mess again?"
"You won’t have to,” she reminds you. “You won’t have any mess left.”
You catch yourself lying. Maybe I’ll fit into that dress, you say to yourself. <em>What if I put on weight and need those jeans?
Stage 5: Acceptance
Determined to finish, you bag the clothes. The best items go into bags for Goodwill, and the most worn fill bags for the garbage. You cannot believe you’ve worn those sorry, torn jeans in public and wouldn’t want anyone else to, either. Energized by the bagging, you tear through jackets, scarves, bags, hats and shoes, discarding freely.
Be gone, sad items! you think. You’re not the life I want anymore! You envision the life you’ll have after. A spotless apartment, free of clutter, awaits you. All you need to do is let the things of this life go.
You start to feel again how freeing this all feels and breathe a little easier, until you consider how much work it will take to lug all these bags out of the house.
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