There’s a lot of talk these days about Marie Kondo, the Japanese organizing consultant whose book, “Spark Joy,” offers readers a practical and philosophical method of ridding their homes of excess and clutter. Things like the droopy-eyed basset hound cookie jar your step-aunt sent you when you got married. The one you have guiltily kept (but never used) in case she visits, despite being in her late 80’s, and living in a retirement home across the country.
According to Kondo’s credo, which is to keep only things that spark joy in your heart, this cookie jar would not be a keeper.
When it comes to clothing, Kondo instructs readers to hold each item of clothing – each blouse, each t-shirt, each winter scarf, each pair of jeans – one at a time, and wait for that heart flutter that tells you whether it’s a yea or a nay. The yea’s are then neurotically neatly folded into little bundles of joy.
All kidding aside, I can relate to Kondo on a number of levels. There is a freedom that comes from living with only that which gives you joy and serves a purpose. And with keeping your home tidy. Everything in its place. My yoga teacher once explained why, after class, we fold our blankets and mats and stack our blocks and straps just so. “An orderly environment is the key to a calm mind,” she explained in a voice that could convince a room of sugar-filled toddlers to curl up with their blankies and go to sleep.
I spent years living with a husband and two daughters who did not share my enlightened awareness that fresh vacuum tracks on the rug and neatly organized mugs in the cupboard (all handles pointed in the same direction) were the key to happiness. And so, Kondo’s popularity is a sweet comeuppance for the very people I was trying to lead down the path to serenity.
Long before Kondo’s books hit the best-seller lists, I downsized from a house I lived in for twenty years to a 42-foot sailboat. I was forced to make choices about what I wanted to keep and what I could let go. My belief that less is more was put to the test – big time. Getting rid of most of what we owned was one of the biggest challenges of my life on so many levels.
A friend helped me come up with the following questions as I went through every item in my house from our living room furniture down to the last paper clip on my desk and decided its fate:
• Did the item in question have a place and usefulness on the boat?
• Was it meaningful as in pass-it-down-to-your-heirs meaningful?
• Could you replace it down the road if you needed to?
Perhaps not a perfect system but for the most part it worked.
I admit that I was not very good at living small in the beginning. I was angry and bitter and unpleasant and I missed my stuff. But you know what? I adjusted. And I changed. And today my life feels full in ways it never did when I lived in my home.
On a boat, all the furniture is built in. There are no windowsills for trinkets. Everything has to be relatively secure – it’s a boat after all and we do occasionally sail it! I have one drawer for all my kitchen utensils. My pots and pans have removable handles and stack neatly in a drawer. My table serves as a food prep area, work desk and dining table depending on the time of day. And our clothes are folded, tucked away or hung in one of two hanging lockers measuring a foot and a half in width.
When I shop I no longer think about whether I want something, but rather whether I need it and, especially, if there is room on the boat for it.
My boat/home is definitely shipshape (an official synonym for tidy!), although it took a while to figure out how to get there. My thinking about what I want around me has changed dramatically. I still cherish certain things that I can’t have at present (but will someday): my grandmother’s china, boxed up and stored in our small storage shed; my photo albums, of course; precious, sentimental household items to be resurrected when we move to a land base one day in the future. It will be delightful to pull those things out again and place them somewhere in the house. Neatly. Zenlike. Uncluttered.
And to keep only the clothes I wear and can get to easily.
And to take the lessons I have learned from living on a boat to my life back on land. To live simply, to feel abundance with less, to experience the joy and openness that freedom from material possessions can offer.
IRENE PANKE HOPKINS is a freelance writer and essayist. She lived on Queen Anne for 20 years and now lives on a sailboat in Ballard.