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Finding the Joys of Re-Cluttering

Even Marie Kondo now admits that life doesn't have to be all about tidying up

spinner image moving junk into a house
Christine Rosch

Did Marie Kondo just give us permission to be messy?

The Japanese organizational guru who has built an empire around paring down objects and putting everything in its place recently admitted that her house isn’t as tidy as it used to be. She’s now a mother of three and has a new book out which focuses on the idea of kurashi or the Japanese version of “way of life.”

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That means that her focus is on finding happiness in everyday actions or routines, she said through an interpreter at a recent media webinar and virtual tea ceremony, as reported by The Washington Post. Kondo’s no longer intent on making sure every single room in her house is organized. In fact, she admitted her home is “messy.”

Wow. ​

Almost a decade after convincing millions, me included, they needed to purge their homes to spark joy, she’s having a change of heart? Thanks, I guess. ​

When I retired in 2017, I was full Team Kondo. At the time, I’d spent 30 years in my large, three-story house, and it was crammed with enough stuff to fill a warehouse.

The attic was overflowing with old Christmas decorations, toys long forgotten and clothes I hadn’t worn in years. The basement was littered with dozens of cans of dried-out old paint, rusted tools from my grandfather and spare parts to appliances I no longer owned. There were boxes of old linens, pots and pans, and kitchen utensils I’d inherited from my mom, and dozens of large, cut-glass bowls and serving pieces, along with more kitchen utensils, I’d inherited from my aunt.

In retrospect, I should have contested their wills.

But not all the clutter was my doing. When I got divorced in 2002, after 18 years of marriage, my ex took very little from the house, other than its equity. And when my daughter departed for college in 2011, never to return, she left behind just about every possession she’d ever acquired, including a giant play kitchen, a complete library of Nancy Drew mystery books, American Girl merchandise equal to a year’s salary, and 11 giant bags of stuffed animals, whom we lovingly refer to as the Boys. All told, it was an out-of-control family landfill, one I knew I couldn’t just leave for my daughter to deal with (after it all collapsed on me one day and I perished under its weight!).

It was time to clean out my house once and for all. I got off to an excellent start. Old windows went into a neighbor’s dumpster. I made multiple trips to the Salvation Army with boxes of books, ashtrays, knickknacks, coffee mugs and clothes. I even made a few bucks selling some things on eBay.

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Other items, such as my mom’s good dishes and my boyhood set of Lionel trains, tugged on my heartstrings and remained in the house, too difficult to part with.

Still, after two years, my decluttering was well on its way. I could walk in my basement without first having to move some boxes to clear a path. There was actual free space on a few shelves in my attic. Surprisingly, I didn’t miss my blue-and-white-striped, three-piece seersucker suit from 1976.

Then it all went wrong. Remember I said I sold some things on eBay? Well, I also saw some things on eBay. Things I really liked and really wanted. (Need didn’t factor in.)

spinner image a wooden carving of a rooster with an elvis face
Courtesy John Ficarra

A few bids, a few clicks and I was the proud owner of a one-of-a-kind wood carving with the body of a turkey but the head of Elvis Presley. Astoundingly, I was the only bidder. Then, for a mere $5, I snatched up a wax mold of a dinosaur from the 1964 World’s Fair, identical to the one I’d bought at the fair and played with until its extinction.

spinner image a creamer jar in the shape of a nun
Courtesy John Ficarra

And there was no way I could pass up a folk art oil painting of an old whaling ship by an artist whose work I admire; an iron arrow, with a great patina, from an 1800s weather vane; and a small ceramic creamer depicting a nun. The milk flows out of the top of her head. I named her Sister Dairy Creamer. Classic.

It didn’t take me long to see the upside — and the downside — of purging. Yes, you suddenly enjoy space and feel freed of the old stuff’s grip on you, but the thing is, the more you purge, the more room you have for great new stuff. Stuff that, in all likelihood, comes from the homes of other people who are purging their stuff!

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While my decluttering was still greatly outpacing my re-cluttering, I knew that could quickly change if I didn’t establish some cluttering rules, which I’m pleased to share.

Rule 1: Limit purchases to what you can display and/or use. Nothing goes in the attic or basement.

Rule 2: Don’t buy anything on a whim. You should really love what you’re considering or let it pass.

Rule 3: Run any questionable purchases by an outside counsel — in my case, my daughter. It’s only fair that she gets a vote since, technically, I’m spending her inheritance. She’s long accustomed to her father’s eccentric buying habits, so her reaction to a potential new acquisition is usually a two-word text: “Oh no …” It’s her way of eye-rolling her approval. I love that she gets the silliness of it all, the absurdity. Re-cluttering has created a fun little experience we can share.

I am happy to report that life in my big old house is good. The folk art painting and weather vane arrow look great hanging in my foyer. Sister Dairy Creamer was a hilarious hit with my daughter and her friends at a barbecue, and the appearance of Turkey Elvis has become a Thanksgiving family tradition. (Thank you. Thank you very much.)

​Today I’m here to champion the art of re-cluttering and all the joy it sparks. As for Ms. Kondo, who, now with three children, suddenly tolerates a bit of clutter, all I can say is, “Welcome to the real world.”​ ​

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