Here I sit, on the verge of weeping, as tomorrow I go back to work after a lovely two week break. There was even a free public holiday thrown in today, keeping the agony at bay for an extra 24 hours. Sigh…like many, I don’t always take two weeks off in a row, as I can rarely afford to go away for that length of time. But it’s needed to switch off and relax – one week just isn’t enough time – therefore it should be paid and compulsory leave for all working people. The Queen has spoken.
And we need it more than ever in these turbulent times. As suspected in my last post, the world really has gone to hell in a handbasket. Political upheaval, war, terror, extreme poverty, a refugee crisis, mass shootings…maybe it’s always been this way and often it’s been worse, but it’s not too joyful for many these days.
So when life hands you lemons…avoid the temptation to squeeze them in a politician’s eyes. Instead, steal the mantra from those who would ruin us for their own ends and #take back control. Finding ways to do this, from the conservative to the radical, can make any of us feel better.
One of my personal nemeses (for I have many) is clutter. I wouldn’t say I’m a deliberate hoarder, more of a lazy procrastinator, who likes to shove things in drawers and cupboards and forget about them for as long as possible. This way, the surface areas can look relatively clear and I can pretend to myself that I am quite tidy.
The obvious problem with this approach is that eventually all of the cupboards become full and unless you are able to continuously extend and buy more storage, stuff starts to seep out into the visible areas. You have two choices here: live in a mess or do something about it. And due to the combination of my super dooper avoidance skills, intense dislike of housework and propensity to go out and do something more interesting, I have been mostly been living in a mess for a while.
As a self-confessed slattern, I can put up with this to a point, but even slobs get the household blues once in a while. I read an article recently about the Japanese tidying guru Marie Kondo, who has sold over six million copies of her book on the Japanese art of tidying and has millions of followers on social media, who have sorted out their messy lives and live in minimalist happiness.
Like other aspects of Japanese culture, it’s a strict ritual with various rules, such as tidying by category, rather than by rooms, and in the correct order, which is clothes, books, papers, komono (miscellany) and then finally sentimental items. This actually makes sense to me in terms of freeing up space from larger things first, but you have got to finish discarding first, which means leaving your living space in chaos for a while. And people do get distracted when looking through old photos etc which is why personal stuff goes last; hours earmarked for tidying could be pleasantly spent browsing old memories.
But some of her advice is a bit too weird for me, such as hold every item before you decide whether to keep or chuck, to see if it ‘sparks joy’. If it doesn’t, then into the bin it goes. Or it’s to get passed on, to bring joy to someone else. When I gutted my terrifyingly messy, tardis-like hall cupboard this week, I didn’t think of this at all. A camping gaz might not bring me a spark of joy, but if I want to boil water when sleeping in a tent, then I need one. I guess you could argue that a morning coffee after a crap night’s sleep in a tent would bring me joy, but I see it more as a life essential.
The other impossible to maintain thing for me would be stacking everything in a drawer vertically, so you can see what’s in it. Fair enough, it makes sense, but how the hell would you keep your pants standing up in a drawer – starch? I’m sure there is a You Tube video to show you how, but for me, life is far too short to worry about stacking your t-shirts perfectly vertically. And I just don’t have the patience to maintain a system of putting everything exactly where it’s meant to go, although I wish I did. Yep, I am one of those people who enjoys going to Ikea, not just for the cheap breakfasts, but to look in all the rooms drooling, dreaming that my life was so tidy and organised. The photo at the top (from their website) epitomises the kind of space I don’t have. Or if I did, within two weeks it would be more reflective of me, i.e. messy.
Not a hopeless cause though. I know I can be tidy, usually when staying in a lovely rental cottage: you come in to a clean and tidy home with lots of space for the small amount of stuff you have, and everything neatly in place. I can easily keep that up for a week when I don’t have a job to go to…
So I had a free day of my precious leave for tidying and I inadvertently followed some of Kondo’s advice when I dragged everything out of the hall cupboard before I started, leaving myself marooned on a small patch of floor. Her reasoning is that you need to know the scale of what you have, to see what needs to go. My thinking was that if I didn’t get it all out and make a total mess, of the type that just couldn’t be left, I would only do a half arsed job then go out for a coffee instead. Maybe pragmatic self-awareness will get you just as far as symbolic rituals in the end. Or at least the need to clear a path to the toilet.
The point of all this, is not that a bit of house tidying will make all the problems of the planet go away. Obviously it’s not world changing, but there is a beneficial psychological impact of tackling a horrible chore head on, and just starting. It’s spurred me on to do another room (against the Kondo rules, but it’s her full time career FFS) and plan the next bits. I cannot bloody wait to get to the toys.
This particular type of task is powerful for individuals though: sorting through things you’ve been holding on to for a long time & getting rid of some, having a lot less stuff, needing less & shedding, donating things to others, taking loads of bin bags and plastic crap to the tip for recycling…this is all stuff that makes us feel good. And it’s empowering to get rid of so many physical things; it’s political with a small p. I’ve been thinking about trying to cut down on my possessions for a while, but in typical style, I’ve been fannying about and not actually doing it.
Well I’ve started now, so take that vile politicians of the world! Okay, perhaps the rumblings will be small at Westminster. But maybe the act of getting rid of things that clutter our homes and in the end, our minds, will free us up to do more about the things that really matter to us, whatever they may be.
Until next time,