I’ve had a bee in my bonnet for the past week about this Marie Kondo Tidying-Up show and it is the same bee that flew in my bonnet when the book was published. Before I get in rant mode let me establish a few things:
- I’m not saying that if you are “tidying-up” that you are a bad awful person and should stop. By all means, spark all the joy you want and fill up my thrift stores with stuff I can afford.
- There are things I like about the KonMari method. The folding clothes and putting them in the drawer upright is pretty cool. I can also see how this method could be useful with someone processing grief and loss.
In other words, if this works for you then cool cool cool. But I’m going to throw some discomfort your way for your consideration.
This is the most privileged shit I’ve seen in quite a long time. Roll with me here for a minute.
In February of 2000, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Alicia Hope. It was my freshman year of college and I had left an abusive relationship, moved in with my parents, and was going to college. I was so scared and unsure of myself and more than anything I wanted my child to be brave and kind. I named my daughter after the woman, Alicia Appleman-Jurman, who wrote the common reader for my freshman class. Alicia Appleman-Jurman was a Jewish woman who survived the Holocaust. Her entire family was murdered, Appleman-Jurman escaped, fled, and even cared for other orphans when she was only sixteen-years-old. Appleman-Jurman’s memoir was the common reader for my freshman class and it had such a life-changing impact on me.
A college staff member helped me connect with Appleman-Jurman and we exchanged letters for several years. She often sent my daughter thoughtful gifts of small toys, crayons, and coloring books. Each box was packed with care and she used newspaper, bits of fabric, and old clothing to pack the box. The thoughtful gifts were not new and shiny but used and loved and thoughtfully sent to my daughter. I do not know if Appleman-Jurman had PTSD, but she survived concentration camps, lived on rotting potatoes while sleeping in fields, and witnessed the murder of her entire family. I do feel confident in saying that Appleman-Jurman experienced horror, loss, poverty, and want. Of course, she isn’t going to discard perfectly good items. I’m pretty sure that she didn’t ditch all of her newspapers, bits of fabric, and unused clothing because they didn’t “spark joy.” No, she held onto items and then used them to cushion the joy she sent me and my daughter.
When you experience the combination of terror and want it has the ability to change you.
Appleman-Jurman’s memoir gave me the strength and inspiration to tackle being a single mother. Let me make clear that I am not equating single parenthood with surviving the Holocaust, but I felt able to brave the small things because she braved so many much bigger things.
What a privilege it is to hold an item in your hand and ask if it sparks joy. If it is joyful then it stays. If not, then it goes. If you have ever experienced food scarcity, poverty, or trauma then you may be more concerned with sparking survival and joy hasn’t even entered your vocabulary.
In a relationship with my abuser, I lost many things that sparked my joy. Items were intentionally withheld or destroyed. As a fat woman living in poverty, I relied on thrift stores for my clothing; I had to buy what would fit even if it was ugly and uncomfortable. Clothing I bought that really sparked joy was often purchased with credit cards or student loans and I probably shouldn’t have purchased those “joy sparking” dresses and sweaters. I didn’t throw out my child’s old shoes because if her one good pair was busted there was no guarantee that I could get her a replacement pair. She’d have to wear some less-busted, but slightly smaller shoes for a while.
If you had asked me to pile up my clothes, my cool-whip containers that functioned as to-go dishes, and the cheap broken toys my child had and only keep what sparked joy, then you would have seen what sparking shame looked like.
Oh I cannot get rid of this… because what if I need to leave again, what if I lose my job, what if I cannot get a ride to the store, what if I am in need again? I found ways to pile up and appreciate the other shame-sparking things necessary to the poor. I went to the “crisis pregnancy center” to sit through video programs on Jesus-y topics to earn “points” to exchange for diapers I needed for my baby. Sometimes, I got boxes of food from churches or food pantries and maybe the food wasn’t the greatest and didn’t spark joy but I damn well ate the food because I didn’t want to be hungry. One Christmas not-too-far in the past I returned Christmas gifts for my kids a few weeks before Christmas because I needed money for bills. And that was getting rid of the joy sparking and having to sit with shame in order to survive.
Now, I feel like I should definitely state that I have a strong network of family and friends who have helped me immensely with food, rides, clothing, gifts for my kids, and books and coffee. I am well loved and I know if things got really bad I had folks in my corner. For example, that low Christmas my friends, my parents, and my husband’s mom really made sure my kids had a great Christmas. The people who had my back sparked an awful lot of joy in my life. Many folks do not have the support system I have and that makes it all the more difficult.
During this on-going discussion of Tidying-up, one friend remarked that going through her items highlighted the privilege she has… that she could see items piling up and saw how much she had that she didn’t need or want. I understand that, but what is troubling to me is this zeitgeist of “sparking joy.” Even getting the chance to ask if an item “sparks joy” comes from a place of security. There are other interventions that are better are more sustainable for everyone such as increasing social infrastructure and supports and increasing access to social workers who are able to tackle the social impact of poverty and trauma.
There are also other ways of approaching a minimalist lifestyle that isn’t centered on something as ambiguous and privileged as joy. For example, the radical notion that joy isn’t a sustainable emotion. I have moments of joy, but I’ll settle for contentment and security. Asking questions like, “is this item useful? or “would this item be of use to others?” would promote more of a sharing-resources approach instead of chasing after this nebulous concept of “joy.”
In closing, let me say that if you are KonMari-ing the hell out of your life then go right ahead. I only want folks to be aware that sometimes getting rid of so much stuff because of a fleeting feeling is not something all of us can do and watching so many friends ditch things with such ease gives me an anxious twitch.