Serious clutter-bugs hoping to change their ways were buzzing with excitement about how The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo was helping to unburden their lives. Being the Collector of Lots of Good Stuff, it seemed like just the thing I needed to kick-start a new, unencumbered life. So at the next gift-giving event where my kids asked “Mom, what do you want?” I requested and received this best-seller anti-clutter bible. I began in earnest, following the suggestions in each chapter religiously. I went through one category at a time, starting with clothes.
Per instruction, I piled everything on the floor and then picked each item up to see if it “sparked joy” when I held it. If it sparks joy, you keep it, if not, you let it go. What I found was that a lot of my clothing, even if I hadn’t worn it in a while or planned to wear it in the near future, happened to spark some joy. I discovered I actually had an entire closet filled with decades of unworn Joy. It was a challenge to winnow things out with all that sparking going on, but when I was done, a number of large plastic bags had managed to get filled and on their way out the door. Somewhat liberated, I plowed onward.
It went along like that for a while. I learned how to honor my socks by rolling them into little sushi rolls and to stack my shirts like color coordinated files in a drawer. Upon completion, there was some feeling of accomplishment, so I moved on bravely to “Books” as the next formidable chapter. And this is where I got stuck.
My books are my people. They are the dreams and memories, the escapes and fantasies, the doorway to knowledge, the loved ones. Following Marie’s instructions, I put the vast collection of books in a giant pile on the floor and then picked up each one and held it, to see “whether or not it gives you a thrill of pleasure when you touch it”. Difficulties began to arise here. I reluctantly sorted out many great novels I enjoyed but probably would not read again, including those I had started and meant to finish, or those I had purchased but hadn’t gotten around to reading. There were some which were gifts, and that was especially hard to consider parting with, as a vision of the person who gifted it was strongly attached to the book. Some, of course, were clearly keepers. I kept the books written by people I actually knew, some reference and how-to guides, all my childhood favorites, or anything from my family. Despite this, I did manage to fill a number of bags and boxes for the local library book sale, actually reducing the amount down to one-third of what I originally had. However, there was one small paperback I struggled with.
It was an herbal from the 1970’s called Common Herbs for Natural Health by Juliette de Bairacli Levy, which I had purchased back when I was a hippie girl living alone in the woods. It had been my go-to reference book back then, an eye-opening first introduction to an approach I still value today. Even though many more comprehensive, current and easier to follow books have come out since, I just liked having it on my shelf and seeing the cover, if only because it was a reminder of those challenging times of growth. So why not keep it? It was small enough that it didn’t command much room.
The issue was that since its publication there has actually been a revamped version edited by a local herbalist, which I promptly purchased due to the larger, clearer typeface, the easier reference index, updated information regarding health and effects, and the fact it was edited to better reflect the political correctness of these current times. So I had both versions on my bookshelf, side by side, and when it came time to purge, I felt it would be silly to justify keeping the old, worn and outdated version with the small print that I never looked at with these aging eyes, aside from the comfort of its familiar cover. It seemed to go against the Kondo-ian principles outlined in her guide, as it didn’t actually “spark joy” in so much as invoke some wistful tug of almost melancholy “memory”. Given I had the new and supposedly improved version, this was a perfect example of how I would get stuck on things. I resolved to move forward. So I reluctantly scratched my name out from the inside of the cover and into the discard pile it went.
Once it was gone, I regretted it. I am not particularly missing any of the other books I have passed on (so far) except this one. Of course it is purely emotional, given I have the reworked, “better” copy. I considered looking for another old copy of the one I had given away, but it would not be MY copy, the one I held in my hands and pored over so many times while trying to cure a cough or sooth some irritation, or just to assimilate knowledge; a companion while living by myself in that young, transitional state of being so long ago. So I don’t know if anything but the original would satisfy the feeling of loss or not. Perhaps it would. But it’s just more stuff, right?
Even though it is not her fault, I found I started to really resent Marie Kondo. While I forged through the remaining sections of her book, ridding myself of years of papers, dead files, sample cosmetics, boxes of unnamed cords, plugs and electronics, kitchen items, stockpiles of cleaning products, extra towels, drawers of odds and ends and even photos, I repeatedly found that further on down the road I would suddenly find the need for something that used to be stashed in a utility drawer, or was only used irregularly – one of those things that you are glad to have at some odd time – an eyeglass case, an old towel for a wet dog, an extra charger or key ring, a spare pair of shoelaces….and would have to go out and purchase it all over again. Each time that would happen, I would say “Damn!” or worse. I wonder if she gets letters and emails from disgruntled purgers, or from actual hoarders gone crazy?
While looking for another reference book the other day, I became keenly aware that my original little herbal was not on the shelf. I keep coming back to that small, missing book, hopefully now in the possession of an herb-lover (who are you?) the name of the former owner scribbled out to avoid detection as she attempted to move forward from her past.