Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo: The Dark Side

Previously, I wrote about The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Everything I said in that first part was wholeheartedly true. I admitted there were problems with the KonMari method, but talked more about the good I derived from it. As much as I loved it though, there were several significant problems that a reader should know about before getting into this book.

By far my biggest problem with the entire book was (ironically) her section on “tidying” (translation: purging) books. It was extreme in the extreme, heartless, atrocious, and as one of my friends put it “not to be used.” Well, perhaps I’m being just a tad dramatic, but that doesn’t change the fact that I happily ignored 85% of her content on books. I knew I was in for a rough time of it as soon as she started with rereading books.

The most common reason for not discarding a book is “I might read it again.” Take a moment to count the number of favorite books that you have actually read more than once. How many are there? For some it may be as few as five while for some exceptional readers it may be as many as one hundred. People who reread that many, however, are usually people in specific profession, such as scholars and authors. Very rarely will you find ordinary people like me who read so many books.

Well then, I suppose I must not be “ordinary people.”

Let’s face it. In the end you are going to read very few of your books again …we need to stop and think about what purpose these books serve. Books are essentially paper – sheets of paper printed with letters and bound together. Their true purpose is to be read, to convey information to their readers. It’s the information they contain that has meaning. There is no meaning in their just being on your shelves. You read books for the experience of reading.

Amen. Books are not mere shelf ornaments or decorations. They matter for their content. That is what sparks joy.

…take them in your hand one by one and decide whether you want to keep or discard each one. The criterion is, of course, whether or not it gives you a thrill of pleasure when you touch it. Remember, I said when you touch it. Make sure you don’t start reading it. Reading it clouds your judgment. Instead of asking yourself what you feel, you’ll start asking whether you need that book or not.

Wait…what? I thought the content that mattered, that books are meant to be read, and it is that that gives them meaning.

The honest truth is, the entire section on books felt like it was written by a person who does not truly love reading. Oh, I’m sure she reads, but does she truly love reading? Do books mean something to her, in her very heart and soul? I’m not so sure. As for myself, I am constantly rereading my books. I rarely buy books I am not positive that I will love enough to read multiple times. Every time you reread a book, you are revisiting an entire universe, taking a vacation and experiencing a new life. How can you not reread your favorite books?

Another statement I took issue with was when she discussed books you own and have not read yet. “Sometime means never.” While I try only to buy books I know I love or am relatively positive I will love, I do have a few I haven’t gotten around to reading yet. And you know what? For me, sometime does not mean never. Sometime means sometime. It means that I will get to a place where I have nothing new, and am not in the mood to reread and that “sometime” book will have its time. I do not buy books I don’t intend to read. And I do not have books that remain unread for terribly long.

All the same, I went through my books using her “sparks joy” method, and, rebel that I am, I even skim-read a few of them to decide. Are you properly shocked? And skimming the contents, did not make me feel like I had to keep a book. On the contrary, skimming helped me get rid of more than I would have otherwise. Granted when everything was over with I only got rid of one small box of books – a miniscule amount compared to what other categories of belongings produced. But even she admitted that every person is going to have a different number that will be their “enough.” One woman may have six pairs of shoes, while a shoe-love may have two dozen, and both may have the perfect number for them. I have my perfect number of books, and if it is more than “ordinary people” may consider normal, I’m okay with that.

Book lovers, be warned.

While this section offended my bookish sensibilities and had me ranting to anyone that would listen to me, it was not the most problematic area of this book. That title fell to the sections covering her Zen philosophy. From praying to your house and greeting it when you get home from work, to thanking your possessions for their service before getting rid of them and not rolling your socks because it hurts their feeling and they cannot rest, it read like a something out of Wonderland. She believes that if you ask your house to help you during the tidying process, everything will go more smoothly, and the house will aid with organization. And when she talks about getting rid of these semi-sentient possessions she goes on an amusing little sideline.

Everything you own wants to be of use to you. Even if you throw it away or burn it, it will only leave behind the energy of wanting to be of service. Freed from its physical form, it will move about your world as energy, letting other things know that you are a special person, and come back to you as the thing that will be of most use to who you are now, the thing that will bring you the most happiness. A piece of clothing might come back as a new and beautiful outfit, or it may reappear as information or a new connection. I promise you: whatever you let go will come back in exactly the same amount, but only when it feels the desire to return to you.

Once I got past my shock at this paragraph, I had to set the book down because I was laughing so hard. The image of old underwear-energy floating through my plane of existence, whispering to my stuffed animals about what a wonderful person I am, just tickled me to death.

I’m sorry. I don’t believe my socks feelings are hurt. I don’t believe my house is sentient (and if I ever am lead to believe it is, I’ll be holding an exorcism). I don’t believe discarded possessions are reincarnated as outfits, information, or anything else.

In reading a few other bloggers on this subject though, I found another way to take her beliefs in this area. Her point in thanking items for their services, is to be mindful and grateful for what you have – not merely focused on trashing things. These other Christian bloggers took her instructions and twisted them just a hair. Instead of thanking your items for their service, maybe we should be thanking God for putting these things in our lives, for giving us good things when we need them, and helping us to see when we don’t. And thanking him for giving us our home, not thanking our home for being there.

While her beliefs about sentience and energy were a little…um…wacko for my taste, they were few and far between enough that I could poke fun or ignore them. They did not in any way ruin the overall method for me, but I do think you should go into this book knowing it’s there. “Forewarned is forearmed,” and other such clich├ęs.

It would be easy to take the few things I disagreed with, and use them to attack the overall book, disarming it of any helpfulness, but I don’t think that would be doing justice to thought and care Kondo has put into it. And if I only enjoyed books that I agreed with 100%, there would be much fewer books on my shelves. Don’t let the quirkiness put you off from giving the KonMari method a fair shot.

What do you think? Have you done the method yet? Did you talk to your socks?

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