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The Philosophy of Decluttering

Probably the best present I have ever been given was to return from my book tour in South Africa to find that my best friend Tim had re-organised, tidied and cleaned my entire apartment.

Pictures had been framed. Ziggurats of papers — the first draft of the book — had been bound. My books were neatly shelved according to topic. In the bathroom was a hanging shelf for shampoos, cleansers and loofahs.

The fridge had been scoured and purged of furry yoghurt and defeated lemons.

My sweaters, socks, t-shirts, boots and shoes — all were displayed in as if in a Benetton store.

The linen cupboard was indexed, dossiered and filed.

The steam-mop wasn’t lolling crazily against the washer-dryer. It had its own place. In fact, there was a place for everything and everything had its place.

On the throat-lozenge-sized patio, he had hung baskets of flowers and there were candles glowing on my shabby chic coffee table. Bob Dylan’s “Spirit on the Water’’ was playing.

I burst into tears of sheer gratitude.

Some months have passed since I returned. From time to time Tim comes and does a spot-check on the State of the Flat. Alas, the last time he rated it D-plus on the Cluttometer.

Who knew that every mother’s exhortation to “Tidy up your room” would one day grow into a billion dollar industry?

Evidently Marie Kondo did. Kondo is a celebrity in Japan. Her last name has become a verb: “I just kondoed my closet”.

Time magazine named Kondo one of the 100 most influential people of 2015. Marie Kondo’s international bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has a sequel: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up. There is also a jouranl, Spark Joy Every Day, liberally sprinkled with quotes: “Pursue ultimate simplicity”, “Things that are cherished shine” — so devotees can be inspired as they chronicle their tidying and organising.

There’s an online KonMari Club where members can read essays about decluttering and look at photos of Kondo’s life, as well as apply for visits from Kondo. This month, Kondo will launch a smartphone app for KonMari devotees, a place where they can post before-and-after photos and share experiences of their decluttering.

Marie Kondo’s core philosophy — if there can be a philosophy about decluttering — is that one must get rid of things that don’t “spark joy”.

“When something sparks joy, you should feel a little thrill, as if the cells in your body are slowly rising.

“When hold something that doesn’t bring you joy, however, you will notice that your body feels heavier.

“When deciding, it’s important to touch it, and by that, I mean holding it firmly in both hands as if communing with it.

“Pay close attention to how your body responds when you do this,” she writes.

It is said that after assessing what sparks joy in their lives, two of her clients have decluttered themselves of their husbands.

I can’t help worrying that being a compulsive declutterer or expunger like Marie and her ilk, is merely an inversion of that other personality disorder beloved of television documentarians — compulsive hoarding.

The 100-Thing Challenge, by Dave Bruno is a book about owning no more than 100 physical items. Fine. Good.

It’s the book’s subtitle that is somewhat hyperbolic: ‘How I Got Rid of Almost Everything, Remade My Life, and And Regained My Soul.’

Evidently declutterers see their calling as one that has deep, deep gravitas.

We’re no longer in the realm of handy household hints or top tips here. Decluttering, we are asked to believe, can be a salve to the human spirit.

Is the Decluttering Industry not a dark joke on the part of consumer capitalism? The answer to the problem of owning too much stuff is to get us to spend more money to help us jettison, organise or conceal it using the services of professional organisers to do so.

I bought Marie Kondo’s book and I will get around to reading it.

I know I have it here. Somewhere.

It’s probably under the pile of books on my bedside table. Next to the almost empty bottle of Yves St Laurent ‘In Love Again’ perfume.

Sorry, Marie, I just can’t throw away because, you see, it evokes such strong memories of living on Clifton Beach in Cape Town.


Words: Jani Allan