I’m moving. Not out of Seattle, but to different house in a new neighborhood. Any of you who have been through this process probably had a reaction to that first sentence. Maybe a negative one because moving is hard, and it’s emotional. But moving is also exciting, right? It’s the beginning of a new life phase. Moving closes one chapter in your life, but also opens up new opportunities. Moving means meeting new neighbors, but also saying goodbye to your favorite neighbors. Moving is physically draining and emotionally exhilarating. Either way, it’s stressful. No doubt about that. And finally, moving is an opportunity to decide what things you really want to keep and what things you need to let go of.
Going through and packing up stuff is what I’m really interested in here, and it’s the subject of a tiny bestselling book, the life-changing magic of tidying up, by Marie Kondo (Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon!) That this book has been a number one New York Times bestseller here in the United States — where we probably accumulate more stuff than anyone else on the planet — is not surprising. Certainly, no other country in the world spends as much on consumer goods. According to the Self Storage Association, a trade group which monitors such things, our country now possesses some 1.875 billion square feet of personal storage space. One 2005 survey found that one in eleven American households owned self-storage space—an increase of some seventy-five percent from 1995. I can only guess at how much those numbers have increased in the last ten years.
I have never rented a storage unit and have never wanted to. Until now, that is. In this crazy Seattle real estate market, it’s not possible to buy a home contingent on the sale of your current home. That quaint practice is long gone — gone before the first real-estate bubble burst in 2009 and a laughable prospect in the hot seller’s market we’re now experiencing, where home prices are higher than ever but the inventory is extremely low. This means that my husband and I must pack up all of our earthly possessions and find someplace to store them until our house has sold and closed and we’re ready to buy another house. Hence my interest in Kondo’s book, which seems to spill off the tables in every bookstore I frequent in Seattle. Third Place Ravenna had several copies on display and a stack of them on the shelf below. It’s readily available at Elliott Bay Books. The Seattle Public Library owns 186 copies, all of which are in use, with 1009 holds. Everyone is reading this book and talking about it and since I must go through all of my stuff and decide how much I need to keep, I hoped it would help.
When I first found this book online, I noticed it was cataloged under the subject of “Buddhism and Zen Philosophy.” Interesting, right? One person I talked with told me she felt tricked when she realized that some of the book’s tenets are based on Buddhist thought. But for me, headed into the process of sifting through not only my clothes, but also books and photos and mementos collected over the years, I figured the Zen aspect would actually be lovely.
I especially like Kondo’s idea that one should touch every piece of clothing and every object in one’s home and decide whether or not it sparked joy. And, too, I like the notion that you must do this all at once and not bit-by-bit so that when you empty all of your clothes onto your king-sized bed (as I did) you cannot delude yourself into thinking you have less than one ridiculously enormous pile of clothes that you rarely wear and don’t need. This makes it easy to begin the discarding process. I had a long, rainy afternoon to devote to this task and began it with gusto.
After a while, though, I got tired. I wanted to either stuff these things back into the closet or into a box I’d move to my next house. But I kept reminding myself the promise I’d made, the one with which Kondo would surely agree: I would not move anything into storage and ultimately into my new house, unless I loved it. Unless, in Kondo’s words, it sparked joy. So I persevered. I ended up with two large plastic trash bags of clothing to donate and my closet looked great. And I felt lighter too, no longer weighed down by so much stuff. The physical act of hauling these huge bags into the car and dropping them off at my local Value Village made me smile. But that was just Phase One. When you move, you must actually touch each book and object in your home because, unless someone else is packing for you, it’s the only way to get those things from one place to the other.
After clothing, I moved on to books. The books were harder. As a writer, I love books and have collected many hundreds of books over the nine years we’ve lived in this house. My husband, too, is an avid reader. We have three walls filled with bookshelves on three different levels of our home. But , as I handled each one, I was surprised to find that some definitely sparked joy when I remembered the pleasure of reading them, while others touched very different emotional chords. Some made me feel guilty: I got this book as a gift and should read it, or, this is a really interesting book, I’m definitely going to read it someday. I’d put those guilty books onto a different pile and not in the boxes to pack or the bags to donate. I’d re-visit them later. But, again, after a while I got tired and had to walk away. Tomorrow is another day.
Which brings me to my biggest complaint about the life-changing magic of tidying up: Kondo is a dictator! She spends a great deal of time early on explaining how she came to the perfect system for dealing with the stuff of everyday life. She tells her readers things like: you must fold your clothes just so and never, never roll your socks! Really? I do know how to fold clothes and sort of agree with her system but tell me not to roll my socks? That’s crazy! How would I keep them together?
So at some point in the book, I started to resent the author. Again, packing up a large home is exhausting and Kondo’s proclamations started to sound like a harangue. I had enough to worry about. And, hey, isn’t this person much younger than me? How dare she tell me that I must proceed through these onerous moving tasks in a particular way — her way — or I would fail, or at least run the risk of sliding back into my naturally slovenly ways. Enough! I put the book down and continued with my own variation of Kondo’s system which worked pretty well.
I have now made my way through most of my stuff. The house officially went on the market this week and I’ve had the moving truck haul off my precious things to storage. But only temporarily. I know that when we find a new house and the moving van arrives with my furniture and belongings I will be happy to have taken the time to touch each piece of clothing and each object and to have thanked those things I discarded for the joy they brought into my life.
And I thanked Kondo for her little book, just as I tossed it in the “Donate to Seattle Public Library” bag. One more person has just been removed from the hold list. Excellent!