National Organizing Month: Can I Finally Find the Courage to Clean Up Around Here?
By: Judy Gruen
Recently at a Shabbat lunch, my friend Debbie tugged me on the arm and whispered, "You have got to get that bestselling book about tidying up. It's amazing!"
Of course I had seen Marie Kondo's book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. It had been on the bestseller list for eons, and had graced the coffee tables in the homes of a few of my friends, silently accusing me for my own lackadaisical organizing ways. More irritatingly, the author had become a media darling, quoted relentlessly in articles and on TV. Now she even has her own show on Netflix!
Look, I'm a writer who freely admits to an ungenerous, knee-jerk antipathy to any author zinged with such colossal success with her very first book. Kondo has earned additional irritation points due to her youth, beauty, and being the world's reigning expert at something that has always been the bane of my existence: decluttering. Despite my respect for my friend Debbie, I had zero interest in this little book that would try to coax me out of my paper piles, stacks of shoes, and mountains of mail which I really plan to get to—soon.
Debbie’s enthusiasm shocked me. She is already a supremely organized woman, and a professional designer and chef. She's not one to storm around the house hunting for sunglasses or wondering who moved her pepper grinder. If even someone like Debbie, despite her enviable storehouse of stackable see-through storage bins, could find revelations in another organizing bible, what hope was there for me, a perennial piker in the organizing wars?
"You have to read it," Debbie insisted. "It's mind-blowing."
The last time someone promised me a mind-blowing experience via a new consumer product, I separated myself from four hundred bucks on two sets of Tupperware (one for meat and one for dairy) within the hour. Feeling I had no choice, I gritted my teeth as I added the book to my Amazon cart and pressed “Place Order”.
My heart raced when I opened the book. I was afraid of having to follow a lot of new rules. As a religious Jew, didn’t I have enough rules already? But, I reasoned, if this Ms. Kondo could offer me tidying truths, I’d be brave and face it.
Besides, I realized my stand-by excuse—that a messy desk is a sign of a creative mind—had become as stale as last week's mandlebroit. Facing my desk each day, with its rampage of project notes, bills, and school pictures of my kids which were years old and still unfiled, I didn’t feel creative; I felt like singing the blues.
I saw from page one that Ms. Kondo was ingenious. While other organizers tell you to declutter one room at a time so you don't get overwhelmed, Ms. Kondo—perhaps because she is Japanese—recommends the kamikaze approach: she wants you to go around the house and get rid of anything that doesn't bring you joy. Based on her clients' experiences with this approach, she promised that my life would change forever. (They said that about the Tupperware, too.) As eye-popping as these promises were, the following was the one that really grabbed me by the adenoids and wouldn't let go: if I did it her way, and purged my home of everything that did not bring me joy, I would never have to declutter again—for the rest of my life!
I looked around my house and saw a moving truck’s worth of things that didn't bring me joy. Vacuum cleaner. Bathroom scale. Hand weights gathering dust in the closet. Throw pillows that once matched bedding I had eight years ago. An entire set of Encyclopedia Britannica (missing only the volume of P) that is so old it has no entry for personal computers. My husband won't let me get rid of it. Go figure.
I am working up the courage to eject, expel, and purify the premises, Kondo-style, but there is nothing I can do about my kitchen. Ms. Kondo does not understand the concept of two sets of dishes, (not to mention Pesach dishes,) and all the extra food Jews keep in the pantry because we need to feel emotionally safe. Nor would she understand our need for thousands of books, including huge, tall tomes of Talmud, which take up a lot of space. My books bring me joy, and even when I toss the ones I don’t feel are worth keeping, I cannot help but buy new ones to take their place. Good books are comforting. And they bring me joy!
But since we are wrapping up National Organizing Month, I am planning the kind of stealth operation that Ms. Kondo recommends. I will lower the shades and start tossing, junking, recycling, and purging, with no one to stop me! (She doesn't offer advice on how I will defend myself when the rest of the family comes home and screams that we've been robbed when they see the place has been picked clean—which is why everyone's voices are echoing off the walls. Bet you anything that this woman is not married.)
First stop: the alley behind the grocery store, to stockpile boxes for my mission. First things to go: that ancient Encyclopedia Britannica and my ancient Cuisinart, the one with the arthritic blades.
Wish me luck.
(This column originally appeared in different form on aish.com.)
is the author of five books, including most recently The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love with Faith (She Writes Press, 2017). Her other books include The Women's Daily Irony Supplement, Till We Eat Again: A Second Helping, and Carpool Tunnel Syndrome. Her columns and features have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, Aish.com, Jewish Journal, Jewish Action, and dozens of other media outlets. Judy is also a popular speaker, book editor and writing coach, and can be reached at email@example.com.