Stuff of LIfePosted: August 1, 2015
Stuff of Life
That “tidying” could become a topic of popular discourse strains the imagination but this has come about thanks to Japanese writer Marie Kondo. She expanded her simple thesis – if a possession doesn’t “spark” joy, it’s toast – into a catechism of organizing precepts and a full-length New York Times best-seller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A Simple, Effective Way. Its mandate is to de-clutter your life, preferably in one fell swoop.
This reminded me of the admonition of the Swarthmore College Dean to incoming freshman girls – so we were then – in 1963: “If you’re tidy on the outside, you’re tidy on the inside.” Like my classmates, I rolled my eyes. Fifty-two years later, my life seems to validate the obverse of Dean Cobb’s advice. It also gives the lie to Ms. Kondo’s premise that life can be de-cluttered by fiat. For if you are untidy on the inside, it’s impossible to know what possessions give you joy. It is barely possible to appreciate the essentiality of a can opener.
I am untidy on the inside. Seven months after my husband’s sudden death, I cannot untangle memories that hurt from those that help. That is not the sole reason I’m untidy on the outside – downsizing my living quarters by 50% has a lot to do with it too. Internal disarray does, however, exacerbate the difficulty of sorting through stuff. After 30 years with my partner in marriage, law practice, philanthropy, travel, investing and farming potatoes, I have few possessions that aren’t profoundly connected with him. What to save? To display? To use? To dispose of? How to discern what sparks a flight of joy, what triggers an arc of pain; what I can’t let go of, what I must rub out.
Layers of old grief and loss superimpose their own tangles on this emotional maze. There are garish afghans my maternal grandmother crocheted and a porcelain tea set her mother carried from India in 1900. My mother’s quilted sewing basket and silver jewelry box; my father’s crumbling historic newspapers and first edition of The Common Law. And the remnants of childhoods now outgrown – the white fur muff of a toddler, the karate belt of the 7 year old. Are they sad or sweet reminders? Without them, would I be liberated or lost?
Aging in place sidesteps these issues. Dust forms a gray outline around pictures that hang on the walls. Recent novels pile on top of college texts. Handmade mugs stack precariously on top of chipped china. Old coats hang on as extras in case. I opted out of this stasis by moving, but the clarity I seek still eludes me, as witnessed by unopened cartons of uncertain contents..
I tell my granddaughter teasingly that I will calamari my clothes. KonMari, Grandma, she corrects me and rolls her eyes. I think of myself 52 years ago. I had already begun accumulating stuff. I’ll get it all sorted out when I’ve tidied up inside.