Clear Space, Clear Head, Can’t Lose

By Rebekah Page-Gourley posted 03-21-2016 07:47


Last spring, I read Marie Kondo’s eccentric decluttering manifesto The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. In case you haven’t heard of the “KonMari method,” the gist is this: Go through your belongings and discard anything that doesn’t “spark joy.” Proceed in order from clothing, to books, to papers, and on. Organize your culled belongings according to specific rules. (E.g., ask your clothes if they prefer to be hung up or folded; thank your socks for their hard work and do not ball them up.)

Since the book’s publication, there’s been excitement over the method, backlash about its asceticism, and backlash about there being predictable backlash. The issue of stuff obviously hits a nerve. Contemplating our belongings (and their type, amount, age, and condition) dredges up issues we might have with consumerism, social status, personal discipline, emotional baggage, past failures, and more.

My initial response was to latch onto a couple of kooky nuggets, consider them loopholes in the system, and dismiss the whole book. Nasal aspirators don’t fill my heart with bliss. I can’t hear what my clothes are telling me. I have a kid. But certain parts of the book kept coming back to me, and I couldn’t get them out of my head. So I ended up meeting Kondo part way:

  • I do think I work better and feel better without useless stuff in my way. So the basic decluttering concept resonates with me. Purging accumulated papers and clearing drawers of unused items gave me a feeling of clarity and lightness. I felt motivated, happy, and in control.
  • I don’t talk to my clothes, but I do put them away more regularly. I got rid of a lot of old race t-shirts, suits, and stuff that didn’t fit or made me sad because it wasn’t “me.” I don’t need to hold on to the “someday” or “maybe” items; I’m a grown-up and if I want something similar a few years down the road I can just buy a new one. I’m also less inclined to buy something on sale just because it’s on sale.
  • I will never get rid of all of my books. Books, in general, spark joy for me. I grew up surrounded by full bookcases, and to me that’s not clutter. However, I did go through my bookcases and donate my law school books (you’re welcome?) and any novels I’d already read and didn’t like.
  • I never keep paper manuals for appliances, electronics, or kid gear anymore. If I need to look something up (which is never), it’s online.
  • I used to keep unwanted or unused gifts out of loyalty or guilt. But Kondo makes a good case for jettisoning them. The act of giving the gift, she argues, is what brought the giver joy. And that act is complete. It’s ok to let it go. And now, I do.

Even this small amount of decluttering has been hugely beneficial for me, and I know it could potentially have the same effect on a law practice. It’s stressful to walk into an office stacked with bursting files or to see a constantly overflowing inbox (paper or electronic). If you didn’t have those things weighing you down, wouldn’t you feel more empowered to get things done?

An uncluttered physical space really can inspire a new outlook. Like me, you might get more out of holding onto a little less.




03-22-2016 07:33

Thanks for the comment, Michelle! It's interesting to think about how to extend the "joy" concept beyond our possessions. I think it definitely requires taking the long view. Maybe it isn't the same as the joy of a quiet cup of cappuccino on a Sunday morning or finding $20 in your jeans, but the joy of knowing that the work you're doing (with its inevitable hassles) and the people around you (with their inevitable flaws) are ultimately helping create the life you want. All the best to you!

03-21-2016 17:15

I have used Marie Kondo's theory of "joy" maticulously and I feel so much better about all my surroundings. The idea of joy as a mark of what to keep and what to toss sparked "joy" in me. I kept a 20 year old blouse I wear weekly--LandsEnd is a good brand--and threw out all the other stuff that didn't spark joy. I just cleaned out my law office and storage space--what joy and freedom--purge, throw, and clean. There is not much left to organize move from one drawer to another, because it was all thrown out.
The only downside to this method is it does make you look at your relationship to things, and people. Do people in your life bring you joy? Does your work bring you joy? Now that my head and environment is clearer of stuff, I am evaluating my work and people. Maybe I'll throw some other stuff away: maybe I'll throw away some people.
Only time will tell.