There’s something about the beginning of a new year that has us focus on order–organizing, purging, out with the old and in with the new. My dear friend and Yoga Diva Lesley gifted me last year with the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo, a best-selling book that reached nearly cult status. While I was wary of some of her assertions, including her admonition not to roll our socks in a ball because they (the socks) need to rest and relax while in our sock drawers, I grudgingly concede to the charm of her message. We are all, it seems, drowning in stuff.
I’ve written of this before, the staggering dollars we invest in storing our stuff. According to an article in Forbes, “The Real Cost of Your Shopping Habits” by Emma Johnson, American spend $24 million each year to store their stuff in 2.3 billion square feet of storage units. Quoting from the Self Storage Association, Ms. Johnson writes that storage units comprise one of the fastest-growing segments of the commercial real estate industry over the past four decades. Then there’s the $1 billion we now spend in professional organizers and the products required to stay organized, a number reported by the National Association of Professional Organizers. I have invested some of my own hard-earned money on professional organizers (thank you, Linette George of Get Organized By George) and consider it some of the best money I ever spent.
What is it we’re really looking for when we get the urge to purge? “Focus, organization and productivity” are the promises of the professional organizer. The ability to breathe when we sit down to dinner, not haunted by the piles of paperwork that’s been sitting at the edge of the dining room table for months. The blessing of what graphic designers call “white space,” the absence of clutter or knick-knacks that dominate our vision and our imaginations. The peace that come with a place for everything and everything in its place.
I should talk. My home is a mélange of the interests of both my husband and me, a veritable assault on the senses. I mutter about his attachment to collections of musical instruments, bottles shaped like musical instruments, even the music itself, piling up on the dining room sideboard. No matter what system we (read: I) create, he morphs another one that spins out of control. He’s an artist: society gives him a pass. What about me?
My collection of vintage roosters, circa 1950s, grew alarmingly and I had to issue an edict to family and friends: NO MORE ROOSTERS. I thought they’d draw a fortune on eBay–wrong. I gave some away to a local restaurant, Egg Harbor, and now when I visit them I’m wistful and think about reclaiming them, even go so far as to reach over a startled diner to rearrange them, explaining without apology “This was mine, once.” I still have dozens of roosters tucked away in tissue in colorful hat boxes upstairs, a painful reminder of the money I didn’t invest in my 401K. “Wanted: a good home for antique roosters. Must appreciate irony.”
This week I broke a teacup from my teacup collection, bequeathed to me by my Aunt Marian. I remember sitting at her dining room table (the very dining room table from which I’m writing) and eyeing her teacups with a covetous glance. Now there they are, lined up and waiting for the occasional tea party which happens every decade or so. I think of my Aunt Marian and wish I had another luncheon with her instead. She used to invite me to lunch at her assisted living facility and I couldn’t bear the sight or smell of old people, so I made up a lame excuse and dashed off before the meal hour. This is what they mean by regret.
Other collections: Indian art, anything with the theme of El Dia de los Muertos and Our Lady of Guadalupe, vintage pottery, books, books and more books, quilts and religious kitsch, especially anything that illuminates. Think Jesus nightlights. We aren’t hoarders, but the idea of slogging through all this stuff to lighten our loads first inspires, then exhausts. I’d rather read a book.
But this year, we are downsizing. There, I’ve said it. Not sure where, not sure how, but it’s a commitment, like a New Year’s Resolution that is now in print. We will “curate,” a trendy word for a function that my husband once did as a museum curator of exhibits. We will handle every thing with the tenderness recommended by Marie Kondo and evaluate whether it’s a keeper or it belongs in the recycling pile or, last resort, the trash. With the reminder that we are not our things, a compassionate heart for our children who should not be burdened with our stuff and a joyful eye toward the future of streamlined, purposeful living, we will lighten our load. Wherever we end up–a smaller home, an apartment, a townhome or condo, maybe even, as my husband likes to say, “a trailer down by the river”–we will create this new space, together, surrounded only by the things and the people we love.
Photo: Close-up of my 2015 hatbox collage