I admit it. I’ve joined the Marie Kondo bandwagon. But as I like to think of it, the better sort. As in I’ve actually read the book, examined her sock folding diagrams, and even asked Google about what it defines this thing called Joy as. Google dictionary states that joy is ‘A feeling of great pleasure or happiness.’ I interpret this definition as where joy is a slightly more intense experience than pleasure. Possibly with a greater underlay of physical energetics than the emotion of happiness alone.
For the last year I’ve been slowly getting rid of the Things that I think weigh me down. I pick items up as Marie Kondo states we should do and ask the essential Kondo question ‘Does it spark joy?’
And, contrary to mocking popular belief, I have found I can rid myself of almost everything that does not spark joy. Even if it is an associative joy. For instance, functional things like my running shoes make me feel good because, hello – exercise equals endorphins. They are also orange. And orange is my favourite colour.
Equally, my fry pan enables me to cook up healthful stir fries of Chinese greens in sesame oil. It too is associative of joy. The joy of nourishment. Of feeding myself Good Foods. Of cooking (a hobby I find a great amount of Joy in.)
This ‘Simplification of Stuff’ jag was sparked by two things. Firstly, shifting into a tiny studio bedsit that literally had no room for most of my belongings. I had stuff that had to be stored elsewhere initially. Having access to a friend’s garage was useful. As was access to my mother’s car for transporting said stuff as I sorted and culled.
Now however, I’ve destuffed enough to say I can fit all I own into one room and a small bathroom/laundry space. This is inclusive of a mountain bike which (just) fits behind my bathroom door.
It was partly a situational thing that sparked my journey into getting rid of belongings. But there was nothing joyous about this time. I was leaving a living situation that wasn’t great for my wellbeing.
It was a running away time. A running for cover time from my own ballooning feelings. It was a free falling kind of getting rid of things. I was trying to make room for better things and to get rid of the things that might reminded me of the bad…
Also of relevance to my simple living journey was The Minimalist’s documentary on Netflix. Even if I found Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus rather irritating in their uniforms of oh-so-cool-label-jeans and black t-shirts stretched across their nicely taut biceps (and yes, I did notice.)
Despite this, I did love the idea of reducing to what you need so you can live better. For them that seemed to be telling everyone else about what they thought ‘Better Living’ was. Good for them, I guess. But I wasn’t totally sold on their enthusiasm of getting rid of everything to show you cared about your life. It felt a little polemical. Possibly taken to the wrong end of extreme.
I also found their podcast immensely boring – just two guys riffing off and ranting at each other for hours on end. Maybe I just didn’t ‘get’ the podcast medium – I don’t know.
Anyway, to me, it felt a bit like ‘The New Minimalists’ were just selling yet another lifestyle. (Sell being the operative word here, America where they are from is after all capitalism’s king and both Joshua and Ryan came from business backgrounds…) It felt to me like they had made minimalism yet another idea to sell to the world.
I did find myself following much of their advice though because I really felt I needed to live better. And they both seemed so totally enthusiastic about their made-minimal-lives. I wanted to feel that enthusiastic about my life too.
By combining Kondo’s Shinto influenced interior and emotional design principles with the New Minimalist’s more gung-ho dude approach of cut your losses and reduce-to-rebel I felt like I’d almost found an ideology that worked for me.
But not quite.
Because Kondo’s obsessive clothes folding techniques and the fact, she had a whole chapter devoted to it in her book irritated me. It felt way too close to OCD. I’ve already mentioned my hesitancy about what I term ‘the sell’ of minimalism by Joshua and Ryan.
However, both these philosophies got me going in the right direction. I assessed the piles of fabric that I’d collected for sewing/ craft projects and that had sat stewing in moth- ball-laced-boxes for months untouched. I sorted all my yarn stash by colour and fibre type (yeah ok, I too have a touch of Kondo OCD.) I organised my embroidery threads by colour and weight. They lay like mini rainbows in the sewing box I had inherited from my grandmother.
I sold a few of the things I’d decided to discard on Trade Me. I also upcycled what I could for practical domestic use. Old t-shirts cut into rags for cleaning. Bulk glass peanut butter jars for storage of dried beans and lentils. With the jars sitting in regiments gleaming with their contents of small circles of plant protein, the pleasure I got from my well organised pantry sparked a joy that surprised me.
Now, as at writing, here at the start of December 2019, I can classify my belongings into five sections.
- Clothes; which includes shoes and coats.
- Books of various topics (mostly poetry, vegan cookbooks, novels by women writers and simple living texts). I set myself to one medium sized bookshelf full. I kept to this restriction.
- Work papers and the associated technology – SEE: smart phone, laptop, gadget chargers and an extra computer monitor because I like working with a double screen.
- Kitchen gear; teapots, capacious mugs, food processor, vintage plates, muffin tins, soup ladles etc.
- And, craft gear. Yarn. Embroidery threads. Fabric scraps. Needles of various kinds. Crochet hooks. My sewing machine. A biscuit tin full of buttons. And the associated craft books outlining techniques or serving as inspiration.
These categories do merge in the way that life is not made of clear demarcations. See the craft books as a cross genre example. My possessions are also not clearly demarcated. Neither is how I go about using them whether it be referring to a book on how to knit lace or writing up vegan recipes on my laptop.
I think this refinement of Stuff is pretty damn good going for someone who used to be a bit of a packrat. In my ‘Angsty Artist’ days I collected a heck of a lot of crap… I had ideas of being a mixed media upcycle artist who made paintings of distraught faces out of packaging waste, magazine cuttings of skinny celebrities, medication tabs (there was a message here) and how I’d splatter these faces with black ink as a metaphor for my depression.
Angsty Arty Stella was all about Getting the Bad Feelings out. Messily. Because that was how they felt. Fucking messy. Collecting crap also felt a bit like having some semblance of control. And I needed that when it felt like the whole world was spinning faster and faster like a kid trying to dizzy itself and succeeding until it fell over and had trouble getting up again.
I’m feeling less messy these days I’m happy to say. I only ever made one distraught face painting. I have it hung on my wall as a reminder of where I’ve been and how far I’ve come. Its full of lace and fabric pieces and photos from films. It is slashed open in lots of places. The very body of the artwork is wounded. I love this artwork immensely. It is full of pain. But because it is full of pain that means that that pain is no longer inside me.
And because of that I have space inside of me for Other Things. I have space to make the yoyo flower brooches that I gather and stitch slowly as a break between typing sessions. I pin these blooms to the breast of my purple tweed jacket. It is like I wear a meadow on my chest.
I have the energy to do yoga stretches twice a day and cook healthy plant-based meals rather than live off fried potato all the time.
I also have the emotional fortitude to now run writing workshops for other women and listen to their stories. To offer comfort when they are brought to tears.
In the New Year I’m also facilitating sustainable living courses at my local community adult education centre. I’ll be teaching about ethical shopping, low-waste living and communicating lifestyle tips from a previous era where little was thrown away and household items were valued enough to be cared for and repaired.
I hope that in these workshops I will present the best ideas I have gathered from Kondo and The New Minimalists. Maybe not the main ideas they proposed within their personal ideologies. But the ones that resonated most with me as someone trying to live joyfully in an oftentimes difficult world.