AS I sit here writing this, I’m surrounded by the detritus of family life.
I don’t know who left the card cylinder from a loo roll on the kitchen table. The basket of laundry — I can explain that. It’s going to be ironed very shortly. I mean I’m really going to flatten them out, when I’ve got a moment. The bottle of water, the near empty paprika jar, the crumpled up tea-towel, the perfume. There’s a valid reason for them all to be where they are not supposed to be. So, please forgive me. I’m not Marie Kondo.
The dishwasher is open, gaping for more dirty crockery which I’ll find by an assortment of wires where my teenage son was last plugged in to Fortnite.
As I sit here typing, and reflecting on my rather not like Marie Kondo household, I’m anticipating a visit to the bedrooms later on to sort out laundry and straighten beds. Miraculously, I’ve got a wash in the machine already and it’s a sunny day. So I’m making progress. Very. Slow. Progress.
This is not a Konmarie household. I’ve tried buying into the hype to some degree so I know a little about it. I watched a few YouTube videos and resolved to change my untidy ways. First stop: the airing cupboard, which is beginning to look rather suspiciously like ‘the junk room’ (go on, admit it, you’ve got a junk room too). Before we all went digital I was the photograph taker of the extended family, so I have boxes and boxes (I know, they should be in photograph albums, but there’s so many, honest) of family photographs. No, my vacuum cleaner does not spark joy, nor do shelves of towels, tablecloths, superking, double and single duvet covers, sheets and pillow slips (but at least they’re all in proper pile-ettes).
As for THAT black bin liner of soft, stuffed toys. They do not spark joy per se, but they do spark a sort of gut-gripping nostalgia, which is why they’ve made it down from the attic, but have never quite made it into the car boot for the charity shop. I can’t get rid of them. I’m nearly there, but then my daughter discovers them, pulls them out and places them all over her bed with exclamations of, ‘Remember when we got this, Mammy?’ ‘Yes, but we can’t keep everything,’ I reply, as if I’m really good at getting rid of stuff.
But secretly, you have to be ruthless and hard to get rid of stuff. I’m not there yet.
My twin sons turned 20 and I was able to produce a tiny nappy. Not used obviously. But a teeny tiny nappy from 20 years ago, to remind everyone how far we’ve come and how much they’ve grown. Does it spark joy? Yes, believe it or not, it sparks a sort of sad-days-gone-by-nostalgia-joy. ‘That’s actually decomposing,’ my son said. But how can I throw it out now? I’ve held on this long. What justification is there?
I’ve kept memory boxes for the children from their infancy and childhoods. Oh come on! Who hasn’t got an umbilical cord stump lying round in a little pot somewhere, or a purse containing tiny pearly baby teeth, or a filing cabinet of art work? I don’t want to feel guilty for having all of this stuff going back years and years, but if anyone has any tips for sort of diminishing 946 birthday, anniversary, Communion and Confirmation cards in a creative way, I would be very grateful.
After a painful operation when I couldn’t actually do much afterwards, I used the time to teach my daughter to Marie Kondo magic her clothes. We donated the ones that didn’t fit and folded everything else a special way so that they sat upright. Admiring rows of little upright leggings in different colours sparked a sort of OCD joy, but it was temporary and the drawer was soon back to its usually crumpled chaotic mess.
Every time I look into an untidy room, before I sigh, back out gingerly and resolve to return later with a black bin liner, rubber gloves and breathing apparatus, the words Marie Kondo and her perfection drift into my mind.
It sparks anxiety. I’d love to see her at work here, padding around in tiny slippers, silently moving from room to room turning each area into a display worthy of featuring in a homes and interiors magazine and smelling of lemons. But instead I just feel bad inside. Like a failure, bad. I can just about rescue myself from the gloom by watching an episode of Hoarders. That perks me up, because ultimately it’s all about feeling better than other people.
At least, I tell myself, it’s not as bad as *insert untidy friend’s name here*. I have at least one friend who is equally untidy. I breathe a sigh of relief when I walk into her home and see her dining room table — I’m kidding, I can’t actually see her dining room table — for laptops, paper work, mugs. I feel at home here. She’s not neurotically feather dusting me down, or bleaching her kitchen units poisoning me with the fumes.
She sits down, pours tea, lots of hot tea and brings out a cake. All is well. I notice she didn’t brush her floor either. I’m feeling better and better about myself.
And anyway, what’s wrong with being untidy? Isn’t there some research that backs up how creative and genius-like we are? How our brains are wired differently? When I began to understand that there’s a brain (and in particular the prefrontal cortex region) related reason why teens actually don’t give two hardened socks about their state of their bedrooms, I instantly became less stressed. There’s no point fighting science.
I’ve tried to be super organised and I am to a certain degree. Of course I want to find that document I need immediately, it pays to have a ‘place’ for things. I’m not completely a lost cause.
I’ve got files and files of family stuff, tucked away in a special cupboard. I know where to find the medical histories, the birth certs, old school reports, bank statements, passports. If I want to find that book for you, I just have to have a quick rummage in a certain bookshelf. But it’s there. Probably right in front of my eyes. Just because the books aren’t lined up in alphabetical or colour order doesn’t make me a failure.
But I haven’t found the cure for damp towels on the bathroom floor. It’s hard to describe what this does to me as I didn’t leave any of them there. This is now about having children and teenagers and how uncontrollable they are.
When no-one would own up to dropping three damp towels on the floor after a shower, I bought colour coded towels for everyone. They all still ended up on the floor. No matter how hard you try and how much effort you put in, children leave a small trail of destruction, usually starting with a packet of cereal on the kitchen counter and ending with a pile of dirty socks under the bed.
Fellow untidy people. I salute you. But let’s rename ourselves. We’re actually organised livers. Efforts like Marie Kondo’s are making us all feel clutter-shame, family-life shame.
The business of being tidy is just that — a business. It’s all in your mind and it’s a discipline. If I’d spent the last half hour tidying the kitchen instead of writing this, you wouldn’t now know how to clear up, ‘organised-livers’ style.
Basically, I do it one room at a time, when I’ve got the energy. It gets a massive clean out and a de-clutter. The music is blaring. If I can do it faster or better myself, I don’t ask the kids to get involved.
Instead of asking: ‘Does it spark joy?’ I peer into a room and ask, ‘Does this room look like there’s been a burglary?’ And I start from there.