Marie Kondo’s “Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”

Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing is the book everyone has been talking about. I have to say, I willfully ignored it for the first little while. I am not known for my tidiness, and I wasn’t in the mood to be chastised and guilt-tripped. I figured, I was beyond help, and it was better to just accept it than to torment myself.

However, discussions of this book were impossible to avoid, and I finally decided to open up my closet and try figuring out if the clothes in there “sparked joy,” which is a key concept I had heard about. After quickly pulling out several items for the donate pile, I became curious about the book and decided to read it to get a better idea of what the author means by “spark joy,” and how to apply this to my home.

A couple of weeks into the process of discarding and tidying up, I am still quite uncertain if my house will ever look truly tidy. Nonetheless, I have to say that I do feel very refreshed by the small progress I have made and energized to carry on. I also have a sense of the “life-changing” aspect of this method, which really encourages you to examine what things have meaning to you, and why they are in your life. I find myself thinking about this in all sorts of ways, including more abstract things, such as work, food, and relationships.

Here’s a summary of things I took away from the book, which I can sincerely recommend.

What does it mean to “spark joy”?

This phrase is in every summary of Marie Kondo’s book, but what exactly does it mean? What I took away from my reading was the importance of learning to recognize our true feelings and reactions to objects – do they bring us a thrill of joy, or are we keeping them for other reasons? We all have items in our home that we keep because they were gifts, or they were a great bargain or a big investment, because they were a favorite in the past, and so on. If they still bring us pleasure, we should keep them. But if they no longer fit with out style or goals, it may be time to let them go.

When I wrote about my approach to planning a room, I told you that my first step is to define the style I am striving for. I do this by looking at images and identifying the elements that appeal to me. I then add or remove elements in the room, always keeping the goal in mind. To me, Marie Kondo’s philosophy is very similar to this. What is the style of my house? What is my fashion sense? If I keep these ideas in mind, I can evaluate each object and consider parting with those that don’t fit the “image” I am striving for.

One strategy that Marie Kondo recommends is physically handling every item to help get a sense of your reaction to it. Again, does it “spark joy”? I found this very helpful. When I first looked into a drawer or closet, I would scan the items and get a general sense of which I liked and which I did not, but when I picked each one up (I did not follow her method of dumping everything in a pile, but I did pull each item out of the closet or drawer to hold it in my hands) I often found that something looked less attractive – or in some cases more attractive – than I remembered, and this definitely helped me refine my belongings.

Rituals for letting go

It seems so obvious, but I realized that in the past, I hadn’t always followed the author’s recommendation to discard before organizing. I would sometimes busily find a place for things without seriously evaluating whether I actually wanted to keep them. The reminder to review every object before even starting to put them away was very helpful. In fact, there have been several instances when I discarded so many items that I realized I did not even need any additional storage solutions – I ended up with empty drawers and hangers!!

Through the beginning of this process, I realized there are two sentiments at the core of my resistance to discarding and tidying. One is a very strong sense of not wanting to waste things. This was deeply instilled in me growing up – we saved and reused everything. I look at almost every object and imagine some use for it. Certainly, I do think that many creative ideas have come out of this impulse. For example, my upcycled planters or chair makeovers. I definitely believe that there are many wonderful and beautiful ways to re-use objects. That being said, there are more than a few things in my house that I will truly never use, but I have kept them, because I hated to throw anything away. Marie Kondo’s book suggests little farewell rituals that you can use to allow yourself to let go of something that you truly do not love and will not use. She suggests “thanking” your things (I know this sounds nutty, and she definitely takes the animation of objects considerably further than I would, but on a basic level, I found it helpful) for the role they have played, and then allowing yourself to discard them if they no longer fill an important role. This could be something like, “Thank you for the years of enjoyment,” or “Thank you for helping me realize that I don’t like this style.”

The other quality that makes it hard for me to let go of objects is that I am very sentimental. I treasure memories so deeply, and I want to hold on to every person or moment that has been important to me. Marie Kondo reminds us that our memories are not in objects, but inside of us. I have now been able to touch and “thank” many small items like theater tickets or decorative souvenirs, discarding the objects while savoring the memories.

It also definitely helps me let go when I can donate items, rather then just throw them out. My friend Ariana from Revolving Decor wrote a great summary of places you can donate various items, if you are in San Francisco.

Organizing tips
Marie Kondo’s book is full of details on how to arrange and store the items you decide to keep. I am not going to write much about these here, because they don’t really lend themselves to summarizing the way the general concepts do.  I will mention the one technique that has made a huge difference in my home is her recommendation to arrange clothes in your drawers stacked horizontally like files in a cabinet, instead of vertically. When your clothes are folded and arranged horizontally, you can see everything at once, so it’s easy to find what you want, instead of having things get lost at the bottom of your drawers. It is also easy to take clothes out and put them back in without messing up everything else around them, which is much harder when your clothes are in piles. And this method seems to take up less space, so a winner all-around.

In summary, I definitely recommend this book. As you read it, you may find, as I did, that the author is a bit extreme in her ideas, but you wouldn’t read a book by just an ordinary tidy person, right? You want a book by someone extraordinarily tidy. I do think the most “life-changing” element for me is developing a new lens to evaluate things and why we have them in our homes and in our lives. It is like a muscle that you have to train and develop, and as you do, decisions of all kinds become easier!

Happy tidying, and may you find joy!


Hairs to a Good Cause…

As some of you know, hubby Steve has been growing his hair for many months. He started off wanting to grow it out long enough to donate, and I think he still might, but he’s in that awkward in-between stage and getting a bit frustrated. So, I feel a bit bad for beating him to it by chopping off ten inches last week. It’s not something I had been planning for long, but I was recently struck by the desire for a change. I will admit to being a bit nervous, but the excitement of something new outweighed any anxiety, and in the end, it’s just hair. Speaking as someone who works with people who have cancer, I feel fortunate to have my hair and fortunate that it will grow back, so I didn’t want to get too precious about the whole thing.

Just cut your long hair?  Here's a summary of places to donate your hair for a good cause.

I walked out of the salon with a big ponytail of hair, and now I am going to figure out where to donate it. It helps that Steve did some of the legwork already. There are several organizations that take hair donations to make wigs for people in need. From my reading, it is possible with any of these groups that your hair will not be used by them for a wig, if it doesn’t meet some requirement (eg. length), in which case it could be sold and the money used towards covering their costs. This doesn’t really bother me that much. I can see how it is disappointing when you think your hair is going to a sick child or adult, and it ends up somewhere else, but I feel like if my hair can’t be used for a wig and still helps out a good cause, I’m okay with that.

In all cases, your hair should be clean and held in a ponytail or braid. It is okay to combine multiple small ponytails, and you’ll actually get more length that way. The hair should be thoroughly dry, placed in a plastic zipper bag and in padded envelope. Be sure to get the postage for your precious package calculated, so it doesn’t get lost or returned.

Locks of Love is the charity with the greatest name recognition. Here’s a summary of their organization, and there are more details on their website.

  • non-profit organization
  • wigs are given to children under age 21, most of whom have alopecia areata
  • minimum of 10 inches of hair
  • hair can be colored or permed but not bleached

Pantene Beautiful Lengths/ American Cancer Society is another program that collects hair donations to make wigs. Again there are more details on their website.

  • Pantene is a commercial company, but they donate the wigs to the American Cancer Society, which is a non-profit organization
  • wigs are given to women who have cancer
  • minimum of 8 inches of hair
  • hair cannot be chemically treated in any way

Angel Hair Foundation is another non-profit organization that give wigs to children in Oregon who have hair loss due to a variety of condition. They ask for a minimum of 12 inches of hair that can be chemically treated, as long as it is in good condition.

Wigs for Kids accepts donations of hair that is at least 12 inches long and not chemically treated. I guess their name says it all about their cause!

Childhood Leukemia Foundation takes hair donations that are 10 inches or longer and not chemically treated to make wigs for children with leukemia.

Angel Hair for Kids, a part of A Child’s Voice is a Canadian non-profit organization that donates wigs to children with a variety of illnesses throughout Canada.

It seems like there are a lot of good options, and it’s likely you won’t go wrong with any of these organizations. I am going to send my hair to Pantene Beautiful Lengths this time (yes! I am inspired to do this again in the future!), since I just barely have 10 inches, and I think once the straggly ends are cut off, it will be less. I know the American Cancer Society does a lot of incredible good work in a variety of areas from supporting people with cancer to research and education, so I am happy to be part of that, too.


Keep On Keepin’ On – Courage To Those Who Do What They Love

I switched the theme of the blog today.  It’s part of a kick-in-the-pants I got to really develop this project, after chatting with an old friend who is working on her own blog, as well as an online sewing store (hope to share details soon!).

Anyway, it’s fast approaching midnight, and I have work tomorrow and kids who will start stirring before 7AM, but this is bringing me to the point of my post.  At times, I have felt humbled and even disheartened, because I felt like there are so many excellent design and DIY blogs out there, and it felt like I might never (and yes, never is a strong word, three months into blogging…), create anything of note.  But then I have to remind myself of how much I love doing the projects around the house, and how every single page view or comment means that I might have inspired someone, and that inspires me.

I was thrilled to recently hear and meet Anna Quindlen on book tour, where she was talking about lessons she’s learned as she has gotten older, and and one of the messages was that you don’t always have to choose the thing that you are “best” at, nor the thing that is regarded as the prestigious. If you love and are passionate about something, that will have real meaning to  you over time.  I think she is generally regarded as have stood out more as a columnist and non-fiction writer than as a novelist, and she turned that idea around.  The “right” choice isn’t always the one that will get you the widest recognition and greatest monetary rewards.  The “right” choice may be the thing that brings you personal growth and meaning.  And of course, these things are not mutually exclusive.  There may be a time for each pursuit, and the thing you love may, besides bringing you joy, grow into the thing that brings you recognition and remuneration too.  (More on that in this fascinating Harvard Business Review blog post on “Choosing Between Making Money and Doing What You Love” by Leonard A. Schlesinger, Charles F. Kiefer, and Paul B. Brown.)

Back to Anna Quindlen, I am a huge fan of hers and will also admit that I think, on the whole, she excelled as a columnist and, while solid, stands out less as a novelist.  On the other hand, I read her novel One True Thing, about a daughter whose mother is dying of cancer, while my own mother was dying of cancer.  Perhaps my perception was colored by this context, but I felt her writing was vivid and brought the drama of the story to life.  I will add that I think there is a section of the book near the end that didn’t feel necessary and, in my opinion, detracted somewhat from the otherwise beautiful and simple story, exquisitely told, of a family’s relationships and loss.  But the point is, the book had meaning to me.  Through this novel, along with her non-fiction writing and her speaking on the topic – she lost her own mother to cancer when she was only 19 – Anna Quindlen helped me get a handle on the grief and disorientation I felt after my mom died.  So, even if a novel isn’t perfect, if it speaks so resonantly and has so much significance to one person – and I am sure it did to many – then surely it was a worthwhile pursuit.

I’m probably reading my own meaning into Anna Quindlen’s talk (though isn’t that part of what a great talk or piece of writing should offer?), but the message I took away is that, in each thing I work on – be it motherhood, my “day job,” or this blog, I aspire to be my own best, but if there is some occupation that might get me more prestige or income (there is!), or if there are people out there that are better at any of these things than I am (there are!), that is alright, too.  On a planet of six billion people, if none of us tried to do something unless we could be the one and only top dog, where would we be?  And among those six billion people, many of them do not have the privilege of choosing their occupations or other pursuits, so perhaps those of us who do have that luxury can learn to be less afraid to embrace it.  And so, I feel inspired to keep on parenting, and working with patients, and blogging.

As for the blog, I remind myself that the process is as much the reward as the product.  I’ve been motivated to finish many projects, because I was excited to share them.  I’ve clarified my own thoughts, on topics mundane and meaningful, by writing them out.  And I’ve had encouraging feedback from many friends and a few strangers.  For now, that is enough for me, though I of course will also keep working to improve and grow the blog, too.


Avon Walk 2012 – In It To End It

I’m just coming out of a weekend spent walking 39.3 miles with hundreds of other women and men to raise money for the Avon Foundation to fund breast cancer care, support, and research.

I’ve known about this walk and others like it for years – Avon is celebrating its 10th year of walks, and the walk team from my workplace is in its fourth year – but I’ve always hesitated to join, fearing that it would seem overwhelming. The walking itself was not that daunting – though a little, just because of having small kids at home. I was more concerned that with my mom having died of breast cancer and my work involving so many people affected by this disease, the walk would cause emotional saturation.

Having completed this journey, I have a new perspective on the walk. It’s true, I shed a few tears at the opening and closing ceremonies – really, with people sharing their breast cancer stories and Coldplay as the background music, what choice did I have? But the other side of the walk was an inspiring sensation of doing something to help – and doing it with hundreds of other people.

Some special moments from the Avon Walk…

  • Making a difference in the fight against breast cancer
  • Making a difference with my friends
  • Making a difference with strangers
  • Feeling the effort from head to toe
  • Being pampered by the dedicated volunteers along the way (graham cracker PBJ sandwiches = awesome)
  • Being cheered by hubby, the boys, and their uncle. It was an opportunity to teach the older boys a little about the disease that took their grandmother and about community and philanthropy
  • Seeing San Francisco from ground level, in all its varied and stunning beauty. Here are some of the amazing sights and views along the route:
Moon over the TransAmerica Pyramid, San Francisco

Moon over the TransAmerica Pyramid, San Francisco

Sun shining through the fog on the Golden Gate Bridge

Sun shining through the fog on the Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge under fog, from Fort Baker

Golden Gate Bridge under fog, from Fort Baker

Palace of Fine Arts glowing in the fog, San Francisco

Palace of Fine Arts glowing in the fog, San Francisco

A strong sense of togetherness, trekking 39.3 miles for the fight against breast cancer

A strong sense of togetherness, trekking 39.3 miles with so many others in the fight against breast cancer

Walked with my coworker Robin almost the whole way.  A great bonding experience.

Walked with my coworker Robin almost the whole way. A great bonding experience.

Closing ceremony for the Avon Walk.  A good balance of seriousness and hope.

Closing ceremony for the Avon Walk. A good balance of seriousness and hope.

Thank you to all my friends who supported me with encouragement, camaraderie, and donations. In case you can’t tell, I’m hooked on this event. The only things that could have made this great weekend even better would have been 1) not being exhausted and jet-lagged going into it (learned a lesson) and 2) having a costume! If only I had known this was an opportunity to craft a fun pink outfit and accessories! Next year, a tutu is a must! 3) having even more friends to walk with, so I hope you’ll consider joining us next year!


Puppy Love and Loss

It’s a story that has been told many times. Cooper was, as they say, our first baby. We even named him after hearing the name from one of hubby’s coworkers, who had used the name for his new (human) baby! For years, our lives happily revolved around this adorable furball, from weekend outings to vacations, he inspired us to explore and experience so many new places.

Cooper puppy

Cooper, just a day after we brought him home in October 1997. Our friend took this picture with a polaroid camera!

Years later, when the kids came along, Cooper was the faithful guardian who learned to bravely tolerate their expressions of love, including the classic tail-pulling, ear-tugging, and yes, even a “haircut” by our oldest, when he was three and Cooper was nine. We learned quickly to never put our baby down near other dogs, as Cooper would chase them all away. Even if they disrupted his peace, Cooper embraced the boys a treasured members of his “pack” with a loveable curmudgeon-liness.

And now, finally, after surviving a cancer two years ago, old Coops is slipping away from us. I am endlessly amazed at how much life teaches us. I will confess to, previously, having a somewhat limited ability to empathize when others lost an elderly loved one. Where I work, I see and hear so many stories of people who have died young. And having lost my own mom when she was in her early 50s and I was 25, I always thought that I would be nothing but grateful to be so fortunate as to watch someone grow into old age.

And so, even though the tears are flowing, I am really grateful for Cooper and for what this new experience is teaching me – about how it is possible to be thankful and heartbroken at the same time. About what a wonder it is to share life with another species – and to witness a full life in a time that for us is relatively brief. It is such a vibrant illustration of how youth evolves into maturity and maturity into old age.

Cooper vacation

Cooper on vacation with us this past week. He has gotten very thin and slow, but I hope he still feels loved by us.

While I am treasuring my own memories and, yes, wallowing in my own heartache, I am touched by how hubby and I are navigating the decisions around Cooper’s care, how in that process we are learning new things about ourselves and each other, and how my memories of Cooper are intimately interwoven with our marriage, which is only barely older than he is.

I am also thinking about how to share this experience with the kids and support them with the first major loss in their lives. We’ve been preparing them over the past few weeks. There are some good suggestions here at Kids Health and from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Since I’m just reading these now, it’s reassuring to know that we’ve been doing a pretty good job “winging it.”

Among other resources, a friend suggested the book The Tenth Good Thing about Barney, and I also found Saying Good-bye to Lulu. For a more spiritual approach, there are several choices, including The Legend of Rainbow Bridge. I’ll try these out with the kids. Both of the older ones have been writing books recently at school and at home. Maybe, they would like to write their own book about Cooper. I would love to hear things from their perspective.

With a grateful though heavy heart,