Posts Tagged ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’

Two weeks and no posts about pleasure reading? See my previous entry on not finishing books . . .  maybe I’ll write soon about applying the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (sort of) to my cookbook collection.

In this week’s Mindful Reader column I review two books: a beautiful photography collection by Becky Field about New Hampshire’s newest Americans, particularly our refugee neighbors, and Stephen P. Kiernan’s latest novel, The Hummingbird.

Here’s a bit about each; read the entire column here.

Vermont author Stephen P. Kiernan’s new novel, The Hummingbird, is about Deborah, a hospice nurse whose husband, Michael, has severe post-traumatic stress disorder after three deployments to Iraq. Their marriage is suffering and she not sure what to do. Her latest patient is Barclay Reed, a grouchy former history professor whose career ended over accusations of academic dishonesty.


“I love the American people because they respect all people and give them their rights without exception.” That’s a quote from Nakaa Nassir, an Iraqi woman in Manchester, which appears in photographer Becky Field’s new book, Different Roots, Common Dreams.

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I’ve written here before about not finishing books and how hard I find that. This summer I’ve not only let go and left books unfinished, I’ve allowed myself free-range grazing in books — starting and setting them aside and returning to them. Why the change? I think this reading style fits the chaos of my life life right now.

One adult child is about to be a senior in college (yes, longtime readers, that’s the former Teen the Elder) and is working from home doing an unpaid internship, which as you can imagine isn’t very gratifying — there are a lot of requirements and stipulations from an organization that not only isn’t paying him, but also isn’t always doing what they said they would. He’s sticking it out but isn’t thrilled, and mostly hopes it will look good on his resume to have completed the internship. His younger sister (Teen the Younger) is going to be a senior in high school, another tumultuous time in life, and she doesn’t feel any more satisfied with her summer. I’m still reviewing for The Mindful Reader column and occasionally for Kirkus but both of those have not gone as planned this summer either — par for the course in journalism, but still an additional dash of unpredictability.

There’s a medical issue in the family, plus all the usual daily life stresses of work, errands, remembering to mail things, carrying on with keeping up the house and the laundry and all that jazz. We also decided to have some long-hoped for work done to the house, mostly outside, but disruptive nonetheless for around a month now. And Teen the Younger decided to completely redo her room (inspired in part by The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up), which has been great, but has resulted in much of her old room moving into the garage and needing to be dealt with. Yes, the Computer Scientist helps, but he’s as caught up as I am in the maelstrom of generally unsettled and unsettling emotions and decisions and stuff out of place because of the work, and a million little things to be taken care of.

So, I’ve started and stopped reading. Repeatedly. I’ve returned more library books unread than I care to recall. At the moment I have two books going, both of which I’ve been reading for weeks: Mindfulness in Action: Making Friends With Yourself through Meditation and Everyday Awareness by Chogyam Trungpa and The Stories of Jane Gardam. Both are excellent. Both can withstand the chaos. Mindfulness in Action was compiled and edited by Carolyn Rose Gimian and is one of over two dozen posthumous works by Chogyam Trungpa. It goes beyond describing how to practice mindfulness meditation and gets into the nitty gritty of what mindfulness is and does. It’s wise and kind and gentle, and very insightful.

If you’ve read bookconscious regularly you know that I love Jane Gardam. I’d read her grocery lists. And I’ve reviewed many short story collections before as well — a good short story, like a good essay or poem, makes me happy. There’s something about compact forms, well crafted, that I find really satisfying. I’m around halfway through this collection and I haven’t read a story yet that I didn’t like. Gardam’s subject, as always, is humanity in all its messy, marvelous glory. Maybe the messiness is what is especially appealing to me, given the way things are around here these days.

Oh, and we have a kitten. Gwen, short for Guinevere. She’s compact and perfectly lovely too, but trying to introduce a kitten to our cat is also not conducive to finishing a book.

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I’d been waiting for a couple of months for Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, so when it came in for me at the library on Friday, I resolved to read it this weekend and return it, because it’s in high demand.

It’s a very eye-opening read, and when I poked around a bit online I found some videos of Kondo speaking and consulting in someone’s home, folding socks and underwear, and — this one strikes fear in my heart — organizing a book collection. There are also many fan videos done by people applying the KonMari method of tidying.

Kondo’s KonMari tidying requires going through all of your belongings, systematically and deliberately, choosing what to keep, and designating a place for everything. This small book is packed with detailed examples to help you get started. What do I make of this phenomenon? When I finished the book I wanted very much to tidy. Kondo notes, “In essence tidying ought to be the act of restoring the balance among people, their possessions, and the house they live in.” The Computer Scientist and I have been striving for that for years.

In our early 30’s we read Your Money or Your Life, and decided to be more conscious of how we wanted to spend our life energy. Eventually that meant selling everything that didn’t fit in a 26 foot U-Haul and choosing meaningful work that also allowed for more family time. Today our lives are a little busier, and we’re not always as focused as we’d like on where our life energy goes, but we live in a smaller house than we have previously. Still like everyone else, we sometimes feel overwhelmed by stuff accumulating, and end up going through the garage, or a closet, or some cabinets, just about annually. We always wonder how that happens.

Kondo says that if you apply the KonMari method thoroughly, you’ll change the way you relate to things altogether, and will learn to “see quite clearly what you need in life, and what you don’t. . . .” First of all she says you shouldn’t just do a closet or even a room at a time. Also, she suggests tidying things most of us would never think of getting rid of — documents, for example, and mementos, which she says most people never look at.

She describes how freeing it is to have only what’s important to you, all kept in its place. For example, living this way means never getting stressed out looking for the thing you need — which happened to us a couple of years ago, when we were trying to track down some financial information dating back a number of years among boxes of “important” paperwork. And she notes that her clients find, “Life becomes far easier once you know that things will still work out even if you are lacking something.”

Which sounds like a “first world problem,” and it is. But she’s hit a real nerve, as the popularity of her book (which is a bestseller in several countries) and her YouTube videos can attest. A mind-shift like Kondo describes is very appealing, “If we acknowledge our attachment to the past and our fears for the future by honestly looking at our possessions, we will be able to see what is really important to us.” That’s a kind of “mindfulness of stuff,” that seems very healthy. The Computer Scientist and I are intrigued to say the least, although her “ikki ni” or “in one go” house-wide approach sounds like it would require us to take vacation time to manage it.



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