My husband and I recently sold our 2400 sf house (too big for us, too vertical, too modern, too too-too.) And now we’re considering making an offer on a 1000 sf house in an older part of town. People lived small in 1905, the year it was built. If we get it, it will be less than half the size of the house we just sold, and downsizing to that degree would be daunting. I own a lot of stuff and love most of it. I don’t mean big furniture stuff. I mean stuff like this little ruler, stuff some people call clutter:
Of course, loving rulers can lead to stuff like this, too many rulers, all mine. I’m like a crow collecting things, only now the nest is getting smaller. Three-cornered rulers. Rulers marked in centimeters. School rulers. Big, little, chunky, skinny rulers. Love them.
The same goes for flashlights:
Which leads to this:
A sensible voice in my head chants “Declutter, simplify.” The voice has been amplified recently by helping empty out my late mother’s house. She was 92 and had accumulated a lot of meaningful things, things which Marie Kondo, of Tidying Up with Marie Condo fame, would say, “sparked joy” in her. According to Kondo, if it sparks joy, it’s fair to keep it. Do I have that right?
I watched just two episodes of that show, trying to complete the job at my mom’s house cheerfully as well as prepare for the soon-to-be-job of moving into a smaller house. “Does it spark joy?” I kept asking myself, repeating it like a mantra.
And, of course, almost everything I own sparks joy. If it didn’t spark joy, I wouldn’t own it. I could probably put together one box of items that I’m ready to give away – a wooden spoon or two, some old sneakers, afew tape cassettes (though not all: Perry Como sings Christmas carols, love that.) So there’s not much I’m ready to part with. Not enough to fit all my things into a 1000sf house. “It’s darling,” I said when I went to the Open House, but I’m not sure how darling it will be when I have to get rid of so many items that spark joy. I guess the key to doing it is to determine the degree of joy something sparks…?
Well, on a scale of one to ten, rocks and good fortune-cookie fortunes spark 10 units of joy:
And on the same scale, old pitchers spark 10:
Ditto marbles and other round things, like paper globes and glass spheres:
And what about all my books, and, oh – old cameras! Definitely 10’s on the joy scale.
Plus photos of perfect strangers, all of whom seem to have interesting stories in their past, especially the one of a woman who resembles Eleanor Roosevelt riding a donkey.
A few photographs don’t take up much room, do they? But I have several shoe boxes full. Declutter? Wait! Do they spark joy? Every single one of them does. Just look at that farmer, and at those two men in their Depression-era caps (Are they out of work? Can they feed their families? There’s a story there….) and the man by the door of his grocery-store-filling-station, or the young man in the striped jacket sitting on the hood of his car so nonchalantly, the moms and kids playing in the water…..
What about old binoculars?
Old ink bottles?
Everything is sparking a 10. So I’m in a bind if we buy that 1000 sf house.
Now the question occurs: How do we get rid of the things we are too fond of? In writing workshops, I often heard students say (and maybe I’ve even said it a few times) “Kill your darlings.” If you’re over-fond of something in your story, if you’re too attached, that might mean something’s wrong, something needs reviewing and revising. Revision is perhaps the closest writers come to decluttering. Killing your darlings is not bad advice. Now if I could just do it.
But I’m in love with words, objects, images. I collect them. I use them (yes, quite a few are functional!) and quite a few inspire me in my writing. But no excuses – I just love stuff. And I think the writing advice I listened to most was “Follow your eccentricities.” Which I’m doing when I buy flashlights or when I write poetry. It conflicts with “Kill your darlings,” doesn’t it?
My mother collected the programs of every single play she went to, from about 1960 to 2018. She went to a lot of plays each year, and now I’m looking at a big box full of programs. I will probably throw them out or, if possible, offer them to drama departments or theaters. Mom couldn’t toss them, because she loved what they represented. They were a record of her life, and I know some of those plays inspired her, changed her, mystified her, challenged her, made her laugh. She wanted to get the programs out and look at them every once in awhile. She wanted to review her life.
What do we keep, what do we give away? And what do we just toss because we don’t need it and who is going to want it? Ouch, that one hurts.
It’s never about needing the things that spark joy, is it? It’s about beauty and where you find it. But what if too many things in the world around you are beautiful? What do you do then? What if you own too many of them and you’re moving into a 1000sf house? Oi.
If you’ve got an answer for me, if you can tolerate Marie Kondo, if you know how to tidy up, or if you’ve figured out how to kill your darlings, how to own only what you need, how to get rid of what you’re over-fond of, if you’ve learned how to toss stuff out, to avoid excess, let me know – put it in the comments!