I’m not above following a trend. I love superhero movies, quinoa and yoga. Sometimes, what works for almost everyone else will also work for me.
I bought the book. You know the one. That book your friends tell you changed their life. Written by Japanese organizer Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is a guide to getting your house in order.
It was on sale. What can I say?
It’s an odd and interesting book. In it, she breaks the home down into categories rather than rooms. She explores the relationship one has with items by asking what, when held, sparks joy. If an item doesn’t spark joy (or serve a need) then you discard it with thanks for what it has done.
I’m not big on the woo. I don’t think my possessions have feelings or that they care if I leave them in a drawer or out to breathe. That said, I wouldn’t have bought the book if I wasn’t feeling weighed down by my stuff.
I fell in love with stuff the hard way. I moved a whole slew of times. Once I had to leave with just a few bags of belongings. I had little comfort from home, so I built home out of twenty-five cent, second hand novels and piles of hand sewn doll clothes. My mind flies off and the piles weigh me back to earth. I don’t like some things – I like all the things.
Or rather, I don’t know if I like all the things. It struck me earlier this year that I haven’t a solid idea of who I am. I know what I think, but I don’t know what I like. I posit that this comes from living my childhood in survival mode. When presented with options, I generally chose the one that was safest, that was least likely to create problems. I wore what would draw the least attention to me. I read what the pastor approved. I collected the items that little girls should collect, if they want their mothers to look at them fondly. Many of my interests were determined by proximity, availability and expectation. I had no style of my own. I didn’t have a favourite colour, favourite flower or a favourite animal that hadn’t been picked for me by someone else (or that I’d chosen because everyone else had one, so I felt the need to have one too.)
It was the realization that I didn’t actually like penguins that shook me the most. I had dozens of them – stuffed, ceramic and plastic. I chose penguins because I’d done a project on them in the third grade and at least I knew something about them. No one should realize, in their late thirties, that they are lying to themselves about liking water fowl. I was determined to figure out which animal I actually liked the best. I spent a long time sorting through them before I realized that I really like pigeons. They can fly. They live in the city. They’re scrappy. They glisten purple in the sun and look like pompoms when they pull their heads in to sleep. I like pigeons.
It was a big deal.
Next I figured out my favourite colour. Grey. (I know. Not actually a colour, but I like it the best.)
I’m still working on my favourite flower. I’ll keep you posted.
The point of all this is that without a solid sense of what I liked, I just got a bit of everything. My closet looked like a rummage sale – the cast-offs of dozens of different folks crammed together in one space. My books were a veritable library of topics and styles, not because my tastes are that diverse, but because I had no idea what my tastes were.
Sorting the first category, clothes, was a frustrating and boring task. I held each item and asked if it brought me joy (a troubling question for a depressive.) In the end, I was surprised to learn that skirts, stripes and scarves bring me joy. I had no idea. I was upset to realize that I had never asked myself what I liked to wear. I had never given myself permission to discern what made me happy.
Next onto books. I used the GoodReads app to track my reactions to the books I’d read. Again, I was surprised. The books I liked best were action/adventure books. Sure I had loved Jules Verne, John Wyndham and HG Wells growing up, along with LM Montgomery and Judy Blume, but I had assumed it was because I like the classics. What I really liked was the rush, the thrill of pirates and devils and monsters and scoundrels and orphans.
Soon I had a dozen garbage bags of clothes and hundreds of books stacked in my living room, ready to go. I was overwhelmed.
I know I am not the only adult to realize that survival made my decisions for me. My personality was determined by necessity. Still, in that necessity, something was lost. My whole life, I’ve been struggling against my own personality, wearing it like an ill-fitting suit. I used to wonder who I would be, if I hadn’t experienced so much frustrating brutality and misunderstanding. Perhaps, by discarding everything but the items that bring me something – even if I cannot call it joy – I will find out.