Thursday, 17 January 2019

This week’s Poetry Friday host is Tricia Stohr-Hunt at the Miss Rumphius Effect. You’ll find links to the week’s poems, poetry reviews, and musings at her blog.

An admission: I tried listening to Marie Kondo’s book on audio. I didn’t make it past the first few chapters.

My favorite idea from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was de-cluttering not by area, but by theme or object. I can picture myself gathering all of the candlestick sets we received for our wedding 28 years ago, choosing one or two favorite pairs, and donating or giving away the rest.

(Crystal candlesticks must have been a hot item in 1991. We have at least five pairs, plus a few more in ceramic.)

That’s as far as I got. It’s not that I don’t need Kondo’s guidance – or *some* guidance. I do. We have lived in our house for almost 20 years. The children we raised here are now out of the house. We’re due for a massive declutter. Maybe I’ll give her television show a chance. I love home renovation shows, and decluttering is a renovation of interior spaces.

Friends who are Asian-American have pointed out that much of Kondo’s advice and celebration of minimalism is rooted in Japanese culture. Some of her critics have misunderstood that piece, especially when it comes to book collections. There’s an article on that topic here.

Meanwhile, I came across a poem from Judith Viorst’s new collection. In this meditation on “stuff,” Viorst touches on the push and pull of down-sizing a home that’s been filled with music and books.

My Stuff
By Judith Viorst

The trouble is I really love my stuff,
Especially the stuff that’s stashed in my basement,
Like that trunkful of 78s that I haven’t listened to in over seventy years,
When the Andrew Sisters rang “Rum and Coca Cola,”
And Sinatra sang “Full Moon and Empty Arms,”
And I forget who sang “Chattanooga Choo Choo,”
All of them played on what we called a Victrola
In the sun parlor — always my childhood’s favorite room,
Where built-in shelves held my Oz books, The Secret Garden,
The Count of Monte Cristo, the Nancy Drews  …

Read the rest of the poem in Grace Cavalieri’s (Maryland’s new state poet laureate!) review of Nearing 90 and Other Comedies of Late Life, by Judith Viorst. Scroll down to find the review.

Bonus: If you’ve never seen George Carlin’s routine on stuff, have fun watching this today. It’s one of his best.


40 responses to “Poetry Friday: Tidying Up”

  1. Tabatha says:

    My mom is enjoying tidying according to Marie Kondo’s technique, but I was only able to watch a little of it. It reminded me of being in the doctor’s office — there was something about it reminiscent of the shows that are always on in the waiting room.
    Best of luck with your declutter!

  2. Linda Baie says:

    It helped to move to my new place & leave behind what I chose not to take & have a sale, but it wasn’t easy. I’m now trying to rid myself of that which you shared of ‘candleabras’, so much in memory, but not in use at all. It seems we all want to keep ‘our stuff’. Thanks for the poem from Viorst, a new book to me.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      I guess that’s where the “spark joy” idea comes in, which also makes sense to me. I’m starting to feel okay with letting go of things that we’ve kept or used but that have devolved into stuff. The idea of a yard sale feels overwhelming. How did yours go, Linda?

  3. Spot on, Laura. I never got through Kondo’s book. I watched a couple of the shows and they are interesting. Thank you for the Viorst poem. Will need to check out that book.

    I really needed to declutter the writing room and am so happy now that it’s 90 % finished.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      I don’t think the book is out yet, Jone, but I’m also planning to read it when it’s published. Congrats on getting your writing room decluttered!

  4. jama says:

    It’s interesting how some love Marie Kondo’s advice while others resent it. The 30 books thing really riled some people up. But the thing is, advice is just advice. Follow it or not, modify, adopt, or discard to meet your own needs.

    Having said that, I love Viorst’s poem — the opening lines really spoke to me. I too, love my stuff. I know I need to declutter but it’s really hard. I love the idea of paring down according to type of object, though. Hadn’t thought of that, with the exception of books. I seem to have a lot of extra dinner bells. I ring them, but no butler comes. . . 😀 Why is that?

    • Laura Shovan says:

      I agree, Jama. I’ve been hearing a bit about the backlash against her and the response to it. I do love my stuff, but I’m also ready to let go of some things — those items that we seem to have just for the purpose of having them.

      I’m laughing about your dinner bells! What a fun thing to collect.

  5. Kay McGriff says:

    I haven’t read Kondo’s book (but I have enjoyed reading all the different reactions to it) yet, but your posts resonates. I am desperately going through my stuff–sorting and discarding–as we prepare for a move. I loved the Carlin routine.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      That routine is one of his that sticks in my mind. He had such a gift with words and a way of shifting people’s point of view through humor.

  6. Tara says:

    This poem made me smile. Moving to the farm helped me learn to do without a whole lot of stuff, but it was hard!

    • Laura Shovan says:

      I bet! I’m guessing that the next challenge — after tidying up — is to make sure that one doesn’t fill up with new stuff to replace the old (as Carlin suggests!)

  7. My daughter and I watched a few episodes while caring for little Leo. I have well meaning intentions, but I haven’t even started. The whole idea sends me under the covers with a good book. (Thanks for your congrats card. Such a sweet gesture for this new grandmother.)

  8. Love the Viorst poem. 🙂 I can’t really fully declutter the KonMari way, but I just watched the first episode of her show today and she was so charming and delightful!

    • Laura Shovan says:

      I’m looking forward to watching it, Karen. I wonder whether it was the narrator of the audio book that I didn’t connect with, rather than Kondo’s ideas. That happens to me sometimes when I’m listening.

  9. I have spent quite a few years making advances at minimalism–the control and organization aspects really attract me–and done generally poorly at cutting down the overall amount of stuff. But once I started writing all this memoir, those boxes and baskets of letters and journals, the family diaries, the calendars and artworks from the kids’ childhood, they all have had their purpose, and my saving it all has been vindicated. I am not so sure about most other objects, including many types of books. If I just want to remember that I read it, I could take a photo for my “Things We Used to Own” folder; perhaps I should only keep it if I often think of rereading parts. And I definitely need ALL those tablecloths and scarves. : ) STUFF.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      That gives me hope, Heidi. I still have papers from high school, college, graduate school. It’s time to admit that I don’t need them (most of them?) anymore. If I haven’t opened a folder in 20+ years, it’s safe to throw away. Can’t wait to hear more about how your memoir is progressing.

  10. Thanks for the George Carlin “Stuff” talk, what a hoot, I couldn’t stop laughing. And Judith Viorst’s book sounds wonderful too. My problem about “my stuff” is that I just don’t have enough time to clean it up–cleaning up “my stuff “takes time away from writing and making art, and reading and buying or getting more books from the library–what can I say… Thanks for this fun post Laura!

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Michelle — you put your finger on my biggest problem. On the to do list, decluttering isn’t a priority. But I do need to dust those books in the basement!

  11. Liz says:

    Hi Laura, I didn’t read her book, but after visiting my mom (who’s a bit of a hoarder) I watched a few episodes of the show and loved it. I almost think it’s misleading to say it’s a decluttering show, though clearly it is, because so much of it is about the relationships. It’s decluttering as a way to address what’s most psychologically present for the people in the homes. That’s what I love about it. That and that Marie Kondo is so joyous and positive. We have done a little–the coats, a dresser. It can be overwhelming to imagine doing the whole house so we are taking on smaller, more manageable bites.

  12. Mary Lee says:

    George Carlin made me laugh. And how is it possible that Judith Viorst is nearing 90?!?!

    • Laura Shovan says:

      She came to one of our local SCBWI conferences a few years ago. She looks amazing and is so funny and sharp!

  13. Kathryn Apel says:

    Oh, I am torn. At that stage where I’m really sick of juggling stuff… but knowing that as soon as I throw it, I’ll need it! But I am finding that an empty nest is easier to organise… and maybe I will start to shed stuff, soon, too. #weshallsee

  14. Molly Hogan says:

    Oh, I love this post! The thoughts on decluttering, the Viorst poem and the George Carlin piece…it’s a PF trifecta! I’ve been thinking a lot about getting rid of “stuff” and earlier this week wrote about the declutter battle at my house. (My husband is gung-ho and I’m clinging on to all sorts of odd things.) Thanks for a wonderful snowy day read!

  15. Laura, I love this piece, especially because I have been trying to clean out “my stuff”. I also have heard so much about Marie Kondo and decluttering that it was good to hear your thoughts. Carlin’s routine is hysterical. Stuff-stuff-stuff: I am desperately wanting to “destuff” my home. Last week, we had two big decluttering jobs completed but of course, there is still more. I have 36 years of stuff in my home but thanks to the past few years, I have most of closets cleaned out. I have come to the realization that unless each piece brings me joy (Marie Kondo), I can part with it.

  16. Sally Murphy says:

    Thanks for the good stuff of this post, Laura. I needed the laugh of George Carlin. I am in the process of sorting stuff so I can set up a little pad near the university I will be working this year. Have been avoiding the Marie Kondo phenomenon because, while I want to declutter, every time I see those neat little folded piles of stuff I just know I am not coordinated to enough to match that – and I feel a failure before I’ve even started. So I will remain overwhelmed with stuff because of my fear of failure, lol

    • Laura Shovan says:

      I think that’s why many people avoid decluttering. I know I can tackle those candlesticks, but papers collected over 30+ years feels like an overwhelming job.

  17. Linda Mitchell says:

    I’m fascinated with the emotion and reaction Marie Kondo is stirring up in so many people–westerners. Our relationship to stuff is certainly multi-layered. I’ve never really had issues with purging. But, I have relatives that could be diagnosed with hoarding. I think the resolution that comes from parting with stuff is also interesting…and super worth the writing about.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      It is interesting to follow both sides of the debate. Many friends of Asian descent have pointed out that some of the reasons Westerners balk at Kondo’s methods have to do with cultural differences.

  18. Linda says:

    Laura, I have always loved George Carlin’s “stuff” routine. I haven’t seen it in many years, but I think about it every time I start to declutter. When we moved to a smaller house, we donated about half of all our stuff. We figured that a smaller house, we wouldn’t need as much. Now that we’ve been here 6 six years, we have collected so much stuff, we’re right back where we started just with newer stuff! I even donated over half of my books. Then, I ended up buying another copy! I really want o downsize again, but I love my stuff! : )

  19. I am happy to know there is a Judith Voirst book on being 90!!! And she does set the record straight about the pull of our past Things. Fun shedding post. Good luck to you & all of us who need to trim.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Thanks, Jan! I will head to the basement one of these days. We have boxes that remain mostly unopened from our move nearly 20 years ago.

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Laura Shovan

Laura Shovan is the author of the award-winning middle grade novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. Her second book, Takedown, is a Junior Library Guild and PJ Our Way selection. Look for A Place at the Table, co-written with Saadia Faruqi, in 2020. Laura is a poet-in-the-schools Maryland.

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