Ok, so I don’t actually believe that my life will change just because yesterday John and I KonMaried all the books in the house, packing 14 boxes of tomes that once captivated us, but through the years have lost their luster in our hearts. Using the Japanese de-cluttering principles set forth in Marie Kondo’s book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” we went room by room through all the bookshelves (and stacks, piles, bins, and baskets–also a few boxes of books we had previously packed to give away, but forgot to drop off at the library book sale.) We held each book in our hands and tried to observe whether it brought us a sensation of joy. The results surprised me, in some cases: all the Irish poetry collections from my year at Trinity College in Dublin, Patrick Kavanaugh and Seamus Heaney, those loamy, boozy, sainted laureates: gone, without a backward glance. Yeats’ poetry stayed, but his dramas, which were the subject of my senior thesis? Slán leat, which is gaelic for goodbye. Billy Collins, Adrienne Rich, Mary Oliver and Rilke got to stay, but poor Wallace Stevens got thrown in the give-away box in duplicate, once by me from the poetry section in the bookcase next to the bed, and once by John, who had a different edition on his bedside table. I may never again read To Kill A Mockingbird, A Visit from the Goon Squad, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Beloved, but they made the cut without a second thought. Among my books about writing, I kept Annie Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Robert McKee’s Story, Elizabeth Berg’s Escaping into the Open and Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones — I stole some of Goldberg’s prompts when I taught high school essay writing; I still use Berg’s thought-starters when I’m stuck. I couldn’t do without Elizabeth Gilbert’s wonderful Big Magic, about the divinity that feeds all creative endeavors, but easily parted ways with her novels and the memoir Eat, Pray, Love, even though I loved it when I read it. I’ll admit that I gave away Anna Karenina, but kept every single volume of Harry Potter.
Today, we took on closets and clothes. I thought I’d be relieved to donate my grandmother’s Galliano mink coat: It’s too small for me; it used to be alive; I don’t have the right lifestyle for mink; it’s supposed to be cold-stored in summer (oops). But then I touched it, my heart opening like a camera shutter, letting in light. We weren’t super close, but she gave it to me. It still smells of her New York apartment, dusty, airless, a hint of her perfume, Shalimar.
“When are you ever going to wear it,” asked John, when I rescued it from the give-away pile.
“Never,” I said. “Not in a million years.”
“Then why are you keeping it?”
I had no explanation, except that, just like Kondo says in her book, it sparked joy. So back in the closet it went.
We are now leaner by dozens of cubic feet of books, coats, sweaters, boots and bed linens. Tomorrow we move on to miscellaneous cabinets: the CD, VHS and DVD collections, knitting and needlepoint yarn from unfinished projects, the basement closet chockful of board games.
It feels good to pare down to the essentials. We are realizing that having so much random stuff distracts us from the good stuff, how easy it is to excise things that don’t matter to us. The extra space is lovely.