Cambrian: Slice of Life

Does my closet spark joy in my heart? No.

I was so proud of myself: I’d actually dug out enough time to clean the overfilled, musty-smelling cabinet under our bathroom sink. Finally! It wasn’t an earth-shaking accomplishment, but I was pleased with it anyway. Normally, I’m lucky if I can straighten one shelf at a time. 

“Just wash out the vegetable bin, Kathe. Don’t even think about cleaning the entire refrigerator.”

So it was totally satisfying to have concurrently snagged the time, energy and ambition to complete something that had never managed to slither to the top of the “to do” list: That fiendish, jam-packed, 

Fibber McGee of a bathroom cabinet.

For starters, I tossed out a half-bottle of extinct shampoo, a nearly empty container of dried-out counter wipes, elderly vitamins, some circa 2006 makeup and half an expired tube of toothpaste. I found several gadgets I could no longer even identify, and a few I could, but wished I hadn’t. An Afro comb? Really?

Once the cabinet was empty, I scrubbed the wood and sprayed Lysol all ’round. 

Having discarded a bunch of junk I’ll never want, I discovered there actually was enough room for the things we really do use, enough space so I’ll be able to find those items next time I need them (at least for a little while).

Alas, the euphoria didn’t last. 

Later that day, I started reading a 2014 New York Times bestseller (and bestseller audiobook this year): “the life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing (sic).”

On the surface, the concept sounds intriguing. 

I do love the look and feel of chic minimalist decorating. So modern, so sleek, so peaceful, so … so … tidy. 

I’m just never able to achieve or maintain it in real life. At our house, any clear horizontal space is fair game for incoming mail, a stack of clean laundry on its way to the linen closet and the magazine I just finished (and probably will never discard, because I really want to copy the shrimp scampi recipe on Page 57.)

I’m not a fan of self-help books. My philosophy about books that promise to teach me how to lose 10 pounds in two days, or double my money with secret investment strategies, or install my own replacement toilet is that the magic should happen when I buy the book. I shouldn’t have to read it and follow the instructions, too, should I?

(Have you ever noticed how dull and dry most self-help books are? And have you ever taken the advice to heart, made those life changes and seen the results as promised? I rest my case.)

So, there I was, all pleased with myself after cleaning the bathroom cabinet, and Marie Kondo’s book immediately told me that the only way I could make peace with my overstuffed house was to unstuff it …. all at once.

“Start by discarding. Then organize your space, thoroughly, completely, in one go,” she wrote.

To make the cut, an item has to “spark joy” in my heart, or suffer permanent dismissal. 

Trust me, lady. Laundry soap, antibiotic cream and a box of nails don’t give me joy, but when I need them, they’re essential. 

Kondo also advised putting all my clothes in one place. Every single piece, even that ratty jacket buried in my car’s trunk. Study each one, she instructed. No sparks of joy? Out it goes.

Even the Christmas sweater, lady? That ugly slicker I wear when I go out in the rainstorm to take pictures of a downed tree or accident? The dressy clothes for those rare glitzy events I attend at Hearst Castle, San Luis or out of town?

No, no. You don’t understand, ma’am. Joy isn’t what I feel when I wear those clothes. It’s relief that I don’t have to go out and shop for something to wear because I threw away what I already had after determining it wasn’t joyful enough.

 “Do not even think of putting your things away until you have finished the process of discarding,” Kondo wrote. 

Completely empty all our closets, cupboards and cabinets at once? 

Riiiiiigggggghhhhht. And just where are we supposed to live in the meantime, lady?

Sorry, it’s just not going to happen here. 

Now, about that vegetable bin …