My story of clutter is an old one. For someone who manages OCD on a daily basis, I can strangely live with long periods of clutter before suddenly deciding it looks all too filthy.
Which is when I start cleaning with a vengeance.
My relationship with clutter is often – I tell myself in despair – akin to living with Stockholm Syndrome; I live with it too long and become ‘okay’ in its presence. But in my head, I know there has to be a way out of living like this. So Tidying Up with Marie Kondo came at as good a time as any for someone like me who’s always in need of better practices to manage clutter.
People Like Us
Netflix launched the hit reality series in the month of January; this helped hundreds of people keep their new year resolution of being organised for a change. The petite organising consultant, Marie Kondo – who went viral with her book that elaborates on her ‘KonMari’ method – has allowed the streaming giant to televise her work of decluttering homes and lives of hapless Americans.
Thanks to her show, we’ve come face to face with several real people who – like us – are struggling to make sense of the piles of things they own that almost never go back to their assigned places. Big or small, every house has their demons and people are seen trying, mostly without a proper plan of action, to sort out their nests.
A proper plan of action is what Kondo brings to the table. The idea of taking everything out at once and then reassessing them, one by one, is a tedious but rewarding process – as we see episode after episode.
But what is interesting to see is the gratitude families have for Kondo’s help after a massive clean out.
How My OCD and I Relate
The pressure clutter puts on families is a real thing.
I have had numerous squabbles that have broken out after every Diwali simply because of the mess we leave behind of our finest clothes, of discarded jewellery, of unmade beds, of leftover foods during the festivities. Or, because my books almost never stay in the shelves they are meant to be in.
Much like Wendy and Ron from the episode about empty nesters. A retired couple with a big house, Ron has a huge baseball card collection in their bedroom – while Wendy has Christmas decorations that spill out into all parts of the house year round. Turns out, Wendy also has the largest pile of clothes Kondo's ever seen.
But as the old couple go about cleaning their messes, they also clean the cobwebs of their lives.
Wendy understands the lengths Ron is ready to go for her when he gives up most of his sports memorabilia. Ron also finds his wife take the hard call of giving up many beloved clothes and Xmas baubles.
Then there’s Matt and Frank, a gay couple who are readying to welcome parents in their apartment and really want their approval. Matt, who’s shy and isn’t available emotionally, fumbles at what items “spark joy” in him. He slowly leads the way for Frank, a writer, who has a hard time leaving behind his handwritten notes and scripts.
Coming to Terms With My Own Tidying Up
I relate most, though, to the episode with a young couple, Kevin and Rachel, and two toddlers – having a four-year-old myself.
A couple that calls each other ‘babe’ during the interviews seem out of touch otherwise, almost hesitant of knowing the other’s opinion about their collective clutter.
My no-cleaning and over-cleaning periods too, take a toll on the entire family as our toddler, like most toddlers, can mess up a room very quickly. The regular routine gets so overwhelming that bigger tasks like cupboards and bookshelves don’t even feature for months. This also becomes the main reason for our fights – how many toys my husband thinks the child needs versus what I think, how much play area is acceptable versus my physical and mental tiredness towards the whole ‘keep the house clean’ jig.
So, sipping on several cups of adrak wali chai under a cozy blanket, I have learnt a few things from the ever-smiling Japanese this January – to take on the process of tidying with a heart of gratitude, to find items that spark joy, that make the house a home through memories of using them.
And to do everything little by little, without overwhelming myself.
There has also been that eureka moment where tidying up, instead of being the mighty demon I dread facing, has become the calming activity that helps our relationship.
My husband and I now fold clothes every evening, and we discuss our day while doing so. Just like Kevin and Rachel, we've reconnected over sorting out our collective mess. It isn’t a blame game or a disorder anymore, its just a thing we get to do together.
That Kondo’s show has led to massive charity drives is no surprise. But that people could re-bond over tidying up their messes is as zen as it gets.
(Runa Mukherjee Parikh is an independent journalist with several national and international media houses like The Wire, Bust and The Swaddle. She previously reported for the Times of India. She is the author of the book 'Your Truth, My Truth (https://www.amazon.in/dp/B076NXZFX8)'. You can follow her at @tweetruna.)