Well Intended: Tidying up too much brings her down
My house is fairly organized. By that, I mean that I can usually find what I need (unless it's the cup of coffee that I just had a few minutes ago and have no idea where I set it down).
I've moved a few times in the past five or six years, and packing and unpacking everything you own encourages you to pare down. It's not pleasant to gently wrap and unwrap the same vase that you never really liked or the ice skates that were expensive, but give you excruciating blisters. I am not without a stash of dresses that are too tight and a box of cherished toys from my children's preschool days as well as a towering stack of cake pans both in regular and novelty shapes.
Last week a friend told me about an organizational book that she was reading and enjoying. This author encouraged her to go through everything in her home and categorize it before tidying up. She started in her daughter's room. Piece by piece, they held up each item of clothing and asked if it brought her joy. I guess that is the criteria for keeping and storing an item, it must bring you joy.
We keep things for many reasons, and the weight of holding onto things we don't love is great. There is guilt attached to that scarf that your grandmother knit just for you in just the shade of purple that brings out the color of your eyes. It must have taken her hours, and every stitch was made with love, but you will never wear it. And every time you see it, instead of being filled with love for your darling granny, you feel like a jerk for not calling her often enough and never being able to match her devotion. What kind of a grandchild are you? You don't even bother to wear the scarf she made for you.
The friend with the organizational book has a lovely home. It's warm and inviting and has a great wall of bookshelves in a living room filled with windows and deep leather sofas. She is generous with the books that fill these shelves; when she asks if you're read something she follows up with, "I have a copy, I'll drop it by next week. You'll love it." Her office closet is a little office-supply store from which she can always pull out just what she or one of her children needs. While my workspace is nearly paperless, her shelves are lined with notebooks filled with the reminders of the fascinating research she has done. We have different styles. But I find hers soothing, natural and comfortable. I have never been at her house and not felt entirely welcome.
Her organizational spree inspired me. She mentioned that in this book, the author suggested that all items in your drawer be folded and stored beautifully in rows like the cards in a library card catalogue. I searched up some instructional videos on this origami style of folding.
On Sunday afternoon, I threw everything from all of my drawers onto my bed and weeded out the favorite T-shirts with holes and the tank with the bleach stains. Then I began to fold each item and line them up in the drawer in color-coded rows. I took a photo. Beautiful.
Sunday evening, I pulled a pink nightgown gently from one of the rows and straightened its neighbors. I went to bed and for a few peaceful minutes was satisfied with my orderly drawers and by extension, my orderly life.
I couldn't sleep.
The nightgown had a tag that was itching my neck. How could a tag be so horribly uncomfortable? I was going to have to change. Only then did I realize my problem. How was I supposed to get a new nightgown out of the drawer without messing the rest of them up? And what was I going to do with the nightgown I had only worn an hour or so? And what was going to happen tomorrow when I wanted to grab a pair or workout pants out of the row of black pants. How would I know if they were ankle length or boot cut? I had organized myself into a state of dysfunction. I didn't want to spend a half hour every time I did laundry folding and color coding my clothes. And, if I am honest with myself, half of the time I throw my outfit on the chair in my room at night. I won't be maintaining this system.
I believe in purging our homes of unnecessary clutter. I love the idea of having everything I own bring me joy. I am sure that there are people whose closets are as elegantly arranged as a fancy clothing boutique. But I am certain, folding my undies into tiny vertical shapes is neither useful nor does it bring me joy.
Krista Richards Mann is a Westport writer, and her "Well Intended" column appears every other Friday. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.