The Trouble With the Decluttering Craze
You may want to think twice before throwing out those old items
I haven’t bought any of decluttering guru Marie Kondo's books. Maybe it’s arrogance — throwing out stuff isn’t brain surgery after all. Maybe it’s denial — I don’t need help. Or maybe it’s shame over the time I excavated a desk only to discover I owned several books on home organizing.
Then there’s that subscription to Real Simple, the magazine whose covers I find oh-so-inspiring but whose content I find too stressful to read before bed.
That’s why I guffawed (and then posted on Facebook) when I saw the cover of a recent book that is pro-clutter. The Joy of Leaving Your Sh*t All Over the Place: The Art of Being Messy by Jennifer McCartney gets mixed reviews on Goodreads. But the description, which includes the phraseology, “Guess what, neatniks? Science shows that messy people are more creative,” makes for an entertaining read.
Yeah, sure, that’s it: I’m creative. That’s why I’m living in a sea of stuff that would make Kondo, whose latest book is called Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up, cluck her tongue.
The boxes stacked in my bedroom do not, in any way, spark joy. That’s not why I keep them. I keep them because I don’t like wasting stuff. I have an aversion to throwing perfectly good things into the trash — even if they have no use or value to me.
Too Much Trash
That’s why I was heartened by a recent Upworthy post making the rounds on Facebook. The click-baity headline worked. When I clicked on “The second half of decluttering that a lot of people might not know about,” I was led to content paid for by Savers Thrift Store. Still, the message resonated with me.
“In 2014, Marie Kondo’s bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, sparked a worldwide decluttering movement,” it read. “Her overall message is simple and elegant: When items in our homes have lost their utility or their ability to "spark joy," we thank them for their service and cast them away.
“Beautiful, right? Well, kinda.
“For many people in a fit of Kondo-inspired decluttering, casting away the things we no longer need means throwing them in the garbage.”
The piece went on to share facts about how many clothes Americans throw in the trash and talked about how even worn textiles can be repurposed into things like carpet padding and playground mats.
A week later, a New York Times opinion piece by Stephanie Land tapped into a deeper problem with the decluttering craze.
“I understand why people with a lot of stuff feel burdened by it, and the contrasting appeal of having less of it,” she wrote in the piece, called “The Class Politics of Decluttering.” “Buddhist belief says happiness is the freedom from want, and yet, what if your life is streamlined out of necessity, and not choice?”
The Luxury of Clutter
Land described the joyless chore of being forced to get rid of items that connected her to family memories when she and her daughter moved to a 400-square-foot apartment not because they longed for a minimalist lifestyle, but because that’s all they could afford.
“I’ve grown to appreciate living in a small space over the last decade, even after having another child,” she wrote. “I now keep a 667-square-foot apartment clean, and can’t imagine the responsibility of doing the same to two or three times the space. But it would be nice for my girls to have their own rooms, and a yard to run around in. It would be nice to have a real couch that isn’t a futon I’ve held on to for several years. I hunt for deals, and hurry to Walmart whenever there’s a sale.
The people who flock to early morning Black Friday sales, she added, “aren’t wealthy people who have a house full of expensive items they don’t need. Those are people teetering on or even below the poverty level, desperate for comfort in their homes.”
Kondo encourages those with too much stuff to thank items for their service before getting rid of them. Land’s piece is a reminder to be grateful that having too much stuff is an option in the first place.