Some friends came over for brunch recently—a couple of hardcore DIY-ers who have installed drywall, a toilet, even their own electrical wiring. They just renovated their kitchen. By themselves.
When they came inside, they looked for the usual pile of coats to throw their stuff. I gestured toward my new knockoff Eames Hang-It-All—a brightly colored, wall-mounted coat hanger.
“Just installed it myself,” I said with only a hint of smugness.
My friends went to hang their coats. The Hang-It-All immediately collapsed under the weight of their spring outerwear. The whole mess—coats, hats and cool, mid-century modern coat rack—hung sadly by a single screw.
“Epic fail,” said our eldest daughter and slouched out of the room.
"You just need better screws," our friends told us.
We invited our friends into the kitchen, where I spent several minutes cleaning bits of crud off the kitchen island and rooting around in the pantry for the bottle of Perrier I’d bought earlier that week.
“I know it’s in here somewhere,” I said.
Meanwhile, one friend (the wife) got busy doing my dishes from the night before. Because I always ask friends to come early to help me get ready for my own parties.
When she finished that chore, her gaze, full of pity, rested on my pantry. Its shelves were filled with a few cans of food nestled in a jumble of eco-friendly shopping bags, empties, boxes of breakfast cereal and a collapsible crate my brother had given me in an effort to get me organized. It was stuffed with old cookbooks I hadn't used since the Food Network began.
“Do you know what we’re reading?” said the husband. “It’s a great book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”
I'd heard of the book. In fact, I was number 378 on the waiting list to borrow it from the library. Which was great because that meant I could avoid tidying up for a few months.
The author, Marie Kondo, is a Japanese home organization consultant who says she has been reading her nation’s equivalent of Woman's Day since she was five years old. (OK, there is probably no Japanese equivalent to Woman's Day. There is no place in the world, other than the US, where it makes perfect sense to have a magazine cover that features weight loss tips and a cake recipe on the cover every month.)
Kondo’s lesson for tidying up is simple: keep only those items that bring you joy, and get rid of the rest.
There’s also good folding advice, our friends told us. Put socks side-by-side in pairs, rather than folded into sock balls. Stack piles of shirts on their sides, so you easily can see what you have.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “I’ll never stop making sock balls.”
“It’s all about the energy of the socks,” said the wife. “They’re on your feet all day. They like to rest in pairs in the drawer, not all bunched up.”
After breakfast, my friends did all the brunch dishes and set my kitchen in order while I poured myself a glass of Prosecco.
I noticed how naturally it came to them to tidy up. There was no procrastination or argument about who should do what. They just got it done.
When everyone had gone home, I thought about laundry. Because that’s my excuse to watch Netflix while I avoid folding the basket of clothes in front of me.
But then I thought, why not? Why not make an effort to get a little more organized? It wasn’t like I had anything better to do. It was the time when most people were spring cleaning. Plus, our middle daughter needed her older sister’s hand-me-downs, which were buried deep in the back of her drawer.
Okay, I thought, let’s just try one pile. I went into my daughter’s room and opened a drawer. It was like the pantry—a jumble of folded, piled shirts, empties (in her case, old candy wrappers) sprinkled liberally with eraser dust and pencil shavings.
I folded my daughter’s shirts as she looked on in sullen silence. She doesn’t like anyone to mess with her mess.
But when I put them in her drawer, the pile on its side, magic happened. There was now a rainbow of shirts in the drawer, filed neatly side-by-side, rather than stacked on top of each other.
My daughter and I looked at each other, both of us smiling, astonished by this feat of domestic engineering. It made us happy—joyful, even. Here’s the weird part. I felt like the clothes were happier too. But maybe that was the Prosecco.
The socks called to me.
“Please don’t bunch me up into a tight ball. Please let me relax with my partner beside me.”
Sure I had spent too much time indoors that day, but it was really like these objects had preferences about how to be kept properly.
That whole Shinto animism thing had got to me.
I texted my friend, which thankfully gave me an excuse to avoid more folding.
“I just spent 20 minutes of my life re-folding shot. I will never forgive you for those lost minutes!”
“I mean, refolding shut. Thanks a lot.”
“That was supposed to say shit! I was refolding shit. Fucking autocorrect. Like socks. For 20 minutes. I’ll never forgive you.”
My friend texted me back: “You’re welcome.”