Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Magic of Spring Cleaning

This month, in keeping with the season, I'm in the middle of a whole house Spring cleaning project. Actually, let me correct myself- it is Spring tidying and not Spring cleaning. What I am doing is clearing out clutter and getting our home organized.

The tail end of March threw me a bit of a curve ball in the form of minor surgery on my big toe- minor surgery with some pretty major discomfort which kept me off my feet for a while. A couple of weeks ago I was finally feeling energetic and closer to my usual self, ready to tackle this project. The renovation of part of our home was completed in mid-April which was great timing to be getting the house in order, quite literally. And we have friends and family visiting all the way from Memorial Day to beyond Labor day, so being streamlined is going to be sanity-saving.

Image: Goodreads
To properly psych myself up for this task, I went straight to the library and borrowed a bestseller- The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I could not have chosen a more motivating book. Who would have thought that a book about home organization would be so polarizing? But KonMari as the author is called is beloved by some and criticized by others. KonMari is very quirky. She is single-minded in her insistence that the exacting KonMari method is the one and only way to get lasting results as far as life-long tidiness goes. But there were so many points in this book that resonated with me. To quote a few:

1. "A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. It is life transforming."

2. On gifts: "The true purpose of a present is to be received". The purpose of a gift is simply to convey feelings. Once the gift has been accepted with joy and gratitude, its job is done. If you can use it, great, if not, donate or discard it without any guilty feelings. Thinking about this also reminded me to give gifts that are functional or consumable or "experience gifts"- and less likely to end up as clutter.

3. "Start by discarding". Don't organize clutter, just get rid of it. No need to rush out and buy containers and storage furniture. Only keep enough stuff that can reasonably live in the space you have.

4. "Does it spark joy?" This is the ultimate KonMari catchphrase. I take this to mean that an object must add some value to your life by being useful or by making you happy in some way. Choose what you want to keep in your life.

5. "Appreciate your possessions". I've heard it being said that KonMari's obsession with ruthless decluttering is wasteful but in fact I thought that this is a book that is remarkably eco-friendly. She talks about cherishing your possessions and expressing gratitude towards them. It means you own only things you love and take good care of them.

6. "Designate a place for each thing". Tidying is a simple concept, where every object should have a home and be returned to that home when you are done using it.

7. On a more practical note: "Store things standing up rather than laid flat." Piling things one of top of another means that stuff gets buried and you can't see what you have.

8. "Before you start, visualize the destination". When I look at design blogs, the spaces I'm drawn to are full of natural light and color, functional, welcoming and free of clutter. That's the "happy modern cottage" look that I would like my home to have.

9. Finally, this gem: "The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life".

One of my biggest motivations for this Spring tidying marathon is to create spaces that my kids can thrive in. We have a baby who is on the cusp of being mobile and needs space to explore his world safely and freely.

Meanwhile, I have been observing our preschooler for 5 and a half years and have a good understanding of what kind of play she engages in and what environment suits her best. It turns out that she ignores most of her toys. She would rather engage in pretend play using objects around the house and stuff retrieved from the recycling bin. She ignored her play kitchen set and instead took away my set of measuring cups to play with. Don't worry, mama, she told me magnanimously, you can borrow these measuring cups any time you need them.

These days, she's also spending a lot of time playing board games and making arts and crafts. In December, V was out of the country for ten excruciatingly long days and I had to come up with strategies to keep Lila busy after school while I was occupied with a demanding young baby. What worked best is that I spread a waterproof sheet on the dining table and converted it to an "art studio". We spread out sheets of paper, blank cards, stickers, crayons, markers, paints and let everything stay out there on the table as we made holiday cards and random artwork day after day. Having materials accessible at arm's reach is excellent for sparking creativity at a moment's notice. 

All these things were on my mind when I listened to this podcast and they talked about embracing simplicity and editing their children's toys. It reminded me of a post I read a long time ago about a mother who took all her kids' toys away in an extreme parenting moment and discovered that less is indeed more.

So I KonMaried the children's books and toys. I did it on a day that I had taken off from work while the kids were conveniently at school- it was my birthday, actually. If it seems loopy to spend one's rare and precious day off doing this, well, all I can say is that it brought me a great deal of mental satisfaction. It took hours and the work continued this weekend.

Two big bags of toys have been donated to the thrift store, there is a folding table permanently set up as an art space, board games and books are neatly arranged vertically and everything is visible and available for playing, reading, creating.

V warned me that Lila would not be happy to see the changes. He got me worried and I smiled nervously as I greeted Lila off the bus that day. To my astonishment she noticed NOTHING. Strolled over and started playing with the wombat stuffie that I had unearthed.

It takes a lot of privilege to have so much stuff that you even have to worry about decluttering and simplifying. But this is the best way to not take that privilege for granted- by having fewer things, taking care of them and enjoying them actively rather than looking to acquire more and more. This whole exercise has been just wonderful. Maybe life-changing, even ;)

Tell me- what does "stuff" mean to you? Oh, and Happy May!