Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo

8.  A Book That was Originally Written in Another Language.

I can't imagine why I ever would have picked this book up except that everyone, everyone recommended it to me. At a recent dinner party a friend claimed to have bought two copies and did I want one.  Yes, yes I did.  

At the same time, I embarked on my annual winter clean out every drawer and closet campaign.  Usually it lasts about a week and I get through two closets. This one has lasted a bit longer so I thought I would see what the Japanese had to say about organizing and decluttering as I was doing my own organizing.  

I generally disdain the home organizing category of book because they are all written by purgers who have no idea why we hoarders save what we save. They think all objects are equal and all objects can be disposed of easily. Sometimes reading those books breaks my heart.  (I have started another blog project on stuff and want to discuss a lot of ideas about things and stuff and objects. If you are interested.)  But so many people recommended this and it was being pushed by Amazon so maybe this one was different. 

Well, yes and no. Yes, Marie Kondo's big secret for organizing your life, finding happiness, realizing your true calling and losing weight (she can't prove it but people who use her method are thinner!) is this one secret.  To decide if you should keep or dispose of an object hold it, touch it and decide if it bring you joy.  If it does, keep it.  If it does not, toss it.  She believes that if you simply pay attention to what you are feeling you will be able to make better decisions about removing clutter from your life.  Don't miss any item, take your time, but when you are done, put it in its place or throw it away.

So it sounds kind of cheesy but I think this is how I operate. I had just embarked on two days of moving and sorting and organizing my massive book collection and as I was doing it I knew instinctively which books I would not keep. Most of my books bring me great joy and I would hate to part with them.  Just looking at them on the shelf brings me joy, but some of the books there kind of bothered me so they went in my donate pile.  She uses her method extensively about dealing with ones overabundance of clothing.  Clothing is not so easy for me to grapple with, and I have already finished my closet cleaning for the year so I will have to get back to you on that.

She also has some valuable advice about organizing by category instead of by room and she goes off on this wild tangent about thanking your things for their service to you.  (I hang up my coat and say. "thank you for keeping me warm today.")  On its surface this seems a tad weird but really she means, be thankful for what you have: treat it with respect.  Kind of a nice thought.

But she really lost me on her treatment of gifts and letters and photos and memorabilia. I think of all the archivists and librarians who would have a cow if they noted how readily she wants people to part with things that maybe should be hung onto for a bit.  I guess I am convinced that someone will want a record of how I lived someday.  My grandchildren may way to read my journals to know who I was.  They may want to see photos or see their mothers swimming certificate.  I love coming across treasures like this.  Does it bring me joy?  Perhaps not, but I think it would make me sick to throw it away.    I picture my photos in a waste can and I can only think I would have to go and fish them out. 

She also pushes garbage bags.  When ever I sort and declutter and dispose, I think really hard about where it goes.  I donate and recycle as much as possible.  She needs to pay more homage to disposing  of things correctly.  Perhaps your bag of old baby clothes will bring someone else joy. 

She is a little too perky and self righteous for me. She doesn't pay enough attention to the fact that not everyone has as their career a home tidying business.  I have a whole realm of items that are related to my writing circles and my work at the university and things I do for fun--they don't bring me joy but they can be useful.  There is no room for utility in her method.  Joy or no joy that is the only measuring stick.

But there were some great takeaways:  
  • Don't use storage bins. Those are for hoarders. She suggests if you must, use shoeboxes.
  • All those convention notes and power points you save because you want to refer back to them, you won't.  Toss them.
  • Don't organize other peoples stuff. They get pissed off.
  • Once you have determined what brings you joy--find a place for it and leave it there. 

Anyway,  I have more to say on this topic.  I'll blog about it later.  I will say that the reading of this book caused my stuff to increase by one and I threw away one set of conference notes that I had been hanging onto, so we have a net gain of zero.  Happy organizing.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Stories of My Life by Katherine Paterson

7. A Book from an Author I love that I haven't read Yet

When I was in first grade I learned to read. I can still remember the first real chapter book I ever read.  You know the kind that make you grown up because they have no pictures? It was called The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner.  I read it in an evening after I checked it out of the school library.  After the ease of reading that book, and the thrill I had completing it on my own and becoming absorbed in the story, I was a life long reader.

Books, reading, storytelling, libraries and bookstores were part of my heart and soul. I was never censored either.  Sometimes I hear a parent say, "Oh, I won't let little Jimmy Sue read that, he/she's not ready."  It makes me a little sad.  A book presents itself to a reader when the reader is ready. I absolutely think if a kid loves to read and wants to read he or she should not be stopped.

One of my favorite books was  Bridge to Terabithia,  written by Newberry Medal winning writer Katherine Paterson who is now in her 80's and has just written a lovely memoir that I couldn't put down. Her writing is straight forward and not fussy as all her young adult and children's books are. She simply tells the stories of her life.  Born and raised in China, a daughter of missionaries, and part of the history of China during the 20's and 30's she grows to be a teacher, mother, missionary and writer.  Her stories are sweet and fascinating and engaging.  I loved this book.  I plan to pull out one of her many other award winners as a future read.  I just can't say enough good about her reflections on her own family and children and writing life.  Go read this book.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What I Gave to the Fire by Kim Evans

6.  A Book You Can Finish in a Day

My friend Kim Evans has been working on her memoir for 8 years now.  I know about it because we write together in a women's writing community, and although we do not compare notes regularly, we have been on a similar journey of miscarriage and pregnancy loss.

I was excited that she went forward with her decision to publish this memoir and looking forward to getting the chance to read it.  It feels thrilling to see a fellow writer's stories in print, a story that I know she worked long and hard on, and a story that I felt myself woven into.  Not directly, but we are the same age and our children are the same age.  I could see myself in many parts of the book.

In some ways it was a fast read because I had heard or read some of it in writing circles before and Kim's voice is familiar to me. Also, I really wanted to read it after all these years of knowing her and her journey. So I stayed up late last night and read her book after I got it from Amazon.  A great testament to writing and storytelling as a power to grant us peace and courage and healing.

Congratulations Kim!  This was a beautiful thing you gave to the world and to the fire.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

La's Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith

5. A Book My Mom Loves

This book was great and could have filled so many check boxes on the list. But ultimately, I read it because my mother has always loved and raved about all of Alexander McCall Smith's work.  So I chose this to be the one that my mom loves. (I'm not actually certain she has read this one, but the sentiment is there.)

Set in World War II, La finds herself living in the country with very little to do.  She befriends a few, falls in loves with one, and has this idea to start an orchestra that includes men from the local airbase and people from town.  Its a little bit of a love story and a little bit of a spy novel and a delicate rumination on peace.

I also learned something about WWII that I never knew. Poles who valiantly fought alongside Brits to free their country were never recognized at the end of the war. The Soviets negotiated this at the Yalta Conference at the end of the war.   The author wanted to give a small mention of that often overlooked history lesson to his readers. Reading about the Polish airmen who watched the victory parade in tears because they were not allowed to march was heartbreaking.

I see why his writing appeals to so many. The storytelling was surprising with interesting and believable twists. The writing was good. The story happy and rewarding.  It is a cozy day kind of read. I actually began to cry at the end of the war when La's orchestra gave its victory concert and the members and villagers recognized how vital music had been to their morale and  to the war effort and again in the 60s during the Cuban missile crisis when she reconstituted her orchestra to play for peace. Winning wars is about preserving parts of life like the enjoyment of music and country life.

Thanks mom!