Tag: gratitude

A Thought Experiment, in response to Marie Kondo’s method.

abstract collage web
© j.hart Paper collage: what my books & files feel like to me sometimes!

Imagine, for a moment, that everything you own at this very point in your life is all that you can or will ever be able to own. Every piece of clothing; all your jewelry, every shoe or pocketbook; every stick of furniture; every bit of makeup; every kitchen utensil, tool, plate, glass, or knife, all the tiny objects that fill the drawers in your house (pens, pencils, notepads, keys, candles, flashlights, etc.); all the cleaning supplies, iron, and ironing board; every sheet, towel, pillow, carpet, curtain, tablecloth; and, of course all the electronic gadgets: computers, phones, printers, televisions, etc. all are irreplaceable!

Imagine that the vast worldwide connections which bring a flood of goods, from factories all over the world, to your local store (or to the local Amazon warehouse) have been disrupted. Perhaps the factories in China, Central America, India, Japan, etc. have all closed and the workers have returned to simpler economies of farming and making products to be sold locally. Maybe the fossil fuel is finished and the global economy is one of luxury items only, transported with great effort and expense.

The question this thought experiment suggests is: now, what would your relationship be to the objects that you own?

It seems to me that Marie Kondo hints at the care and gratitude we should have for the objects that surround us (and that we would have if they were irreplaceable) when she suggests giving thanks to each object that we have decided is not bringing us joy and is on its way out to either the landfill or the thrift store.  But as I mentioned in a previous post, she fails to draw our attention to the more important focus of our gratitude, and that is to the Earth’s resources that were used (and never replenished) to allow the object to be created in the first place, and to the work that people across the globe exerted to make the objects that fill our lives!

Since Netflix started airing Maria Kondo’s series, thrift stores all over the world have been inundated with truckloads of items that people realized that they didn’t actually need (and which weren’t bringing them joy!). However, there is no guarantee that the items given away to second hand shops will not also end up in landfills with the tons of “trash” generated during a Kondo session of tidying up.  https://www.mamamia.com.au/tidying-up-marie-kondo-waste/

Marie Kondo never actually says that her clients should stop shopping, so what her program shows is a type of addiction rehab or detox reality show: the client downsizing with Marie has one brief moment of clarity and relief; but we, the audience, know that tomorrow, when sweet little Marie, her translator, and the film crew leave, the shopping will resume as will the hoarding and the self loathing. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/jan/10/marie-kondo-you-know-what-would-spark-joy-buying-less-crap

Which brings me back to my original question: what is (for the Earth and ourselves) a healthier relationship we should have to stuff? And what is a more responsible way to reduce our stuff?

Some suggestions:

  1. Stop all shopping (except for food) for a period of time. I am two months into an attempt to not shop for a year!
  2. Reduce your possessions responsibly; it is important to feel the consequences of your shopping choices:
    1. clothes can be cut up and recycled as cleaning cloths, or remodeled for longer use, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJYjRbwzzDA
    2. take clothes to the thrift store in smaller numbers over a greater length of time, say three or four pieces at a time every week.
    3. if you have room in your place, clean and pack up the extra clothes carefully in see-thru bins according to type or style (e.g. all dress shirts together, all work skirts in one bin, all sport tees, etc.) and use the extra clothes to refresh your wardrobe as older clothes get tired looking or worn out.
    4. it is important to feel that the joy that objects gave you can be transferred to other people by donating bras, reading glasses, good winter coats, shoes, and clean bedding to your local homeless or women’s shelter. And please donate it in as good condition as you would want if you were to use it!
    5. old pillows and blankets can be donated to your local ASPCA.
  3. For tools and small machines (mixers, toasters, microwaves, coffee makers, etc.), consider setting up a tool library in your neighborhood! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tool_library
  4. And finally books can be donated to your local library, or sold to your local bookstore for cash or, often, for exchange for other books!

It may be clear by now that what I am suggesting to change our way of reducing stuff is a very labor intensive and time consuming process. But that is the point! The hypercapitalist economy we live in disguises the true price of goods by allowing them to be bought quickly, easily, and cheaply: a few minutes online, a call to Amazon, a recording of a credit card number, and the item is yours!

The getting rid of something can never be as hard work or time and energy consuming as the original making of the thing, but at least by taking some time and thought to place the object within the context of our local community; and making the extra effort to meet and see face to face whom will next use this thing that was bought so quickly and thoughtlessly, we can use the difficulty of downsizing to put a brake on careless consumption and make us think more responsibly about our purchases.

 

 

 

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The Fantasy of Tidying

blue hubbard web detail
How do you tidy the natural world? Eat it!!

Netflix has begun streaming a series of Marie Kondo visits with her clients to help them declutter their homes, all of which are in California. I just binged the full eight episodes, and it is definitely helping me with my wish to make this a “no buy” year!

I have been a fan of Kondo since I read her 2011 book: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, but the suggestion of this series that working through one’s clutter, preferably in tandem with one’s spouse, will improve one’s life: solve problems in family relationships; bring more joy into the home; and eliminate the problem of clutter by creating habits and storage systems that will be continued to be used; and all in the short time one has with the in-person help of Marie Kondo, makes this clearly a TV show Netflix should file under the “sci-fi &fantasy” rubric!

The most egregious part of this series is the unspoken assumption that the hyper-consumerism that all these families support is somehow normal for the rest of us! These are wealthy people, not average working people. Most of these folks have houses big enough to support huge collections of clothes, kitchen supplies, shoes, books, bric-a-brac, toys, etc. (Interesting statistic from A Cluttered Life: Middle-Class Abundance: the US has 3.1% of the children in the world, but buys 40% of the toys worldwide!) But nowhere is the money that is needed to hoard the amount of stuff that fills these houses anywhere commented upon!

Kondo elides the darker, but truer emotions, that her method elicits: guilt over the amount of money and energy that allowed the stuff to be bought and to accumulate; anxiety over the inability to keep one’s head above the engulfing chaos; despair at the emptiness of lives lived for consumption; and grief over unfulfilling personal relationships. Instead we are given, in the figure of Marie Kondo, a Japanese Tinkerbell: perfect, petite, and with a constant smiling mask, who assures all her clients that they are okay, and that they will be successful.

The “system” Kondo uses is based on positivity (probably why it has been so attractive to Americans): the object is to make choices about what to keep rather than what to give up, though the pieces that don’t “spark joy” (a limited and poorly defined emotion) are dumped after being “thanked” for their service.  But never does Marie Kondo suggest that thanking one’s possessions for their service may not be as important as thanking the Earth for the resources it provided for all the objects, or thanking the thousands of people whose hands, sweat, ideas, and energy created the items that glut these homes! The source of our wealth here in the West is again made invisible!

And finally, as the focus remains tenaciously on the clients’ emotional state and how happy the Kondoma method will make them, the work of decluttering, which is a really hard struggle, takes place offstage. Nor is there any suggestion of a larger community who could use the stuff. Again, an interesting hint that the families only know other people in the same economic bracket as they are in; people who would not need any more stuff either or to whom they are too embarrassed to ask for help!

The assumption is that most of the bags go to thrift stores where it can be reused (though recent statistics suggest that much of what goes to thrift stores ends up in the trash as does recycling. But how much was recycled? And how much was trashed without any attempt to reuse? Recycling and reusing is not a part of the Marie Kondo brand.

There were a lot of intriguing hints of deeper issues in these first eight episodes: the gender roles, the politics of which played out with shopping, accumulation, and jobs in the home; the comparison of Japanese Americans, only a couple of generations here compared to Marie Kondo, a native of Japan; and the sadder struggles of the true hoarders whose spouses were enabling them and keeping them from dealing with their underlying and debilitating anxiety.

But for me in this blog, the show seems to be a warning against using a band-aid to make a gaping wound seem somehow more attractive! The basic problem is our love-affair with hyper-consumerism. The solution is as basic (and unpalatable) as stopping the shopping! Even the slogan: reduce, recycle, reuse may not be applicable if we are reducing from a completely unnatural level. It may be better for us to only buy necessities and to reuse as much in our homes as we can until we have worked through everything extra, which if the families in this show are any indication will be a long time!

Tearing up my Bucket List!

compost watercolor copy
‘My compost bucket’ watercolor © J.H. Hart 2018

A bucket list is that strange collection of wishes that every middle class retiree believes that she or he must fulfill and check-off in order to die happy. The items on the list are usually in the form of exotic travel (an African safari; a visit to the Galapagos; hiking the Amazon canopy); or a once in a lifetime experience -because it is too expensive for those of us who are not billionaires to afford to do more than once!

Our bucket lists send herds of us, baby boomers, traipsing through the Louvre; invading Venice from off cruise ships; and destroying pristine natural habitats for a couple of selfies and the bragging rights to say that we were there, even if only for a couple of hours.

And because it is a list, there must be more than one thing on it: forty things to do before turning forty years old, or as many things as we can brainstorm in an evening. The irony, of course, is that running through each item on our bucket list  abstracts us from the beauty of our actual surroundings and alienates us from the people with whom we live and to whom we owe our time, money, and compassion. It is a good example of how more can actually be less: less fulfilling; less authentic; less likely to make us happy.

The bucket list is the transmutation of lived spontaneous experience into a commodity. The bucket list (from the expression “kicking the bucket” meaning dying) is a perfect way to exploit people at the time of life when they are feeling most mortal. The end of their life is approaching, and they are often reassessing what their life has been like. Hypercapitalism, through the media, aggravates the feelings of disappointment in the little we did; and remorse for the great deal that we haven’t done. It is the strange and unnatural idea of “never having enough!”

So I have decided to tear up my bucket list! (Well, to be honest, I never actually made a list, as I have been rather busy!) Instead, I am thinking about what I can do in the relatively short time left to me to improve the place in which I have chosen to live. There are no iguanas in Montreal, but the web of life here is as truly beautiful, complex, and unique as anywhere on Earth and it needs my support. And the people amongst whom I find myself also deserve my help and compassion.

And if I feel the urge to make a bucket list, I will make it backwards listing the gifts that I have already been given; and feeling gratitude for how unusually full my life has already been!

 

 

 

What do you hoard?

bookcase with books
And yes, books can be hoarding too!

I choose to do a Spring cleaning of my apartment recently, which included pulling all of my art supplies out of the closets, and I realized, with a great deal of embarrassment, that I am a hoarder!

Now, I have always held myself above the friends and family that I considered hoarders, some of whom would describe themselves as “collectors.” Hoarding is, after all, a continuum with a range of states:  the friend who never throws out a piece of paper in forty years, leaving barely a pathway to navigate her apartment; the neighbor who spends hundreds of dollars on two storage units to keep gifts, furniture from dead family members, and boxes of items that might come handy some day; and the fashionable young woman with fifty pairs of shoes, dozens of bras, and hundreds of panties. But cleaning my house has brought home to me that I, who have dozens of unused sketchbooks, boxes of colored pencils, uncounted frames, brushes large and small, etc., am also a hoarder!

Hoarding is considered a subset of OCD; it springs from the same basic desire to mitigate anxiety. Certainly in this time of heightened anxiety and runaway hyper-capitalism, it is the go-to neurosis!

It also, I think, feeds a need to participate in the abundance and wealth that is advertised constantly in the culture. Most people also do this by taking photos of everything: the food they eat, the places they visit, the friends with whom they socialize and even themselves. It allows them to present publicly as participating in the general affluence. This illusionary habit has little ramifications in their real world (though it may have psychological implications) unlike the very real compulsion to accumulate stuff, which does actually use up both energy and money in the physical world and is a more private vice.

So what are you hoarding? And how do you and I cure this neurosis? I think this problem has a three sided solution.

The first and most important strategy is to stop shopping except for necessities. Shopping is best described as the action of acquiring stuff, and that runs the gambit from high end full price status purchases through discount stores down to thrift shops ending in bartering and being the recipient of gifts and hand-me downs. For  ordinary working folks, the trap is in discount stores where each purchase can be justified as a great bargain (shopping as a competitive game), or in thrift stores where originally expensive items can be found for pennies on the dollar. There is even trouble waiting for the devoted recycler if he or she rescues useable things from the trash, and then doesn’t find the time or energy to actually use them or to donate them or to somehow get them out of the house!

So the second vital action to take is to downsize. Now there are various ways to do this from purging (Marie Kondo is the most popular exponent of this method) to the gentler system that I have been using for the past couple of years: every time I buy or get a new (to my wardrobe) piece of clothing, two pieces must go out of my closet! This guarantees a much reduced set of outfits within a set time period. If you do decide to purge, I urge you not to simply haul everything to the curb to be picked up by the trashman. This not only makes garbage of many perfectly good items that other people in more straitened circumstances could use, but it also presents unbearable temptations to those of us of the dumpster diving persuasion!!

The final part of this three part program is the most difficult because it goes against a very deep-set social conditioning in this commodified culture. We are habituated to being dissatisfied, so that even long wished for objects lose their appeal in an amazingly short period of time as we go off on another quest to acquire another object that has been advertised as an absolute necessity. The best antidote to this is the daily practice of gratitude. This is part of Marie Kondo’s system: holding the item in one’s hand and thinking about how it has been instrumental in making one’s life better, and feeling gratitude for it, and then, if necessary, getting rid of it!