KonMari Project 1: Lifestyle

It’s January, the traditional time of my people to make life-altering resolutions. (Actually, it’s late January, the traditional time of my people to abandon those resolutions, but I’m running a bit behind.) I’m thinking big this year, and I’ve decided to work my way through the KonMari Method as both a life-altering and home-altering resolution for this year.

Now as I’ve said, almost no one mentions visualizing their ideal lifestyle in their descriptions of applying the KonMari Method; they mostly talk about the decluttering and the sparking of joy. But it’s clear that lifestyle planning is how you’re supposed to start. If I’m going to follow this plan, it would be silly to screw it up this early in the game. So, Step One:

Before you start tidying, look at the lifestyle you aspire to and ask yourself, “Why do I want to tidy?” When you find the answer, you are ready to move on to the next step: examining what you own.

As I’ve also mentioned, I never really spent much time thinking about the lifestyle I wanted to have when I grew up. My current lifestyle developed along the lines of “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” So Kondo’s first step was two steps for me: to figure out what lifestyle I aspire to and to answer that question.

The lifestyle of my dreams

First off, I don’t hate the life I’m living right now. I’ve barely done a thing to plan it, but the decisions I made throughout my adult life have gotten me the lifestyle I have today. For example, I chose to go to college almost 500 miles away from my hometown and to not move back after I graduated. I moved to some neighborhoods and not to others. I made relationship decisions that resulted in my staying single and childless. And this series of decisions where I was trying for the best possible outcome turned into a lifestyle that could stand to be tweaked, but I hope won’t need to be completely overhauled. What I want out of all of this is to consciously create the life I’m living, not fall into it absentmindedly.

For a few weeks now, I’ve been documenting my current lifestyle. What do I like? What do I want to be rid of? I’ve also been noting what I see in other people’s lives that I either want to have as well or wish to keep avoiding. I’ve ended up with pages of notes in no particular order: I like sitting in cafés to write, I like being in walking distance of interesting or useful stores, I don’t want to have a commute to work that’s more than an hour long, I haven’t decided if I want pets again or not. A lifestyle is made up of little things. I haven’t covered everything yet because I keep thinking of new things to add, but I’ve got enough to work with.

Why tidy?

I already knew I’m uncomfortable being around clutter. That’s probably true of most people who read Kondo’s books. I do like a place to look lived in: a sterile home is a home without life. But too much stuff piling up leaves me feeling claustrophobic. I have a pretty low trigger point on this, and I know that by many people’s standards, my apartment isn’t cluttered. Still, I look around at what is clutter to me and because I can’t just wave my hand and make it all disappear, I feel overwhelmed and ineffectual. Even if Kondo’s method does nothing to change my lifestyle, it offers a way to make my home less oppressive and I figure that’s worth the price of the books.

Also, even when I’m not feeling defeated by the mess, clutter is distracting. I sit down to do something and notice piles of papers and books (and sometimes yarn) around me. Then I’m torn between doing what I was planning to do and stopping to straighten everything up. I don’t like being scattered and unfocused, especially at home—it’s “anti-Vestal.” Yes, Vesta is the goddess of focus, so to speak: the English word comes from a Latin word for hearth and Vesta is the goddess of the hearth. Focus starts at home, it seems. So to answer Kondo’s question: by tidying and decluttering, I will bring my life into clearer focus, aligning it with what I want and like. I’ll make a living environment in which it’s easier for me to focus. And through all this, I’ll be honoring Vesta.

fireplace
A search for “lifestyle” got me lots of photos of the Sims, so enjoy this nice picture of a hearth instead.

I don’t know as I’ll find the perfect lifestyle buried in my apartment, just waiting to be revealed as I discard various random items. But I figure my apartment should reflect the life I’m living now, not one that I was living years ago, and I think the KonMari Method can help me with that. Off to figure out what sparks joy!

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photo credit: A Rare Sight! – 52WFND 6/52 via photopin (license)

Hidden in plain sight

It took me a while to notice the KonMari Method. I eventually realized that I was hearing about the same book from both Facebook friends and my knitting group, and that articles about it were sailing across my feeds. I resisted reading it for a while mainly because it was so popular. (I’m weird that way: if something gets too popular, I don’t trust it, which is no more rational than adoring it only for that same popularity.) But I decided that if I was going to discuss it with people, it would be better if I knew what I was talking about.  Reading the book itself was a good thing, both for being able to talk about it and because the articles I’d read hadn’t given me the entire picture.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Every article that I’ve read focuses on Marie Kondo’s approach to decluttering: if an object doesn’t “spark joy,” it goes, unless there’s a compelling reason to keep it (your old tax returns probably don’t spark joy, but hang onto them anyway). This was great, because I’d already been doing something like this: if an item gave me a feeling of guilt or obligation, out it went. (And it’s amazing how many things I own do exactly that, but that’s another blog post for another day.) So like many readers, well before I finished the book, I was already looking around, considering what I could toss.* But, tempting as this is,  it isn’t the way Kondo wants her method to be followed.

“Before you start, visualize your destination,” Kondo writes. Sure, her book is about decluttering. But this is decluttering in the service of a larger purpose: creating the life that you want to live, rather than the life you’ve somehow fallen into. This isn’t a secret buried in the heart of the book, available only to initiates. The title clues you in: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. We seem to notice the “tidying up” bit more than the “life-changing magic” bit, but it was there from the start. And Kondo gets to the point right away, saying on page 2: “A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. It is life transforming.”

So why the near-complete overlooking of a major point of the book? I figure, Kondo’s purging process is so dramatic, it distracts people from anything else. She does spend more time explaining how to declutter than how to visualize your ideal lifestyle. Decluttering and organizing are pretty much the same for everyone. Kondo can’t tell readers which clothes to keep, except that they have to spark joy, but it’s a safe bet that everyone reading this book has clothing. On the other hand, lifestyle changes are specific to individuals. Beyond saying that the first step is that readers need to concretely visualize the lifestyles they want and offering a few examples, I doubt she could get more specific. That visualization is a challenge in its own right. I don’t know what it’s like in Japan, but in the United States, we ask children what they want to be when they grow up. We don’t ask them—or ourselves—what kinds of lives they want to have when they’re adults. So should it be a surprise to discover as an adult that maybe you have a job you like, but that other parts of your life are not what you expected or wanted? (What did you want, anyway?)

It’s said that sculpting is the art of seeing a statue in a block of stone and then chipping away all the bits that aren’t that statue. The magic of the KonMari Method appears to be the act of removing the clutter in your home to reveal the lifestyle that you really want. Kondo warns that if the reader skips the visualization step, there’s a higher danger of relapse. So we’ll see: how many people are aiming to change their lives and how many aren’t hoping for anything more than a bedroom closet that isn’t bursting at the seams?

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*I’m using “toss” as a catch-all term for give to someone else, donate to charity, recycle, throw away, or whatever would be the best way to get an object out of my home. Rest assured that dumpsters are my receptacles of last resort.

W is for waxing and waning

Waxing and waning are terms that mean “growing” and “shrinking” respectively. Neither is limited to an astronomical context (“As he waxed eloquent on his own magnificence, her interest in him waned.”), but they often refer to the monthly changes in the apparent size of the Moon as it moves from new to full (waxing) and back again (waning).

montage of the waxing and waning moon

Planning activities to coincide with the waxing or waning Moon is an easy form of magical timing. Many everyday calendars show the phases of the Moon, so you don’t need buy a special book or bookmark an obscure website. The idea is, start activities related to growth and increase during the two weeks of the waxing Moon. If on the other hand you’re trying to reduce or diminish something, then time it for the two weeks that the Moon is waning.

Lunar gardening makes extensive use of the waxing and waning Moon, although it gets a little more complicated than just growing and reducing. For one thing, stuff that goes on above the ground is related to the waxing Moon, while that which happens in the ground is related to the waning Moon. You can refine the system even more by paying attention to which sign of the zodiac that the Moon is in, since some signs are considered fruitful and others barren. 

Sample activities for a waxing Moon:

  • Cut your hair if you wish it to grow faster. Similarly, you’d mow your lawn now if you wanted it to grow faster, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say they wanted that to happen. Maybe if you’d just seeded your lawn, but then you wouldn’t have anything to mow yet.
  • Sell things for the best chance at a good price. While selling something means you’re getting rid of it (waning Moon), you’re focusing on what you can get for it, which relates to the waxing Moon. Centuries ago, the astrologer Dorotheus of Siddon concluded that the second quarter is better than the first for getting a good price, so this is when I haul books to the used book store.
  • Plant annuals. Usually we’re interested in their flowers, fruit, and/or leaves, which counts as above-the-ground.
  • Harvest herbs for their flowers and/or leaves.

Sample activities for a waning Moon:

  • Cut your hair if you wish it to grow slower. Ditto for mowing the lawn, only I bet this will be a much more popular time.
  • Declutter a closet, clean out the garage, etc.
  • Plant biennials, perennials, bulbs, trees, and root vegetables. The waning Moon favors the roots, and you want good root structure to support these plants for years—or to make great potatoes and carrots for this year.
  • Harvest herbs for their roots.
  • Weed the garden.
  • Prune trees and shrubs.

But does it work? I…don’t know. I choose to act as if it does. I prefer the idea of a cosmos in which energy moves in accordance with planets, where waxing and waning moons have observably different effects. It’s a major part of the “magical lifestyle” I want. At a practical level, it gives me deadlines to work to: clean out the refrigerator before the Moon begins to wax again, remember to sell these books before the Moon becomes full or be stuck with them for another month. And if that gets me to do something that needs to be done, a lot of the time, that’s enough.

Magic(k)

mag·ick: n. In Wicca and certain other belief systems, action or effort undertaken to effect personal transformation or external change. Variant of magic. (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th edition)

Years ago, I thought Wicca and Paganism had made a great advance when their definitions appeared in mainstream dictionaries. Now, not only the names of the religions but some of their terms are considered common enough to merit entries. I was delighted to find magick is in the dictionary. If only the word itself didn’t annoy the heck out of me.

Like many children, I grew up with the standard Western fairy tales, and magic was common to most of them. Fairy godmothers, witches, mysterious beings who granted wishes for a price: every tale had magic in it and magic captivated me. As I grew older, I moved on to fantasy novels, still my favorite genre. The stories were more intricate, the characters better developed, but there was still that wonderful, impossible magic running through them. So you can guess how I felt when I discovered Wicca. Indeed, many of you may have had similar experiences. There were real witches in the world. There were wands and (sighs happily) magic. Except magic was misspelled for some reason.

It didn’t take long to learn that reason: the whole bit about how this was to show the difference between stage magic and, well, magick. (For some reason, the magic I’d grown up with, the magic in the fairy tales and the fantasy novels, was never mentioned.) This spelling had existed for centuries, but it looked as if Aleister Crowley was responsible for bringing it to prominence in the 19th and 20th centuries, and Pagans had adopted it enthusiastically.

I understand the reasoning, but I don’t agree with it, both for my own idiosyncratic reasons and because of what I think this says about Pagans as a whole. Personally, I just don’t like what magick looks like—yes, the appearance of the written word. It reminds me of other words with “ick” in them that don’t have positive connotations for me: ick, of course, and icky, as well as sick, panicked, and dick. If I’m trying to entice Younger Self, my inner child, or whatever, then I want to do magic, the stuff I’ve loved since those earliest fairy tales. On a larger scale, the Pagans I’ve met over the years could understand the difference between stage magic and magic(k) without a visual hint (and it’s only a visual cue: magick is pronounced the same as magic). It does the Pagan community no credit to act as if we casually confuse these two unless constantly reminded of the difference. I’m wondering if stage magic was more common in Crowley’s time; maybe he did need to differentiate between them. But nowadays, magic is more likely to bring up images of Harry Potter or Gandalf, not Penn and Teller.

I know I’m going against the current here. Even my beloved dictionary sees magick and only magick as the Pagan/Wiccan practice. Although the definition above says that magick is a variant of magic, the definition of magic doesn’t include magick. Nevertheless, I persist. We understand what modern witches are, what historically witches were, and what the Halloween stereotype of witches is without different spellings; why not with magic(k)?

There’s magic in them thar resolutions!

A month into the new year and I haven’t come up with much in the way of resolutions. Making any New Year’s resolutions at all is kind of new to me. I’ve dodged making them for years. New Year’s resolutions have always had a sort of artificial feel to me. You’re committing yourself to change something in your life, not necessarily because you’re ready to make that change or because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s January 1 and everyone says you’re supposed to improve yourself in some way. This is hardly a solid foundation for lasting change.

Last year, however, I made a few resolutions. I didn’t set out to do so, but they crept up on me. I bought a calendar/journal that happened to have a section at the front dedicated to yearly goals and I filled in a few, in great part because all those blank spaces just cried out to be written in. I don’t think I achieved more than one or two of them, but having them actually visible in a book that I was using on a daily basis kept them somewhat near the surface of my mind. And since they weren’t “real” resolutions and I hadn’t made any all-out commitments to any of them, I didn’t beat myself up too badly for not having kept them perfectly.

Which brings us to this year. With another copy of that same calendar/journal in hand, I’m eyeing that yearly goal section and thinking that I’d better deal with it a little more consciously this time around. Now some resolutions—and let’s be honest and just call them that—can be repeated from last year. Deciding to journal more frequently in 2011 was an ongoing process, not something that needed to end in December; it’ll do perfectly well as a resolution in 2012. With others, I’m not sure if they’re resolutions or not. I’ve taken on a reading challenge, but is a challenge the same thing as a resolution? Is it that I’m resolving to read more books in 2012? And looming behind them all are the resolutions that are scary to make because they’ll involve genuine change: if I bring them about, life won’t be the same afterwards. (You’ll note the lack of specific examples here. For what I’m thinking about, I’m not ready to commit even the idea of them to written form yet.)

So, okay, say New Year’s resolutions are a socially acceptable form of magic. You state your purpose and turn your will towards accomplishing it. I figure this alone explains a good part of my reluctance to make these resolutions: in all my years of being Pagan, I’ve never been all that interested in using magic, and calling it “resolutions” isn’t going to suddenly change that. But finally seeing the similarities between magic and resolutions got me thinking more about both of them. For one thing, the common wisdom of New Year’s resolutions is that most of them will be broken. I’m guessing that anyone who’s still keeping their New Year’s resolutions by the following fall is being quiet about it (which, come to think of it, fits the “keep silent” part of the Witches’ Pyramid nicely). But expecting resolutions to fail is hardly a good mindset for successful magic. If you consciously link New Year’s resolutions and magic and you then fail to keep your resolutions, will that affect your ability to work magic not directly linked to your resolutions? My understanding is that magic relies on belief that it will work, and wouldn’t a trail of broken resolutions impair that?

Turning it around, though, magical skills could help you keep your resolutions. Changing verb tenses is the easy one: make your resolutions in the present tense, just like affirmations. After all, saying “I will do [whatever]” gives you up to a year of wiggle room, which isn’t likely to strengthen your resolve. Also, I’ve noticed that magic is most likely to be effective if you can put a real emotional charge into it. So it makes sense to make resolutions that you really care about and not ones that you think you should make. And like magic, back your resolution up with real-world action, not just good intentions. Mind you, every January, I think various columnists, writers, psychologists, and anyone else with an opinion on resolutions says all this stuff in a non-Pagan fashion, but maybe it helps to make resolutions sound more like magic than like homework assignments.

And in the interests of making it clear that not all resolutions fail, I’ll just mention here that yes, I did journal more—lots more—in 2011, as I decided to do. Some resolutions not only succeed, they exceed expectations. On to 2012!