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Downtown Journal: In the Clutter Gutter

Downtown Journal
An occasional column about city life

The New Year is now three weeks old. Are you tidied yet? Or still bound up with resolutions to tidy?

Oh. OK. You want me just to shut up and go away. You don’t want to be reminded of that determination to pare down, clean up, throw out and wrangle your clothes, dishes, books and papers to stay organized in 2019. You live in the North End, a small space already crammed with too much clutter. You yearn to live without guilt about the mess. 

Good luck with that. 

In these times when chaos rules politically, many of us seek to control what we can. Keeping our square feet in order has assumed more importance in daily lives. So we follow those leaders exhorting us to spiff up our personal spaces. The lead actor in this movement is a wafer-thin Japanese guru, with the unlikely moniker of Marie Kondo. She has become a household god, spreading the gospel of folding clothes precisely and making the bed daily. 

Kondo established her brand as Ms. Clean with the release of her worldwide 2012 bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Now, she has a TV series on Netflix, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” In the show, she travels with an interpreter to various messy homes desperately in need of an action plan. The first episode shows Kondo visiting the Friends (their family surname) in California where she discovers a household on the brink. Everybody’s a mess. The clothes closets brim over, the kitchen is a stew of misplaced cutlery and dirty plates, the kids are brats, and the parents are estranged. Their lifestyle muddle has become like kudzu, a massive vine slowly encircling them and choking them. 

The Friends’ story will, of course, have a happy ending, but not before Marie Kondo has worked her particular alchemy of cleaning up. She does have her methods. Most distinctly, she directs her subjects to go through their possessions thoughtfully, holding each item and meditating on it while deciding whether to heave it or keep it. She wants people to thank the castaways and embrace the holdovers. She urges her legions of clutter-snipes to stay mindful of things that make them happy – or not. 

Kondo recommends keeping only 30 books. She shows how to fold all your underthings and T-shirts precisely in little squares and stack them sideways in drawers so you can easily see the colors and textures. In the kitchen, she makes drawers organized by herding together similarly-sized utensils. She uses bamboo dividers to keep the spaces well-ordered. 

She offers up lots of interesting advice. Alas, it’s tough to live tidy in a world straining with stuff. 

For a few enchanted weeks, I had my own Marie Kondo, only she was named Cory and lived in the Seaport. This professional organizer is a millennial who had a corporate job until she became disenchanted working for The Man. She took a chance to start her own business. She calls it Ditch the Clutter. And ditch we did. 

At the end of our journey, Cory Bamberg — an utter stranger whom I plucked off the internet merely because I was charmed by the name of her company — had gone though all my underwear, literally and figuratively. She had arranged my garments by color. What clothes I didn’t keep, she packed up in bags for donation to On the Rise, a women’s day shelter in Cambridge. She helped me prune my library. The “nay” pile was donated to More Than Words, a Boston non-profit that collects books for urban youth to manage and sell. All the discarded furniture went to Household Goods, an Acton enterprise giving home furnishings to people starting over after homelessness, a fire, or another misfortune.  

Bamberg recommended movers to transport me and my husband from our home in the suburbs to our condo in the city. She stayed around on moving day to unpack and to collect every empty box. She helped hang pictures. She set up the kitchen. She flew around on gossamer wings (just kidding). But she really was magic – transformative. I haven’t seen Cory Bamberg in two years. Yet, I recently received an email from Ditch the Clutter with a complimentary “document storage cheat sheet” to keep my papers in order. I was happy for the shout-out, but so relieved I didn’t need the help.

Monica Collins is a writer who lives on the Waterfront with her husband, Ben Alper, and dog, Dexter.

One Reply to “Downtown Journal: In the Clutter Gutter

  1. Books are easy to clean up. Bring your read and to be read books to the North End Branch Library to leave at the book sale. Books will be purchased by your neighbors and, hopefully, returned to the Library for re-sale. When you need a book, you go to the Library and purchase the book you want to read and return it when you are finished. Maybe the book you dropped off will be available for you to purchase again. Problem Solved

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