Editor’s note: Prompted by the wild popularity of Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” I asked friends to share their perspectives on managing clutter. Elise Gallinot Goldman, one of our favorite New Orleanians, shared how Hurricane Katrina changed her relationship with physical possessions. I’m posting it just ahead of the anniversary of Katrina making landfall, August 29, 2005.
My family lives in a relatively small two-bedroom house. We have small rooms and a small courtyard, two dogs, a turtle and an ever-growing child. Our house isn’t Scandinavian streamlined, but if you open dresser drawers you’ll see the classic Marie Kondo prescribed folding. Most drawers are purposefully organized in our home- they have to be with the lack of space we have, and I admit that one of the things I do when I’m bored is reorganize kitchen drawers. I actually got a text from a house sitter once that just said- ‘UR Tupperware drawer- WOW.” But I don’t think keeping everything in place and vigilant purging has always been part of my nature.
My relationship with stuff changed because of Katrina. Before, I was a collector of stuff. The mantels in my shotgun house were packed with trinkets and ephemera; the ledge around the top of my shower was lined with random action figures; there was a lot of space being taken up by things I didn’t really use and that didn’t bother me at all. I lived alone and got joy out of hitting flea markets and garage sales and finding strange treasures.
When I evacuated for Katrina I took only the essentials- my pets, a couple changes of clothes and a bottle of Maker’s Mark. A few months later when I came back to my house for the first time, I was surprised at how much was lost when my roof blew off and rainwater poured through the ceiling. Almost everything I owned was soaked, molded, crumbling and unsalvageable. Some of the things that miraculously made it through were difficult memories– notes from high school where I sound like a real bitch, photos and documents from my early, and failed, marriage. It was hard to see the life I’d built, my constructed existence, in ruins. But even in the months following, I found that I thought about the things I lost surprisingly little. I had very little emotional connection to most of the things I owned and the twangs of pain for an item lost were piercing, but infrequent.
I landed in Atlanta for two years after the storm. I spent most of that time living with the boyfriend I had started dating a couple weeks before the storm hit. When that relationship eventually crumbled, I found myself living like an ascetic in a tiny two-room apartment, sleeping on a rickety single bed I bought at a garage sale and eating and working on a table from IKEA that folded down to roughly 8”x 24”.
Moving back to New Orleans two years later, everything I owned fit into a small U-Haul trailer. All my meager belongings went into storage and I moved into the home of friends who were out of town for a few months.
In the intervening 11 years, I’ve managed to accumulate quite a bit of stuff. As my husband likes to say, “You sure like stuff for someone who doesn’t like stuff.” But still, when I read “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” I felt a warm validation and permission.
Yet the notion of holding something in my hands and asking myself if it brings me joy brought up some uncomfortable feelings for me. How much joy can any thing really bring and why is that the decider?
Ridding your house of unnecessary clutter helps productivity and opens up closet space, but joy seems like an arbitrary denominator by which to judge. There is so much shit to just let go of, that you might need to let go of, and some of it might bring you joy and still need to go. We let go of things for so many reasons- they are taken, they get lost, they drift away, someone else would be a better steward. And there are things you must keep and even cherish and they might make you feel guilt or helplessness or embarrassment. Being evocative and bringing joy are often, for me, very different beasts.
So I ask myself a different question- is this meaningful to my life? And Marie Kondo be damned, I keep some things that are spectacularly joyless. They show my journey, my truth, maybe I think of them as a kind of amulet protecting me from repeating the mistakes of my past. I’ll keep purging, though, and taking time to slowly look at the meaning of the things around me as I go.
- Decluttering is next to Godliness?
- In praise of memory-drenched clutter — a guest post by Ted Anthony
Categories: home and family