I saw the wooden trike in a charity shop window, sometime around 2017: it was a bit like seeing a once-beloved ex on a dating website. You didn’t necessarily want them, but you didn’t want anyone else to snap them up either. The trike had belonged to my daughter, and I was in the throes of decluttering my house – throwing other people’s things out, I had found, was easier than my own. I bought the trike back, and for weeks I staked out the other charity shops that had been given my castoffs in the hope I could reclaim books, jumpers, a small colander … Some came back to me, but most didn’t.
Like many people, I read Marie Kondo’s bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, and embraced radical decluttering as a way to improve myself. I threw out decades of detritus – payslips saved from my first job, CDs, reams of old magazines. About half went unmissed, but the rest has been largely regretted, including clothes, books and many random items I turned out to be quite sentimental about. The books I kept, which now fit on one bookshelf, are all impressive, truly self-improving works that everyone should probably read. I’ve still not read them and almost certainly never will. That bookshelf reminds me of my failure.
Tidying my house didn’t change my life. It improved it in some ways (I still use Kondo’s folding techniques), but made it worse in others; I am irritated each time I’ve had to buy a replacement vegetable peeler/screwdriver/ballpoint pen. I don’t blame Kondo for any of this – I didn’t follow her system properly. I kept stuff that didn’t “spark joy”, and got rid of things that probably would have, given the chance.
In the years since, I have continued to accumulate stuff. There’s something about the precariousness of the past few years that has given me an aversion to waste, and a survivalist mindset. I have a collection of cardboard boxes that I’m sure will come in useful one day; I keep scraps of fabric, jam jars, takeaway containers, rubber bands from the postman, and on it goes. I often think I should probably give the KonMari method another try, but I gave away the book.
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