But when the screener in question is Tidying Up, which it was during my cat-sitting sojourn in a cleaner abode, avoiding that mess is tough. I anticipated turning off the Netflix show pretty quickly, but Kondo’s genuine sincerity while sitting on the ground, introducing herself to the home, clawed at my heart. As someone who grew up getting chastised for never cleaning well enough, the compassion Kondo has for how hard it is to stay on top of the state of your home felt revelatory. This guru got me! Furthermore, like Queer Eye and The Great British Baking Show, Tidying Up features imperfect people doing their imperfect best—and everyone else being nice about it.
I watched the rest of the screeners in one sitting, enthralled by the minimalist progress these downsizing families and people recovering from loss were able to accomplish all by themselves. (Kondo doesn’t hold her subject’s hand through the process, and there’s no team leading the de-hoarding way.) So my subconscious took notes: Maybe this is doable. All of a sudden, I felt electric—could it be the spark of joy?
Kondo doesn’t hold her subject’s hand through the process, and there’s no team leading the de-hoarding way. So my subconscious took notes: Maybe this tidying up is doable.
I went back to my apartment the next day and threw every single thing I owned atop my bed. I put sticky notes in the corners of my room denoting piles: sell, donate, trash, keep. I queued up a playlist of nothing but pump-up jams: Lizzo, Robyn, Christine and the Queens. “I don’t know if I can do this,” I wearily chirped into my Instagram Stories that day—overwhelmed and embarrassed by what the state of my bedroom had become—as a means of accountability holding/public shaming, and began.
Because truth be told, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it in my own right. Everything I owned was tied to my lost work, friends, and the people who had raised me. Plus, I’m not exactly financially flush, and I lack the insurance coverage to get the medication that staves off waves of chronic hypomania. My room had become a dumping ground; a constant reminder of all of my perceived inadequacies and failings. Fixing this holistic situation suddenly felt as an imperative as the pile loomed large.
But first I focused in on the small sections of stuff rather than the whole of my mess, starting with the easy stuff: papers from my life in New York before I moved to Los Angeles, old press kits, weird toys, and just so. much. nail. polish. I got so good at throwing stuff out (or donating it), that I zipped through more than half in two hours. I posted another video to Instagram Stories, triumphant. “I’m doing it!” I screamed, fist sweatily pumping in the air. I realized I hadn’t felt that accomplished in ages. It felt downright cathartic.
The process wasn’t without its challenges though, particularly when it came to sentimental goods. An old key chain from an ex gave me pause. So, so much paraphernalia from my old office job struck me like a hot knife across the face, as did birthday cards from friends I no longer had. So I let myself cry. I held the items in my hands, remembering good and bad times. I closed my eyes and just breathed before taking a break for tea and then trying again.
When I’d tried to clean a few months earlier, I’d failed, quickly spiraling into a pool of anxiety—but this time felt different, thanks to Kondo. The care, appreciation, and gratitude she shows for things, and homes, and life in Tidying Up affected me, making my process this go-around feel healing rather than re-wounding. After eight hours of work, I looked around at my room and felt at ease. I had done it.
I used box tops to organize drawers and shoeboxes cut in half to organize my baskets. I stored my bags inside other bags and found little homes for everything. It was, in many ways, just like how I’d survived my traumatic 2018: bit by bit, scrappily pulling myself together. By figuring things out in little, imperfect ways, and building on top of that, I was ready for better.
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