Decluttering Without Kondo

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My wife Mab showed me an online piece about Marie Kondo, the Japanese life and design savant who suggests that you should clear the clutter from your home by discarding all that does not make you feel extremely happy. My heart immediately went out to the objects that would have to undergo such unhappy scrutiny, judged by a standard that would be difficult for family members to satisfy on a daily basis. Consider the nature of our human regard for our nonhuman objects—we are fickle, offhanded, contextual. We fail to notice a photograph for weeks and then one day we are suddenly transfixed, staring into the eyes of the persons in it, startled by feelings triggered by time and change, our own evanescence. Extreme happiness is evanescent, its causes and forms are never predictable. We can be miserable surrounded by things that used to make us extremely happy but now are different because we are.

One of Kondo’s specific no-clutter suggestions concerned books that you’ve happened to buy. She seemed to have coffee-table books in mind, for her suggestion was that if you are tired of a book except for a particular image or two that make you extremely happy, clip those and frame them and recycle the bulky book residue.

I don’t think that Kondo intends here to convey contempt for books, given that she writes them. Her concern is with eliminating clutter, and to gain the attention she has she must offer radical solutions. But if a person is no longer interested in a book, they might refrain from cutting it up and instead scan their favorite images, and then find a way that the book could find a new and happier environment. Place it in a free library, donate it to a thrift store, or choose someone in your life who you think might find even a tiny bit of happiness in it and give it to them. If they don’t like it, perhaps they’ll give it to someone else. Books can change lives. They don’t always, but they can. They will be recycled eventually, so no need to rush.

Here are two page-spreads from an erasure book I completed in 2015, The Mysteries of Lessness. The book itself, as well as the images I used for collage, came from books awaiting the recycling truck. Is ripping apart and defacing these books any less cruel than Kondo’s clip and place in the bin approach? Perhaps it comes down to the same thing, and perhaps someday (after I’m gone, please) someone will take delight in erasing my erasures for their own erasurist purposes. I wish them the same extreme happiness I’ve had.