Written by Abigail Burdess

Lifestyle

Feel the Fear and Tidy It Anyway

Has bestselling decluttering manual The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up changed Abigail Burdess’s life? Hell yes. Hell yes with revolutionary feminist bells on.

wardrobe surrounded by bin bags

Illustration by Laura Swaddle.

My friend Ellie gave me the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Apparently it’s huge Stateside. Ellie’s a Scummy Mummy (I’m not being rude: that’s the name of her comedy act) who has recently, apparently, become a lot less scummy – which is great for her, though clearly it represents a challenge to her business model. I hate self-help, and the title made me snort derisively, but because it came from a very funny woman, I read it on the train.

For those of you too busy picking up broken toys to actually read the book I’ll sum up its recommendations: throw everything out. Or more accurately, throw out anything that does not “spark joy”: books, DVDs, toiletries, your tax records, your mother’s ashes, your computer, your third child.

If it does not “spark joy” it’s jettisoned or “released” – sold, binned, given away. You pile up your shit by category. You hold each piece of your shit in your hand. You decide if it makes you happy. Then, if anything’s left, you stand it on end in a little row. I mean, the kids stand themselves on end, but you have to fold the sheets yourself.

The author, crazed Japanese clean-freak Marie Kondo, claims this process is “life-changing”. And I’m here to tell you, she’s dead right.

I, like most women I know, spend a stunning amount of time shepherding shit. My family can’t turn up for tea without another carload of crap for me to corral. The piles on the stairs are extra items on my ‘to do’ list. They stress me right out.

“The last week of getting my house in order has given me a fair few lessons in myself but the one that’s surprised me the most is just how deeply sexist I am. ”

So I’ve been following the crazy tidying lady’s advice and, red-cheeked on the landing, I’ve asked myself: “Does this spark joy?” This dirty old towel? Does this spark joy? This suede protector? This paddling pool pump? Does this shitty fucking paddling pool pump with a missing nozzle which I’ve been saving to find a nozzle which fits because it’s a waste to throw out something with nearly all of the parts working, does this paddling pool pump spark joy?

Does this gifted face cream, which someone paid good money for, which BY DEFINITION does not work because if it did anything it would have to be labelled as a medicine – does this snake oil spark joy? Do these appointment diaries from 2001–11, which I’ve kept, presumably, to prove to myself I existed because I had appointments that I wrote down in a diary – do these appointment diaries spark joy? And the answer is, almost invariably, hell no.

I’m halfway through; my house is half-empty (or possibly, half-full) and I’m high as a kite. I mean, I’m not yet a Buddhist monk – not unless they’ve changed the rules and you get to keep the robe, the begging bowl, and a Black & Decker Mouse® sander – but I’ve a whole load less shit to shepherd.

Critics of the book have very reasonably asked whether women (who are the ones buying it) would be better off discarding the expectation that we tidy our homes rather than the objects within them.

The trouble is, it’s much harder to throw out centuries of cultural conditioning creating unconscious bias than some unopened face cream. But by throwing out the face cream you can do both. Because throwing out the face cream makes the unconscious bias conscious.

“I don’t want my feminist revolution co-opted by an advanced capitalist agenda. I don’t want to ‘have it all’ and I sure as shit don’t want to clean it all.”

The last week of getting my house in order has given me a fair few lessons in myself but the one that’s surprised me the most is just how deeply sexist I am. I don’t just commandeer responsibility for the Brasso and the kids’ crappy art. I actually take away my husband’s personal stuff – his receipts, his laundry – to clean and sort. I really must believe, even though I think I don’t believe it, that all this is somehow my job. It’s my job to store and fix and care for EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD. I must believe that or everyone else’s crap wouldn’t be clarting up my office.

Well, I’m giving it back. I don’t want to live my life in service to other people’s stuff. I don’t even want to live it in service to my own stuff. I don’t want to get to my deathbed and think, “Man, I repositioned A LOT of objects.” I don’t want my feminist revolution co-opted by an advanced capitalist agenda. I don’t want to ‘have it all’ and I sure as shit don’t want to clean it all. These women want to work outside the home? If we just sell them enough unnecessary plastic items and the notion they ought to dust them, they may never leave home at all!

That question, “Does this spark joy?” – not “Does this make other people happy?” but “Does this make me happy?” – is a pretty revolutionary question for women to ask themselves.

So I’ve chucked the face cream while singing Let It Go. And I’ve made a vow: never again will I catch myself restacking snake oil when I could be finishing my movie or drinking beer in the sunshine. Now there’s some Life-Changing Magic right there. I’m off to throw out the book. D’you want it?

@AbigailBurdess

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Written by Abigail Burdess

Abigail writes comedy for the telly, radio and stage. She is also sometimes allowed on them. But not so’s you’d notice. @AbigailBurdess