Episode 18 - Tidying Up
Jen: Hey Peter.
Peter: Hey Jen.
Jen: Tell the listeners what I'm showing you through the computer screen right now.
Peter: Okay, we have a book that I may have gifted to you, actually. It's called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.
Jen: Okay. Now you and I started getting into an argument about this book last week, and we agreed to stop and wait until we had a recording session in the calendar to pick up where we left off and argue with each other. So I'd like to do that now.
Peter: I'm ready for it. We've had a bit of feedback saying that people would like to hear us disagree on something, so maybe this could be a first.
Jen: Okay. Pete and Jen disagree. This is The Long and The Short Of It.
Do you remember the context of our argument? Because I've been wracking my brain all day to try to recall what made it come up in the first place.
Peter: I do. I remember saying to you, for whatever reason I said something like, "Do you remember the, the book I gave you by Marie Kondo called The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up?" and you said, "yes." I said, "Apparently it's now this, like, big Netflix series," and then you proceeded to go, "Yes it is, and here are all my issues with it."
Jen: Now, to be fair, I've not watched the Netflix series so I cannot comment on it.
Peter: I have not either.
Jen: All I can comment on is the things that I've heard, so there are probably some die-hard Tidying Up fans out there in the world, and you have more information than I do, so I call myself out as the kind of person that drives me crazy, which is a person who asserts an opinion with absolutely no knowledge about what they're talking about. But the thing that I have a beef with that I really want you to talk me through -
Jen: - and I'm a questioner, so don't, don't try to tell me what to do, people - I don't understand why something must spark joy. I don't get it. It's not that I'm against joy, like I'm pro joy.
Peter: Anti-joy, is what I’m hearing.
Jen: I also believe that there are certain things that are useful that ultimately are not joyful. And so I'm trying to - not just talking about things, like getting rid of things, and believe me, I need to tidy up, ask my husband, we have too much stuff - but I'm also not going to get rid of stuff that "doesn't spark joy" because that doesn't make sense to me. And similarly when look at life, if life is full of things, things that you're doing, one might also decide to apply this to life's activities, and I also don't believe that every activity in your life needs to spark joy. So maybe it's the choice of words, Peter, but I'm not into it. So, help me to see the world from your perspective.
Peter: Okay, so I have not watched the Netflix series either, however I read - maybe I'm an O.G. - I read this book, must have been like three or four years ago. And so the premise for the listeners who aren't aware, the three people out there who don't know what we're talking about, is it's basically a method of tidying up, cleaning up, decluttering your life, whereby you literally pick up every item that you own and ask yourself, "Does this spark joy?" And the direction, I guess, that Marie Kondo makes or gives is, if it does not spark joy in your life, throw it out, get rid of it. And if you think about how that then plays out, the idea is, the only things that you own in your life are things that spark joy, and what a wonderful, joyous, utopian existence to live in. So that's the general premise. However, I, I think it might be a language thing, because I don't necessarily overthink the word "joy" when I think about this. I think the method of "does it spark joy" to me is almost similar to asking, like, "Is this adding value to my life?" which I know is actually probably a different question. And maybe that's not what she intended, but that is Pete's interpretation of this process is, we all own a bunch of stuff that adds no value to our life, like a useless, you know, pamphlet that someone gave us at an event we went to, or a pair of socks with the holes in it, or the pair of underwear that we've held on for too long, or the gym gear that's six years old that could not possibly spark joy, but also provide any use to us, because it's all old and it's useless, essentially. So I think I've used it perhaps less literally than she intended, maybe, but for me it was a useful process and framework for thinking about getting rid of stuff, superfluous stuff. That's interesting that you said, "I have too much stuff and I need to declutter," because I immediately thought of your inbox, which has come up a few times in this podcast, and I'm like, there's a theme here, Jen, there's a theme. Thoughts?
Jen: Okay. You're right about the inbox. I appreciate the reframe of "add value."
Jen: I could see going through everything in my home and in my life and saying, "In what ways does this add value?" The one caveat: I would, is that I would add, "to my life, or to the lives of others." So as an example, you gave me this book, which does not spark joy in me.
Peter: What a great gift.
Jen: No, I'm very grateful you gave it to me. I really am, because - no, because we have a very small library of books that I think are worth reading at the studio, and this is in the library, and people read it, and it brings value to their life. So I, if I'm holding on to something because it brings value, that makes sense to me.
Peter: But does it give you joy to know that other people are getting value out of it?
Jen: I think for me, I need to use the word "satisfaction."
Peter: Ah, ok. "Satisfaction." Joyless Jen, that's fun.
Jen: Okay, once someone said to me that at times my heart appears so cold, I should walk around with a personal air conditioner. It's not that I am a cold person, it's just I'm not necessarily always as exuberant as others. I'm contemplative, you know what I mean?
Peter: I do.
Jen: Anyway, so, "fulfilment," or "satisfaction." Like for example, do my running shoes bring me joy? Does running bring me joy? No. Do I do it anyway? Yes. Would it bring me joy to run barefoot? Absolutely not. I run in my running shoes because it gives me a sense of satisfaction. It's not fun, it's not enjoyable - I guess, there's the "joy," it's not en-"joy"-able. But it does provide me satisfaction, and I know why I'm doing it. I'm doing it for a purpose. So "purpose" might be another word: "Does this bring you closer to your purpose?"
Jen: Okay, then we have to talk about the idea that it feels to me the ultimate expression of privilege to just decide to be able to say, "Well, I just decide, I don't, I don't want this winter coat. It doesn't bring me joy, so I'll throw out this winter coat. I'll just buy a new one." Well, not everyone in the world is in a position to just get rid of things because they don't like them. So I think that's the other part of this that bugs me, is that I look at this as, well, this is an expression of privilege and what I would, what I hope would be tackled is the idea that something that maybe previously you saw as a burden, you can reframe and see as a gift or an opportunity, like, second-hand or something. You know, my daughter, she has older cousins who bestow their hand-me-downs on her, and it makes her feel so proud when we say, "Oh, that was Carly's coat!" She's like, "Oh, that makes me feel so good" you know, that there's some way to change - well, I'd love for you to talk about this - the stories we tell ourselves about the people and things and activities in our life.
Peter: Well, it's a big question.
Jen: I know.
Peter: Can I - I just want to talk about real quick what you said. So I agree, and I'm ninety-nine percent sure in the book, I can't recall exactly, but the recommendation is obviously don't just go and throw this stuff out, but actually, you know, think about who it might spark joy in and gift it to them. And in actual fact, that process will probably fill you up as well, because it's not about creating more waste and more privilege so that you can go and buy more stuff; it's about passing it onto someone else who will, again, get value out of it - maybe not "joy," but definitely value out of it. So yeah, I don't, I don't think Marie Kondo is suggesting we just throw all this stuff out, because I agree, that's the ultimate sign of privilege.
Jen: What about someone who can't afford to replace the thing, the "joyless" thing they threw out? I also don't like the implication that if you don't have the means to buy yourself things that spark joy, that you're not entitled to as much joy as someone who could.
Peter: And I know we said this is an argument, but I'm starting to agree with you; although we, the point that I made earlier around you will only surround yourself with things that bring you joy - so it's like, what's the implication for people who don't have that opportunity to throw out things that don't spark joy? Does that mean that they're living a joyless existence? Like, that's a bit, that's a bit sad.
Jen: And so maybe - okay, folks at home, I mean, we're just like really thinking out loud here - maybe the root of the problem is this obsession with defining ourselves by what we have.
Jen: Maybe we wouldn't have so much stuff - Jen, I'm looking at you, I'm holding a mirror because you have too much stuff - maybe we wouldn't have so much stuff if we could find satisfaction with who we are. Maybe it's not about the stuff; maybe it's about ourselves. And the reason we keep holding on to things and buying new things and more and more and more and more is because we're scared that if we just stand with ourselves alone in an empty room, that we won't feel satisfied with ourselves.
Peter: You're right, when we, when we take away the stuff, we get scared because it's just us and our thoughts. And so, your point is around connection and human connection, so what if we, how can, how might we value more people in our lives that spread us joy, spark joy, as opposed to looking for things in our life that spark joy, and focusing on surrounding ourselves with people that give us joy? And instead, maybe, maybe things aren't supposed to spark joy. Maybe they're just meant to serve a purpose. And if you're clear on what that purpose is, that's okay. That's enough. I dunno.
Jen: Yeah. There's a section in this book that talks about getting rid of books.
Jen: That's a hard no for me, that is a - that an f no. The thing that brings me more joy than anything in my apartment is the massive library of books. I mean, we have so many books, that there are bookshelves in every room, in many cases floor to ceiling, and then within cabinets, they can't even see the books there are more books. And I will not part with the books, and some of them I don't reference all the time. But like, here's an, here's an example, here is an example, Mr. Shepherd: there's a show that my husband and I just decided to watch, so I watched television. It's called The Terror; it's extraordinary. It's just, the writing is beyond, and the acting is even beyond that. It's incredible, and it's about these two British ships that were going on an arctic voyage in the hopes of finding the Northwest Passage, and the ships got blocked into the ice, and then nobody ever heard from any of the people again. They were, they were all lost. And essentially the show is one theory about what might have gone down. Well, I have this obsession with survival stories, and I have lots of books about Mount Everest, about Shackleton, about these people who go into uninhabitable places and try to survive them. And after watching that show, I was so happy that I had held on to all of my books about Shackleton and his expedition and getting blocked into the ice cause I was like, "Oh, I'm so interested in this." Again, I haven't touched those books in like six or seven years, but now I'm cracking them open again. So I didn't know, I cannot predict in the future what some day we'll serve a purpose.
Peter: Do you think there are things in your life that you can think of though that don't serve a purpose that you've held onto?
Jen: Yes, yes, the cappuccino machine that we got for our wedding ten years ago that still has a bow on it.
Peter: It still has a bow on it?
Jen: Yes. So if anyone needs a brand new, never before used cappuccino machine, it's taking up an entire cabinet in our kitchen, and getting rid of it would spark joy, so -
Peter: Send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org, we're doing our first ever giveaway right now, Jen.
Jen: Oh my gosh, yes, I mean there are plenty of things that I need to get rid of, and I know I have a problem with holding on to things, and what's hilarious about it is I don't find myself to have that much nostalgia for things, it's more like I see the usefulness that something might someday hold. I'm not holding onto it for emotional reasons, I'm holding onto it because I feel like I could hypothesize about all of these uses for this thing. I cannot - at this point I think the proof is in the pudding, we're never going to use the cappuccino machine, so that I can let go. But my books about climbing Mount Everest, no. Someday I might need them.
Peter: I think you might be a hoarder.
Jen: Peter! I agree. I agree.
Peter: Good. So to bring it back to the book and the ideas in it, I think, like, what I was thinking about as we were talking about this, and I know we went on all sorts of different random directions, but it was - for me, it highlighted the need to maintain an independent opinion when reading professional development books, self-help books when people are presenting an assertion to you. Like, I think about it as, what's one thing I could take from this book, or what's a couple of things that I could take? Not that I need to go and religiously follow every single step that she has outlined, and I don't think anyone really does that. I think it's about picking up a little nugget from a book and then working out how that could apply to your life.
Jen: Yes. And you know what? Truth be told, that's how I read all of my other personal development books. I think because this one is about how you feel, it rubbed me the wrong way.
Jen: If it had just said, "Does it have a purpose?" we wouldn't even be having this conversation.
Peter: It would probably be your favorite book.
Jen: Yes! You're - you know what? I probably would have done my whole apartment by now. But the fact that I've been told how I'm going to feel bugs me. Do not tell me how to feel.
Peter: And that is The Long and The Short Of It.