(photo sources: see below)
From accuracy to inspiration: the magic of moving to action…
As I noted in my review of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I am not at all impressed with the KonMari method. In fact, I think it’s a bit stupid, and it would never work for me. Take my clothes (please — Purple Heart, Vietnam Vets, Goodwill — and thank you!) for instance: if I truly and faithfully applied the KonMari method to my clothes, picking up each item and only keeping the ones that brought me joy, I would have no socks to wear. Because socks have never brought me joy. Some slight satisfaction, maybe now and then. But not joy. And let’s not even talk about underwear…
Perhaps, you might say, I am being too uncharitable. Perhaps you think I need to be a more joyous person, or that at least I should entertain a more expansive meaning of the word “joy.” While there may be some room for improvement for me in this area, philosophically I must disagree. I am perfectly fine with liking some of my clothes. I am even fine with the notion that some of my clothes might bring me joy now and then. But not my entire wardrobe. I wear clothes for other reasons besides joy: function, warmth, adherence to social norms. I value these other values, and I don’t believe that my entire life needs to be infused with joy, nor that everything I value or wear has to be labeled as joyous. Satisfied, content, grateful, obliviously taken for granted — these all work well enough for me.
So I reject the notion of a totally joyous wardrobe because, in case you hadn’t gathered already, I’m a bit of a stickler for accuracy. For me, it’s not just naive or woo-woo or disingenuous to espouse a tidy, joyous clothes closet; it’s also sloppy, misleading, and inaccurate. I take pride in being able to describe my relationship with my things with a broader and more nuanced palette and to capture that relationship with greater fidelity. To be honest, I think I’ve got a better approach on how to relate to my things than anything the KonMari or someone else’s method will give me. I think I’m more right.
Which brings me back to that room for improvement thing.
Recently I’ve seen several friends on Facebook talking about buying the Magic of Tidying Up book and using it to get them started on their own decluttering or tidying projects. And my first reaction was, why aren’t they buying my book instead? Well, my book’s not out there yet for one thing. So I sent them some of my blog posts, and they said thanks and seemed to appreciate what I sent. And then they went back to talking about the Magic of Tidying Up book.
This bothered me a little bit. What’s going on here? But this also reminded me of my experience with my first book on online education. Lots of my peers raved about it; I felt and still feel that it’s a valuable, accurate depiction of the present and future of online education. But its impact on the world of education at large, as far as I can tell, has been negligible. It may be accurate, but something was missing.
So I decided that maybe I was, in fact, being a bit too uncharitable, and I decided to listen. When someone mentioned the Magic of Tidying Up book, I asked them what they liked about it. A pattern started emerging: the book was inspiring; the book inspired them to action, to do something about their stuff. That’s the magic of The Magic of Tidying Up as far as I can tell: it helps some people put into action their desire to change their situation. It’s more about the hook than the book. It doesn’t really matter all that much how accurate the method is; it matters how inspiring it is, and few people are inspired by accuracy. On the other hand, while inspiration alone may not produce over three million copies sold, it certainly can help get you there..
My room for improvement, then, is this: getting better at inspiring people. Even though my initial inspiration for writing about my 1000 things projects was seeing people’s reactions when I told them about it — discovering that the 1000 things project is an appealing hook — on some level I’ve lost that focus. I’ve reverted to my usual tendencies of focusing on being accurate — on describing what happened accurately, on providing tips which will be helpful because of their accuracy, etc. I still believe that accuracy is important, but I also need to focus more on the inspiration part. I don’t really understand what makes The Magic of Tidying Up inspiring, and I’m even less sure how to be inspiring myself. But I will make inspiration more figural in my writings on the topic, doing my best to figure out what that means as I go along. (Suggestions are always welcome!). I’m starting with some artwork that I consider inspirational, just as a reminder of where to put my focus…
 Mineo Mizuno, “Teardrop, Multi-Color on White #3” (2010), Crocker Art Museum; photo by John Sener