By Ana Veciana-Suarez
There is perhaps no greater example of my need for order, of my desire for stability and harmony, than my year-end To Do list. Topping it, bright as a beacon in a storm-tossed ocean, are several projects to declutter, organize, tidy up. Honestly, few things give me as much pleasure as knowing everything is secure in its place.
I don’t know what this says about me, and I’m well aware of the snide judgments others make about such unnatural obsessions. Who hasn’t worked in an office that proudly displays some variation of this: A clean desk is a sign of a sick mind.
It’s an uphill battle, a Sisyphean task, keeping a tidy desk or an uncluttered household. I suspect my natural instinct is to hoard, and my children accuse me of having never recovered from my childhood refugee experience. I save unused foil paper, re-use gift bags, smooth out tissue paper, and wash cake and pie tins. You never know when any of these things might come in handy.
But general clutter goes beyond this thrifty recycling. We are a society of collectors and accumulators and, in Miami at least, we don’t do understatement well, if at all. We buy what we want when we want it, not always considering need or affordability, so our homes are filled with all manner of stuff, junk that we end up tossing eventually.
Some say we expect these material things to fill us up in some way, to give our existence meaning, but that’s an oversimplification. We probably don’t even know what we have and what we might not miss. For example, I discovered not one but two springform molds, unused and still in their respective boxes in my kitchen the other day. Who knows how long I’ve owned them.
Some of my clutter, however, has nothing to do with an actual purchase. It’s been created over time by articles I’ve clipped, charts I’ve printed, books I’ve picked up on the job as a journalist. The pieces I’ve read recommend not allowing the mess to get out of hand. In other words, clean as you go, file right away, label and store as soon as you buy. Great advice, except doing this involves time and focus, two commodities increasingly in short supply in my life.
Lately I’ve noticed a big media push to get our messy lives in order. Check out the post-Christmas ads for storage containers or browse Pinterest for ideas. Apparently color-coded boxes = peace + serenity. But beyond the tray-bin-crate madness, a decluttering movement also has gained momentum and the emphasis here is not so much on finding the right box as in getting rid of the box altogether.
An example of this is The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, the best-selling guide from Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo that takes readers step-by-step through her KonMari Method. If an item doesn’t spark joy, she advises it should find its way out the door. NBC is developing a half-hour comedy based on the book.
Apparently purging our way to minimalism is commercially funny.
None of this cultish passion surprises me. After all, we live in a fast-paced world, bombarded by information, overwhelmed by choices. Keeping things simple has the comforting appeal of a heaping plate of mac and cheese, a heartening message that tells us yes, everything will be all right, as long as you give it away or put it in a labeled container.
Boy, I wish I could believe that.