By Peter Clifford
Apr. 1, 2019: Marie Kondo, the tidying expert, bestselling author, and star of Netflix's hit show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, started a craze for decluttering back in 2014, which has only gained in momentum since then and spurred an obsession with simplifying our lives. For those familiar with the KonMari Method, it is not just about tossing out things that you no longer need but, more important, about keeping those things that “spark joy.” Decluttering has become equally a spiritual quest and an exercise in bringing order into the household.
This desire to declutter has been a huge boon to secondhand and thrift shops. Online sites like eBay and Craigslist have seen a noticeable rise in the amount of household belongings being sold over the past few years. This has resulted in family conflict in some cases. One Bronxville mother reported that her kids were very upset after she gave away a hamster they had had for several years. She pointed out that no one paid any attention to the animal and she hoped another family would find joy in its ownership. She also promised not to give their cat away.
The KonMari Method has also provoked deep soul searching about things in people’s homes other than just objects. One Bronxville resident, Penelope Chandler, recalled how one weekend she was immersed in one of her periodic decluttering sweeps through her house when her gaze settled upon her husband of thirty years, who was stretched out on the couch in the midst of watching several hours of football. Why, she wondered, should decluttering be limited to just material possessions? Isn’t it possible for people to also clutter up our lives? Shouldn’t we be constantly reassessing why we hold onto people and should they be taking up space in our homes?
And so a new business was launched. It is part marriage counseling and part family therapy. Spouses will come to Penelope confidentially to confess that they have a desire to tidy up their personal relationships but want to make sure they are making a sound decision. Penelope points out that “it is very important to ensure you are not making an impetuous, bad choice about what to get rid of. It’s one thing to throw out a lamp you have been keeping for years because your mother gave it to you and then regret it later. That is not something that could potentially haunt you forever. But to get rid of your spouse is not a decision to be taken lightly. The implications are so much more far reaching than disposing of a lamp. My job is to coach my clients on how to have that very difficult conversation with the former loved one. It’s important to explain to your spouse that all the clutter in the house is stressing you out and therefore you are making the decision for your emotional and spiritual wellbeing.”
Another related situation that Penelope has dealt with is older, live-at-home children. As has been reported frequently in the national media, more and more college graduates are returning home because of college debt or lack of job opportunities. Some even continue to live with mom and dad after finding a job because of the convenience of meals and laundry service. At some point, many parents decide to declutter their bedrooms, which means having a painful but necessary conversation with their progeny. Penelope advises parents that “it is key to let the child know that you still love them, but love and clutter cannot co-exist. Most children eventually get over it.”
Even some parents who are dealing with the issue of decluttering their houses of teenagers have discovered the benefit of boarding schools, which have seen a significant uptick in enrollment ever since The Kondo method took off. Dwight Hotchkiss, head of admissions at the Deerfield School, reported that over 50% of parents mention decluttering as the primary reason why they decided to have their children apply. In fact, many boarding schools have revamped their marketing pitch to appeal to parents who are looking to pare down the number of offspring at home. Augusta Taft, admissions director at the Hotchkiss School, pointed to a brand-new brochure they just created that positions the school as “a place where children can develop into well-rounded human beings while allowing their parents to bring a sense of harmonious order to their lives.” Ms. Taft added, “Previously, the parents paid the tuition and the kids got all the benefits. Now it’s a win/win situation for both parties.”
Not all parents can afford the high cost of boarding school but are looking for at least some shorter-term relief from household clutter, and summer camps have taken notice of this growing trend. Their marketing materials are starting to mimic those of the boarding schools, albeit with a twist. Camp Arrow Head in Blue Hill, ME, one of the most popular choices for Bronxville parents, has started to advertise itself as “the perfect place to find out if your child is ready to be pushed out of the nest," which is Kondo code for declutterized.
Not surprisingly, there has been pushback from certain quarters in Bronxville regarding the human toll that this obsession with living a minimalist lifestyle has taken. The Episcopal, Catholic, and Lutheran Churches have all banded together to “strongly condemn the practice of treating spouses and children like so many superfluous household goods that you put out at the end of your driveway for pre-arranged pickup even if your neighbors do sneak over during the night to take the good stuff. We fully endorse the movement away from the material and toward the spiritual, but just as with the Spanish Inquisition, you can be too zealous and go to extremes.”
Happy April Fool's Day!
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