Some people asked me why in the last column I was being too forthcoming about packing too much fat in my mid-section. They’re in for another surprise for now I’m going to be forthcoming about my other shortcoming– too much clutter on the home front.
Now, now, before you start imagining some sort of high-rise pig sty, allow me to clarify that my abode has never been humbled to the point of worthy of an intervention from Clean House, the popular TV show about a crew decluttering and redecorating an overrun household. It’s not like I had clothes strewn all over the place—thanks to frequent garage sales, my wardrobe department has always been considerably tidy.
But other types of clutter I had accumulated. Bits by bits, a small pile sprouted at certain corners that first seemed harmless and could be tidied up in just a couple of minutes. Yet those couples of minutes were inevitably spent on other pressing matters like surfing the Net, sugaring donuts or sleeping in. There always seemed to be better things to do or more interesting people to meet. I even reasoned at some point that they were creative clutter needed for my writing process.
Yet just as gradually as the clutter piling up, I started losing thing. To my horror, even misplacing important documents. I finally looked around and admitted that my place was, by any definition, cluttered. I could see it, I could feel it, and I was physically bothered by it.
However, somehow I still managed to drag myself around. I’d clean out a drawer one day and sort out a cabinet one weekend, only to give up for a while. I bought storage boxes, ironically to see them forming a new clutter pile. Then the real motivation kicked in earlier this year—some friends were coming from overseas in spring and stay with me.
Boy, did I clean up like I’d never cleaned before. While my couch and chairs were getting reupholstered, I rolled out yoga mat to sit on and brought out every pile in the vicinity to sort. I went through documents from previous jobs, postcards and letters throughout the years, pictures from a plethora of events, even press releases from Jakarta Fashion Week’s first years. I reached through some rather forgotten corners and discovered, gasp, unopened souvenir bags from yesteryear trips. Sitting on a thin yoga mat for long can be uncomfortable, but I soldiered on for days until I dug through every pile and assign every single item into 3 categories; keep, donate, toss.
And as cliché as it may sound, there was an undecipherable sense of relief every time I lugged out a big box of things to give or throw away. Undecipherable, but not unreal. It’s like suddenly there was a new air duct emerged where a pile had been, gushing out fresh oxygen and new possibilities. My apartment felt lighter, brighter, better, and somewhat healthier—something I proudly showed off to the visiting friends at the end.
I’m hardly the only person testifying to the post-decluttering divine sense of relief. In her best-selling 2010 book, The Joy of Less, Francine Jay summarized her popular blog on minimalism into a clear-cut instruction on how to declutter your home and free your life. While I didn’t toe her entire line of sorting out and sending away, I subscribed to the idea that accumulated junks could own your life. Through my own process I recognized certain hoarding tendencies; cute socks, colorful greeting cards and hardcover books. Nowadays when I’m subconsciously reaching out for those items at a store, I stop myself. I know I’ve got enough of them to last half a lifetime. Enough, Lynda.
Recently a similar manifesto came out from Japan and soon became a global best-seller. Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up unapologetically doled out a more militant technique to declutter with the magical question of “Does this thing spark joy?” and the insistence that all purging must be done at one go, disallowing hesitance and the “maybe later” pile. Some of her approaches, like bowing thanks to purged items, may be too Zen-like for many, but her organizing logic is applicable to most of us.
Most of us who really want to cleanse ourselves off junks, I should add. At the end of the day, it goes back to your own mind. Accumulation takes place when your mind gets too attached to things, so now you need to train it to know how to detach. To let go.
As for me, I didn’t stop after the visiting friends left. Now that the place is neat, I could see what it actually needs. I had some walls repainted last week and scheduled the curtains to be laundered this week. I noticed walls that could use framed pictures, and finally bought fresh cut flowers again. People talk about Ramadhan as the holy month of detoxing your body, purging your sins and cleansing your soul. I guess I’ve taken an early start through decluttering.
So, yes, clutter, beware the holy cleansing month.