Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up




Are you guys drinking the kool-aid? Want to talk about it?

I figured this book would be good prep for our move but I was only two pages in when I realized that the author might drive me crazy. I am seriously type A but I couldn't ever be friends with her, and not just because she talks to her handbags (but yes, partly because of that). I'm not sure how much of this is a schtick for her business image and how much of it is real, but man, it's a lot to take. Luckily the book is short. Unluckily, it repeats itself several times so it could actually be shorter.

I have some issues with the "does it spark joy?" concept of deciding which possessions to keep, particularly when it comes to the kitchen and the bathroom. I don't know about you, but I get no joy from a 9x13" baking dish or from my box of first aid supplies, but I couldn't live without either one. But maybe the point is I should just have one box of bandaids? Or maybe I should get fancier bandaids that make me happy? I'm not really sure how to apply the yardstick here. Is this because I skimmed too quickly?

I would also like to point out that it would be much easier to have a tidy house if your main hobby was tidying/organizing. I have a lot of hobbies and tidying isn't even in the top ten. There's not much discussion about how to handle my box of spray paint or my linocut tools. Based on my reading of the book I think she's saying that I should get rid of anything that doesn't "spark joy" when I touch it and then if it turns out I miss it I can always buy it again. But I'm reluctant to do that because I did it last time I moved, with my yarn and crochet hooks. I hadn't crocheted in a while, so I decided it was best to let them go. Flash forward to winter, when all I wanted to be doing was mindlessly crocheting on the couch, but without the big upfront cost of shelling out for new yarn and hooks. I've really been regretting my purge. On the other hand, even I can admit that having 15 industrial sized spools of 1" wide grosgrain ribbon might be overkill (but how will I decide which colors to keep?!).

But all criticisms aside, a lot of what she writes does speak to me. There's some discussion about why we hang onto things when we shouldn't that I found useful. And I have a sneaking suspicion that the "spark joy" concept might change my life if I embraced it fully and admitted that it's better to pay for some things over again if necessary, rather than holding onto everything just in case you need it one day.


P.S. - I will never fold my socks. NEVER.

51 comments:

  1. Yes! Thank you for articulating what I'd been secretly thinking about this book, and yet was afraid to admit. So refreshing and confirming. I guess I wished I was like her, but I'm realizing that's not me, and that's ok. :)

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    1. I'm right there with you. And I always feel mean saying I don't like someone on the internet, but I still can't decide how much of this is actually her and how much is a character for her business.

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  2. WHAT? You don't get joy from your baking dishes? You clearly have a joyless heart Rachel.

    I haven't read the book but I've read so much *about* the book that I feel like I have. While she does sound inarguably nutty there's something about the 'sparking joy' idea that I like. I kind of get where she's coming from, although I would frame it more negatively (of course); 'does this piss you off? get rid of it.' and many of my baking dishes would qualify. While I might not be able to find one that sparks *joy* exactly, my life would be much nicer if I bought some that actually fitted onto the shelves in my oven.

    And the sock folding thing is MENTAL. As soon as you start rummaging for the right socks it's all going to go to hell.

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    1. Yes, the "sparking joy" concept is useful to me with books, clothes, art, but I can't figure out how to apply it to the practical stuff. I think your negative version might work better for those areas. You should write a book!

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  3. Ugh, this book. First of all, I'm a minimalist. I hate clutter and I love getting rid of stuff. This lady, however, makes it all sound totally wacko. I do not thank my things and I will never fold my socks. Stop making the rest of the organized people out there look like dingbats, Marie Kondo.

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    1. I wish I was a minimalist but I'm afraid it's becoming really obvious that I'm not. But I'm maybe getting closer? I'm hoping that after having stuff in storage for a few months I'll realize I don't miss it. Or I'll realize I do miss it and finally accept that I'm never going to be a minimalist. Closure!

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  4. I can't believe I'm de-luring to champion organizing books, but here goes. :)

    I fell hard for the book but I am inclined to be a hippie and talk to inanimate things anyway. The line that got me "converted" was this:
    "The space in which we live now should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.”

    I found it really freeing to just release the death grip I had on all the stuff, and to not feel like I was fighting my house anymore. YMMV, but the clothes folding method alone (yes, it does work for socks!) is truly magic and worth the price of the book.

    Also, here's a hilarious parody: http://the-toast.net/2015/02/24/get-rid-clutter-live-abundantly/

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    1. I do love that line! There are definitely some parts of her philosophy that resonate with me and I was grateful for those. I like the idea of accepting that an item has served its purpose and you can let it go without guilt. I actually think that if she had included less information about herself I might have responded better to the book. She's just so unrelatable for me! I can't believe that her big admission is that she owns a dorky t-shirt (but not stained or ripped or anything, so don't panic, readers!) that she wears while cleaning her house.

      I'll admit that I'm looking into developing my own folding/rolling method for clothes, since D and I are going to need to share a dresser in the new place. But I still can't believe the socks! Don't they all just tumble around as soon as you go to grab a pair? Am I more violent/clumsy in the morning than normal people?

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  5. Haven't read her book, but I read "Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui" about 5 years ago and it changed my life! I purged a bunch of stuff and never looked back! No regrets! :)

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    1. http://www.amazon.com/Clear-Your-Clutter-Feng-Shui/dp/0767903595

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  6. I don't know, man: I already jettison aggressively, and my baking dishes do bring me joy, and I do fold my socks. But I feel keenly suspicious of this one.

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    1. You're already living the dream, lady! Although I will forever be skeptical about sock folding. I mean, even with tiny ankle socks?

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  7. I'm an avid declutterer but this book bums me out because with a title like that I really want it to be some sort of quirky, lovable fiction and I'm still sad that it's not.

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    1. Ha! This is so perfect. It would be an amazing title for a novel.

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  8. Ha! Yes, I read this. I like the idea that just tidying up isn't enough. It DOES always come back- and worse! I do need to declutter big time. But I like your suspicions.

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  9. I totally second Cora on this line: "I haven't read the book but I've read so much *about* the book that I feel like I have." and I LOVED that Toast parody. I have read it and re-read it and it continues to spark joy + LOLZ.

    While I obviously don't want to be surrounded by crap I don't want or need, and yes, I do need to pare down - especially before my next move - I also sort of resent this cultural pressure to be minimalist. If you're minimalist, great! But if I'm not, it doesn't mean I am failing at anything, or that I don't have self-control. It might just mean that I like being surrounded by things that "spark joy" or also "are functional" or "keep me from being naked (and do some with some style)." I can't help but feel like there's something class-centric about the concept that whatever you might need down the line, you can just buy. Somehow the most empty stores are always the fanciest, and I feel similarly in some ways about minimalism: buying high quality, long-lasting items can be an excellent goal, and I do aim to reduce waste, but it also presupposes a level of choice that I don't always feel I have. Sometimes I just need to fill a need, and the tool to do so might not spark any joy, and that's life.

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    1. Yes, I think this is a real thing. Minimalism is definitely "in" right now, and in some ways it makes sense (once hoarders came out, there had to be a backlash following, right?) because a lot of us definitely have too much stuff. But I'm pretty sure that most of the people in love with minimalism are not actually recovering hoarders and most of them talk a lot about throwing a ton of your stuff out and then purchasing a few items that are much nicer. I agree that there's a class divide here.

      I think if your house makes you happy and you aren't feeling oppressed by your stuff, there's probably no need to worry about it. I'm aware that I have a tendency to accumulate clutter and I don't like it, so I'm looking for ways to nip it in the bud. But I wouldn't ever recommend minimalism as a blanket goal for everyone. Some people are less averse to dusting and enjoy having pretty things around!

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  10. I haven't read the book either (and don't really feel I need to - especially after your comments about the book repeating itself (ha!)), but the message really spoke to me when I was spring cleaning this year. I got rid of a ton of items in my closet and drawers, and also in my bathroom cabinet (I am a total beauty product hoarder). The mantra was, "Does this spark joy?" and I found it really did help me get rid of things - like the dress that I coveted and then bought and then realized after wearing it a few times that it just isn't flattering on me. Like the 15 t-shirts "to wear around the house" when I only really needed like 2 or 3. Like the shoes which are a great brand name but are so uncomfortable. Oh, and I folded my shirts in my drawer like she suggested, and it was LIFE CHANGING. I can see everything! I feel like I am in a store every time I open my shirt drawer. Truly amazing.

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  11. Haha! I love your assessment of this book. I read it and I agree with you - I think she's a bit kooky. She also clearly lives alone, and I think that makes it easier to spend oodles of time obsessing over your organization and keeping everything just like you left it - and let's face it, she is OBSESSED with organizing. It crossed my mind while reading it that it's not necessarily that her methods are so different or better than anyone else's, she just has absolutely no other interests or hobbies (not even as a child, apparently), and if you spend all your time cleaning your space and then drinking tea and admiring it, it's bound to look good.

    That being said, I did find quite a few useful ideas in it, and think the "does it spark joy" question is a good one to employ when you're uncertain whether or not to get rid of stuff. I used her method to pare down my book collection recently, and I did get rid of a ton of books - to the point where we were able to clear away two empty bookcases - and I feel no regret (so far). But like you, I too struggle with the practical stuff - I know she recommends throwing away all your paperwork, and I would love to, but I don't feel like I can totally commit to that. And I had the EXACT same thought that I don't know if I could be friends with her, and kind of felt sorry for her family during her growing up years when she was covertly throwing all their stuff away and was totally unapologetic about it. I also don't see myself ever thanking my shoes or bag for a job well done - even silently, and I found the description of the sock folding thing confusing and was far too lazy to go pick up a pair of actual socks and try to figure it out. But that is probably also the crux of my own organizational issues - laziness!

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    1. Yes, living alone would be a different ballgame! Otherwise it's always a compromise. Similar to you, I pared my books way down when we moved last year, had no regrets and pared them down further this time around. I thought this would be heartwrenching but I realized I was keeping books around for a whole lot of reasons (mostly, that I felt owning those books helped define me as a person), but reading wasn't the main one. I decided to only keep the books that I was going to re-read (I re-read some books for comfort, but it's pretty obvious which ones those are - they're the most used!).

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  12. Going to go ahead and confess that I'm drinking the kool-aid. I do think it's worth reading properly, mainly because it's an easy read and contextualizes some of the kookier parts. I think it's just about looking at your space/habits and seeing what works for you: personally, I was always late out the door because I couldn't find my keys/cards/whatever, so her suggestion of keeping a dedicated shelf near the door and being diligent about unloading your bag has helped. Keeping items of the same nature in one spot has also been nice; I was kind of surprised, because I think of myself as being pretty organized, but had a lot of scattered items and duplicates. Her 'sparking joy' criteria also helped me let go of a lot of photos that I didn't really care for but felt I had to hang onto.

    I love being as close to clutter-free as possible and get a lot of happiness out of a hyper-organized space, so...yes, I fold my socks now. But I won't pretend it's normal.

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    1. I do agree with a lot of her underlying premises and felt they were useful, I just think it would have been a better book if she included less personal back story! I think I might feel differently if she was going through a huge change (i.e. a massively disorganized person who developed a system to keep her life functional) but hearing about someone getting more and more obsessive about decluttering just didn't do much for me, personally.

      Oh man, photos. That's one area I've just avoided tackling so far.

      And I am so impressed with all of you who are willing to fold your socks! I had a hard time even reading her description of sock folding because I was shocked she was suggesting it.

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  13. Definitely yes with the crazy. But I have to admit I thought of it as a more lovable characteristic of hers rather than something I would strive to emulate. What I did really like about the "does it spark joy?" is that it gives you the freedom to keep every single one of your exuberant glassware collection, or college T shirts, or whatever, so long as it meets that one criteria. Whereas I feel the most other organizing books will tell you to ditch all that repeated glassware, you really only need one style of glass. All those vintage suits that I love and always bring a smile to my face, even if I can't fit into them and don't have a suit-wearing job...keepers!

    I definitely agree that one downfall is the fact that her hobby is organizing, which means that all the crafting supplies does get a little weird. Maybe when you hold your crochet hooks you visualize the times curled up on the couch and it brings you joy, but is anyone really going to feel that way about Elmer's glue? That is definitely where I went for the grain of salt approach, essentially because I just don't think she really covered that type of object well.

    I will admit that I definitely was not into the folding, and had jettisoned that, but now may have to reconsider at least giving it a shot (sorry...not for the socks, I like my paired socks!) after reading everyone's comments here.

    It may help that I also recently read Zero Waste Home, which is another one of those books where you really just need to take what serves you from the book.

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    1. I think I'm just a jerk, because I didn't find her lovable at all! I felt like she was trying to make herself lovable and failing miserably. But that probably reflects on me more than her, sadly.

      I do like the "spark joy" concept but I think maybe we need someone to write a book about how to use it when you do things other than organizing (cooking, crafting,etc) because that's when things got blurry for me. Maybe we need an American adaptation?

      I will admit that finding a better folding method was helpful for me this week. I didn't use hers, exactly, because just trying to read the procedure makes my eyes glaze over, but I think I'm doing something similar, just adapted for the weirdly narrow height of my drawers.

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  14. I love that the one aspect of the book you're not down with (folding socks!) is the only thing I took from it. I almost regretted buying it as a quick kindle read but man, I fucking love my underwear drawer now. If you fold tightly enough, they should remain standing even when you begin to remove pairs from the row, at least that's my case.

    Aside from all the vertical folding I do now, I also enjoyed her articulation of our emotional attachment to objects that prevents us from getting rid of junk. Even if I didn't formally bid adieu to old items, taking a moment to acknowledge that an item either a) has served its purpose and is done being useful or b) is something that was never useful in the past and most likely won't be in the future, was helpful to my cleaning process.

    I guess for myself, her "does this spark joy?" attitude is more helpful when it comes to consumption rather than purging. I'm not a minimalist, I tend to over-purchase to begin with, or replace things with nicer things (or at least have the desire to do so). So now when it comes to certain purchases, unless it's something vital and urgent, I try to hold out to save for the one I really want so I hopefully won't want to upgrade later.

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    1. I started folding my underwear this week and it was pretty great. Am I on the slippery slope to sock folding?

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  15. hmm haven't read the book but skimmed through it at the book store. i already got all the minimalist philosophy i needed from "The Joy of Less". i loved it because it's a big picture kind of book, and it was pretty life-changing for me. maybe give that one a shot, and if you're not a minimalist after that, well... oh well! i think becoming a tiny bit more of a minimalist each day is good enough!

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    1. Oooh - I might check that out! I'm pretty sure I'm not a minimalist, and I'm definitely not married to one, but I think we need to make some adjustments. You are an inspiration!

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  16. see, having large quantities of stuff with no discernible purpose (yet!) sparks joy in me. rummaging around in my purse and finding a bunch of rocks i found in a cave in turkey? wonderful. looking for my collection of ribbon and being unable to find it because my gift-wrapping shelf is crammed with a bunch of pocky i don't remember buying? transcendent. i will store your ribbon for you if you feel like you have too much.

    i've settled into the fact that i'm essentially the garbage goblin from labyrinth, and it feels pretty great, particularly as i'm good at hiding things and friends/family seem to think our apartment is comparatively uncluttered. i don't understand that, but i dig it.

    a friend of mine at REDBOOK once wrote a fun essay about the cleaning group she formed with her friends; they get together something like once a month to go through each other's houses. apparently having someone ELSE eye your stuff cuts through sentimental inhibitions pretty quickly. they call themselves unite & conquer, but her husband calls them lift & separate, which i adore.

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    1. You are my favorite maximalist, lady.

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  17. I unfortunately attach feelings and memories to a lot of my things...sometimes that's great! I mean that dress I wore on that date that turned into a 7 month relationship to nowhere was a good purge. However I grew up not having, so having things I find beautiful all around me makes me physically happy. Not the kind of euphoria you get only when the item is in your possession initially but EVERY time I see it. So that makes the task of deciding what to keep so hard for me. Baking makes me happy too. Nobody NEEDS another dozen double chocolate cookies but I mean..... :)

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    1. I think that as long as your possessions are making you happy, they're working for you! My sister is like this and she is also willing to put in the time to lovingly clean and arrange all her beautiful little things and her place looks great. So personal.

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  18. How funny; this book is on my list to review this month. I haven't finished the book yet, but I haven't hated it as much as I anticipated, and I have my friends to thank for that. Everyone told me I would despise the book, the writing would drive me nuts, I'd hate her "spark joy" mystical mumbo-jumbo, et al. I was so prepared to hate it that it wasn't so bad in the end.

    I will say this--this book helped me create a cleaning system for the housework that has been life changing.

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    1. Low expectations must have helped! Curious about your cleaning system, too.

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  19. I don't fold my socks, but I started pairing them when I put laundry away (like folding the tops together) and it's been life changing, no more wanting to kill someone in the morning because I can't find a sock's pair. HA!

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    1. I always bundle mine together (which she is horrified by, but whatever) otherwise I'm pretty sure I would never be able to find them!

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  20. I heard about her. Watched a few videos, along with some by Wanda Koopersmith (Beverly Hills Organizer). I gave it a shot for my closet and organized my clothes a bit differently including the sock folding. Man did it free up a lot of space in my drawers. That said I did not apply it to the rest of my belongings.

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    1. I probably should find some videos. Reading descriptions of clothes being folded just does nothing for me, but if I could see it I might be more convinced.

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  21. Just returned from an Easter break - this was one of the books I took with me (the UK edition has a much less prettier cover). I did the same - skim read it as it just didn't speak to me (in spite of me being a neat freak). I was crying out for diagrams so that I could see what she was really getting at.
    Also, I love getting emotionally attached to things..... so it was never going to work for me.
    Kx UK

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    1. Yes, diagrams would have been brilliant!

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  22. Kool Aid drinker right here! Based on your post I have to say I think you're probably already 2 steps ahead of this woman if you do a good purge whenever you move and were willing to part with your loved knitting goods for the sake of space. I agree that some of her persona was a bit much for me but on the whole I found the book really helpful since I am TERRIBLE at parting with things. I'm not sure I really found much that sparked joy BUT I did realize that I owed so many things that I actually hated or somehow resented (nike shorts that were always a little too tight, books I was gifted that I didn't want to read, trinkets I bought in Africa 10 years ago) and giving myself permission to part with those things was so liberating. And because I'm a silly human being, I liked saying "thank you for your service" before tossing them. I definitely did not read it as a suggestion to throw away things you think you might need to repurchase but more as a way to not let the excuse "perhaps I'll use this prom dress one day" keep you from getting rid of stuff you don't really want to keep. I think the other thing I like is that when I'm shopping now I really try not to buy stuff I can easily visualize myself getting rid of in the near future. Now the sock folding nonsense I ignored completely but that's just me.

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    1. Yes, I agree that it was such a helpful push on getting rid of things! I feel guilty letting stuff go sometimes (although I'm much better now) and her matter of fact view on it was useful to read.

      I have to say that after going through all my stuff and having to pare down, shopping sounds like the last thing I want to do. All I can think about is where I would put something if I bought it!

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  23. This is a weird, random thought, but hear me out.

    I was making a salad the other day, and when I was finished chopping up the romaine hearts, I thought, "Circe would love these end pieces!" And then I felt like a total weirdo.

    So, you have a dedicated reader in Minnesota who thought of you and your adorable doggie.

    Hope moving goes well!

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    1. Awww - so sweet! I think she's been feeling cheated lately because we've been eating more kale than romaine (she will only eat kale if there's salad dressing on it, which I guess I understand).

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  24. I took this out from the library :) and didn't feel that I needed to buy my own copy. I *wish* I was a minimalist. I admire the look.... But I can't do it! I'm a teacher/maker/hoarder -- and my stuff brings me so much joy! My ex husband is a minimalist. My stuff didn't bring him joy. He folded his socks..... so I purged and rid myself of him :) . It's a start, right?

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    1. Ha! As long as you know what you want (and don't want!) you're doing well!

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  25. I've never commented on a blog before, as I generally think that anonymous internet commenting is a pursuit no one should have time for. That being said, I really enjoy your blog. I love your writing, I love your cooking, and wish that you would turn into a full-time blogger/total sellout (is there a blogger equivalent of "going hollywood"?) so that I could selfishly enjoy more of your content in lieu of graduate work. Best.

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  26. When I got married, I thought that being a devoted wife included folding and matching my husband's socks. It was a nightmare. Eventually, I just threw out all his socks and bought 15 pairs of the same kind. No more squinting trying to distinguish one subtle pattern from another!

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  27. Missing you and your posts. Hope all is well.

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  28. I had never heard of this book until a few days ago when a friend told me that she had "Kondo'd" some of her drawers. I thought that the book might be worth checking out since A: the author was worthy of being "verbed" and B: I have so much crap in my house that I need to purge it gives me the heebie-jeebies. But now? I'm not so sure. I agree that not everything should give you joy to be worthy of keeping but I know that some of it needs to go. I'm on vacation this week and I'm doing a purge before I lose my mind. We'll see what happens.

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  29. I've read this book, and your review of it made me smile. I think it's very reasonable to have reservations about someone who talks to their handbags. I have a slight tendency to hoard stuff, and whilst I enjoyed this book and felt it could potentially revolutionise my life if I really took all the points on board, I never really seriously intended to. I have started folding and stacking my Tshirts horizontally, and rolling my tights (panty hose) up as she suggests, but other than these minor tweaks my life has gone in in the same rather messy, cluttered fashion : )

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