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Kittredge: Tidying Up

I used to cross country ski for hours from my front door. Then we moved to the Champlain Valley, where I’ve not yet gotten in the habit of driving to snow, so aside from running and walking outside, I’ve been looking around my house more than usual.

It’s fair to say that it filled up quickly when we moved to a smaller one and at the same time absorbed our parents’ belongings after they died. But I’ve long desired a clutter free house, so when someone suggested I read the enormously popular book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo, I was ready.

But after a few chapters, hesitancy crept in, along with indignation and even some downright disgust. Kondo, by the way, would be quick to point out that this isn’t about her but about my own “issues.” And she’d be right.

In the early ‘70s I lived on a farm in Plainfield and I well remember walking a fussy baby in the house one spring night as my husband, taking advantage of a dry stretch, was out plowing at 10pm with the tractor’s lights on. It struck me then that the back to the land movement and women’s liberation weren’t likely to coexist peacefully.

And so it is with “tidying up” – an annoying term, by the way, that attempts to sugar coat a process that has more down sides than you might think.

Kondo’s love of trash bags, for example, and her pride in mentioning how much her clients have discarded, runs contrary to our current desire to reduce waste. Certainly we’d have less stuff in our houses, but our landfills would burst their seams. She does make cursory mention of recycling, but her love of heaving is flagrant and, I might suggest with a grin, may say a lot about her issues. But I digress.

What also gets me is her startling anthropomorphism of objects. We’re supposed to thank discards for filling a need in our lives before we chuck them into a trash bag destined for the dump, after which I can’t resist imagining their wailing through eternity in a hell like the one in Van Eyck’s “Last Judgment.”

Kermit the Frog has famously noted, “It’s not easy being green,” and the frog was right. Offloading things we no longer need is a task to be done slowly and carefully, minimizing waste, sharing with others and freeing ourselves to focus elsewhere, on a community in need, a vocation put aside, a love neglected or snow in the hills.

Susan Cooke Kittredge is Associate Pastor of the Charlotte Congregational Church.
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