Never one to resist a bandwagon, I ordered my copy of the best-selling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo once I’d seen a couple of people mention it on Instagram. I bought Happier At Home by Gretchen Rubin a few months back (about when Sarah-Lou and I started The Everyday Spruce project), after reading her earlier book The Happiness Project a couple of years ago. And then The Year Of Living Danishly by Helen Russell has been recommended to me by more than one friend, so that went into my shopping basket, too.
As a general rule, I’m not one for self-help books. I do, however, seem to be obsessed with the idea of happiness and what I can do to make myself happier, and one of my biggest loves is pottering around at home, so any book that combines these two things holds a strong attraction.
I began with The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. I’ll just come out with it and declare now that I’m a hoarder, just like my mother before me, and her mother before that. Our house is full of stuff because I find it so hard to part with things (I see future uses for almost everything). So the main premise of this book – discarding anything that doesn’t “spark joy” – terrifies and fascinates me in equal measure. Marie’s approach is simple. Systematically work through your possessions, keeping only the things that “spark joy” and discarding everything else. Once you’ve finished discarding, you can decide where to store it all.
‘After all, what is the point in tidying? If it’s not so that our space and the
things in it can bring us happiness, then I think there is no point at all.
Therefore the best criterion for choosing what to keep and what to discard is
whether keeping it will make you happy, whether it will bring you joy.’
Marie Kondo in The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying
Unfortunately I think that I’m wired differently to Marie Kondo. She seems to have a significant lack of sentimental attachment to her belongings, whereas I steep almost everything I own in a sense of memory and emotion. Marie advises tackling the job of discarding your belongings starting with easier categories like clothes and books, before you’re ready to face dealing with the sentimental objects, but I know that I would have sentimental objects in every single category, including the so-called easy ones.
I also think she must have a much better memory than me, as she believes that the memory itself is enough – you don’t need to keep an object to hold onto a memory. But for me, objects play a strong part in sparking memories. My memories are generally sketchy – like rough outlines – and objects (or music, smell, photographs) are what fill the sketch in – rounding it out and giving it colour and life.
So I have reservations, but – and it’s a big BUT – I know that my clutter does make me unhappy. When I need to focus or I’m feeling anxious I have to sort and clear my immediate surroundings. I get rid of a few things, but mostly I just move stuff around and come up with new storage solutions. I’m intrigued by this book’s challenge to live in the moment, rather than hold onto things that remind me of the past, or belong to some still-to-be-determined moment in the future, and I think that letting go of a lot of ‘stuff’ would ultimately feel very freeing. I’ll need to find a point of compromise between Marie’s rigorous guidelines and my own comfort zone, but the book has definitely got me thinking and I would recommend it.
I had mixed reactions to Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project when I read it – some things struck a chord, sometimes I wanted to hurl the book across the room in frustration, other times I was just left with my WTF face. But it made fascinating reading and so I was interested to see what direction her project focusing on the home would take. Her relationship with her possessions is actually pretty similar to mine (‘I wanted to love my possessions, and yet not be mastered by them’, she says) – and she tries to find a good balance between tackling the clutter and valuing the possessions she has. Both her and Marie share similar pieces of advice when deciding what to keep and what to discard – is it useful or do you love it?
‘I undertook two complementary tasks: first, to identify, arrange, and
spotlight meaningful possessions; second, to get rid of meaningless stuff’
Gretchen Rubin, Happier At Home
Gretchen’s book also looks at many other aspects of home, such as marriage, parenthood, interior design and neighbourhood – tackling a different theme each month to explore the factors that for her matter for sense of home.
Now I’m only a few chapters into Helen Russell’s The Year Of Living Danishly, but I am absolutely hooked. I challenge anyone to read this book and not want to up sticks and move to Denmark immediately. Just the promise of the amazing pastries and great coffee was enough for me – I was sold halfway through the prologue. When it comes to home, I’ve always loved Danish design and interiors and there’s a common theme with the other books when it comes to clutter – less clutter makes for a calmer, happier space.
‘When we surround ourselves with quality design, it influences our mood. If our
surroundings are nice, we feel cosy and safe. It makes us happier.’
Charlotte Ravnholt, quoted by Helen Russell in The Year Of Living Danishly
Helen’s chapter on home also looks at that classic Danish concept ‘hygge’ – have a look at Sarah-Lou’s post from last week for some inspiration on this.
I’ve enjoyed all three of these books, and they’ve all given me that spark you need to make some changes around the home. And all of the writers agree that sorting out your home-life will have a positive impact on the rest of your life, too. I definitely feel that tackling some of the clutter in our home will free up space in my mind to make me feel more in control of my life, and to allow me to focus on what I want to do going forwards.
Have you read any of these books and if so, what are your thoughts? Do you have any other reading recommendations to share – I’d love to hear them!