(Not) Organizing in the Time of Melancholia

This month’s theme for Bibliotheca Blog Circle is Living Spaces, and my immediate thought was the jingle of the furniture store. Not really the best for a blog post, so I tried again, and came up with this (literally) depressing topic. You are forewarned! No judgement if you choose to skip this one. Hopefully, like my anti-wardrobe post, this will connect with someone in a helpful way.

You Can (Not) Do It Yourself

A lot of people here in the US glommed on to professional organizer Marie Kondo in the past ten years. Many in translation and localization praised Cathy Hirano’s use of ‘spark joy’ for the Japanese phrase ときめく tokimeku. (Gamers, yes, this is the same word as legendary dating sim franchise Tokimeki Memorial.) I don’t disagree – it’s a great way to convey the point. But it also hints at what genre the KonMari method and it’s titular practitioner operate in – self-help.

The self-help genre crucially relies on the construct that you, yes just little ol’ you, have all the power needed to solve your problems, as long as you pay three installments of $19.95 and follow these simple steps. A common arena of self-help gurus is career advice – if you just do the right things, and work hard, you too will move up the ranks and achieve the job of your dreams!

Except not exactly. It’s not just that other people have power over your hiring, let alone potential advancement. It’s entire institutions. Plural.

But hey, this is just organizing right? Surely that’s a small enough scope where you could have total and complete control over it? Not quite.

I’d like to share the following quote from a storage post written by fellow Bibliotheca blogger lovelylaceandlies, which inspired me to write on this topic myself.

I live in 800 square foot apartment that I share with one other person and a dog. My closet is the smallest I’ve ever had (including my closet in my dorm in college, and that’s saying something.) While I have a generous dresser, most of my lolita wardrobe needs to be hanging. Even my blouses just don’t really fold very well, to say nothing of my dresses, outerwear, and skirts. And that’s before I even get into my work and casual wardrobe! The organizing motto “a place for everything and everything in it’s place” doesn’t work for me because I don’t have space to put things.

EGL Wardrobe Challenge: Storage, lovelylaceandlies, Jan 20, 2023. Emphasis mine.

Often, in order to organize, you need space. And space costs money. In multiple prior living arrangements, I used to take over the hall closet, make judicious use of the garage or other communal storage, and even keep things at my parents’ house. Now that I’m a parasite single, I once again have taken over a closet in another room, and rent a storage space for everything else that won’t fit in my childhood bedroom. Because one bedroom (and maybe an ensuite bath) is all the personal space I’ve ever had, over the seven places I’ve lived in as an adult. (Seven? Yes. This will come up again later.)

The buck doesn’t stop there. Anyone who’s watched organization content knows that you can’t put things in a space, so much, as a drawer, or a bin, or a shelf. Don’t get me started on dividers. While many of these items aren’t expensive, per se, they still usually cost money that could be spent on something else: some fancy pastries at the Japanese bakery, a video game, gas.

“But Kelp,” the hypothetical reader I just made up in my head says, “what about just learning how to fold things better? It’s not all about buying stuff.” And you’re right, except

Time is (also) Money

As you may have heard, we live in a society. And in this everchanging world, in which we live in, time equals money. Sort of. And organization takes a lot of time.

About a decade after the beginning of the KonMari craze, Marie Kondo herself made news with the following admission: she’s given up on tidying up. Why? Three kids.

“My home is messy, but the way I am spending my time is the right way for me at this time at this stage of my life…up until now, I was a professional tidier, so I did my best to keep my home tidy at all times…I have kind of given up on that in a good way for me. Now I realize what is important to me is enjoying spending time with my children at home.”

Marie Kondo (through an interpreter) – January 2023

I don’t have three kids, and I’m guessing most of my readers don’t either. But there’s another key admission in this quote: being organized was Marie Kondo’s job. For my readers who are gainfully employed, I’m guessing it’s not in the realm of home organization. I also would venture that you probably work over forty hours a week doing whatever it is that you do, especially if commute times are factored in. There are only so many hours in a week, and Kondo decided she’d rather allocate more of those hours to spending time with her kids than tidying up after them.

This brings me back specifically to organization – it’s a job that never ends. Other items that may pile up, like books or collectibles, might take a day or two to arrange and stay that way for some time. But things like kid’s toys, kitchen stuff, clothes…these are things you very likely are dealing with on a daily basis.

Nothing Sparks Joy and I Never Leave

Okay, you’ve made it this far. Why am I focusing on the KonMari method? Why did I give a warning that this post might be a bit bleak?

A big part of wardrobe organization is Getting Rid of Stuff. Paring down. Closet Cleaning. An extremely common piece of advice is “if you haven’t worn it in [amount of time], donate it.” If I followed this advice, almost every piece of clothing I own would be gone, from J-fashion, to work clothes, to even things like pajamas. Won’t even get into accessories. This might seem a bit overdramatic – the peak pandemic years certainly don’t count, right? Do I maybe have an inordinate amount of clothing after all? But even before, it wasn’t uncommon for me to go over a year without wearing something, because I simply didn’t leave the house much outside of work and errands. Nowadays, I go weeks without going anywhere.

If my fellow alt-fashion wearers take anything away from this post, please let it be this – your fashion wardrobe is a collection, and it should be curated as such. More than ever, judging whether to keep items based on how frequently you wear them doesn’t make sense.

Back to the Cult of the KonMari method. A lot of her pull-quotes and aphorisms were widely misinterpreted and overapplied, but there is an unavoidable stumbling block in organizing advice that she herself fully acknowledged – health. In terms of mental health, how you feel about any given item you own can change over time, and you might be experiencing a time where nothing sparks joy. Even worse, it is often these times when you do need to make these decisions.

For me, having to deal with three (3) no-fault evictions in the space of seven years (yes, one was during the pandemic) meant that every time I was choosing what to keep, was a time of crisis. The criteria that governed whether I got rid of something or not never shows up on organizing articles. Every item I set aside, was an item I dreaded packing, either because it was heavy, or bulky, or fragile. I type this next to half-empty bookshelves because over the years I’ve gotten rid of every book I possibly could, because books are heavy, and what items I have kept instead don’t really lend themselves to being neatly stored on bookshelves. Despite being a DJ for over a decade, I never got into record collecting, because I knew very well that a crate of vinyl is very heavy too. On the flip side, I’ve comforted myself every time there’s a brushfire with the fact that I, without any help, can stuff more or less my entire wardrobe – yes, even the stuff in the other closet I took over, yes, even the big bin of wafuku under my bed – in my sub-compact in a few hours, along with the few other essentials I would grab.

Reject organization, embrace chaos

Marie Kondo and I currently have something in common – being organized just isn’t that important. (Well, that and her whole “just tear the pages you still want out of a book” deal. Remember people losing their minds at that one? Meanwhile it was meant to be like, about recipes in a big cookbook or whatever.) I have boxes and bags that I haven’t fully unpacked for years. Clutter slowly shifts around in my bedroom like glaciers of things. Most of my things I don’t need very often, and when I do, it’s not a significant time loss to dig around looking for them. There’s only so many places to look, after all, due to my lack of space.

There are a few things I do have neatly sorted and readily accessible: my J-fashion magazines, my embroidery supplies, my makeup. But these are also very easy to organize. Magazines go on a readily available shelf in chronological order. My embroidery floss is in individual baggies made specifically for embroidery floss. Makeup is in a dedicated train case with pull-out trays (yes, it’s one of those).

Floss? Easy. Makeup? Chuck it in. But how do you store bonnets?

A lot of people use organization of things to organize their thoughts about those things, and that’s sure one way to do it. But just like self-help in general, organization advice often deliberately fails to take into account outside factors, factors out of your control, factors you can’t easily account for. Here in lolita world, we all have things we sold that we wish we hadn’t. Often, things get sold simply due to needing the money. In my case, the handful of regrets I have were older items that I still liked, but hadn’t worn in “a while” and would net a decent price if sold – items that now are extremely difficult to buy back.

So next time you’re thinking of doing the ol’ closet clean, consider joining the chaos club! Many of us have multiple clothing racks packed into their apartment. Others have suitcases full of brand that they may have forgotten about at one point. As for me? I bought a bed that’s also a clothing rack. For my knit cardigans and medium-weight jackets.

Yes, there’s more out of frame.

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