The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing - Marie Kondo 2014
Astounding stockpiles I have seen
Tidying by category works like magic
There are two surprises I frequently encounter when helping clients put their houses in order: highly unusual items and sheer numbers. I come across the first every time. It might be a music machine used by a singer or the latest cooking utensils owned by someone who loves to cook. Every day provides exciting encounters with the unknown. This is only natural, as my clients’ interests and professions are extremely diverse.
The real shock is when I discover a massive stockpile of a simple item that you would find in any home. As we work, I always jot down the rough volume of different items my clients own and particularly keep an eye on my stockpile ranking for different items because new records are constantly being made. Once, for example, I discovered a huge stock of toothbrushes in a client’s home. The record up to that point had been thirty-five. Even that collection seemed large. “Perhaps you have a few more than you need,” I remarked and we enjoyed a little laugh together. But the new record far surpassed the old. This client had sixty toothbrushes! Arranged in boxes in the cupboard under the sink, they looked like a work of art. It’s interesting how the human mind tries to make sense even out of the nonsensical. I found myself pondering whether she would go through one a day if she brushed her teeth too hard, or if perhaps she used a different brush for each tooth.
Another surprise was a stock of thirty boxes of plastic kitchen wrap. I opened the cupboard above the kitchen sink to find it completely filled with an array of what looked like large yellow LEGO blocks. “I use plastic wrap every day so it goes down fast,” my client explained. But even if she used one box a week that supply would last her over half a year. Regular-size wrap comes in twenty-meter rolls. To use up one roll a week, you would have to cover an eight-inch-diameter plate sixty-six times, even allowing for rather generous use. Just the thought of repeating the action of pulling and tearing plastic wrap that many times would give me carpal tunnel syndrome.
As for toilet paper, the record stock so far is eighty rolls. “I have loose bowels you see … I run out very quickly,” was the client’s excuse. But even if she used one roll a day, she had at least a three months’ supply. I’m not sure she could have used up one roll a day even if she spent all day wiping her bottom, and by that time her bottom would have been rubbed raw. It made me wonder whether I should be giving her skin cream rather than lessons in cleaning.
The ultimate record, however, was a stockpile of 20,000 cotton swabs, a cache of one hundred boxes with two hundred swabs each. If my client used one swab a day, it would take her fifty-five years to use up her supply. By the time she had finished, she might have developed amazing techniques for cleaning her ears. The last swab used on the last day would appear almost sacred.
You may find these accounts hard to believe, but I’m not kidding. The strange thing is that these clients never realized how many items they actually had until they began putting their house in order. And even though they owned a huge stockpile, they always felt as if they didn’t have enough and were anxious about running out. For people who stockpile, I don’t think there is any amount that would make them feel secure. The more they have, the more they worry about running out and the more anxious they become. Even though they still have two left, they will go out and buy five more.
Unlike a shop, if you run out of something at home, it’s not a big deal. It may cause you temporary stress, but it does no irreparable damage. But how should we handle these stockpiles? Although the best solution would appear to be to use all the items up, in many cases they are past their expiration date and must be thrown out. I highly recommend that you get rid of excess stock all at once. Give it away to friends who need it, recycle it, or take it to a donation shop. You may think this is a waste of money, but reducing your stock and relieving yourself of the burden of excess is the quickest and most effective way to put your things in order.
Once you’ve experienced the freedom of a life without surplus stock, you won’t want to give it up and will naturally stop stockpiling. My clients tell me that now life is more fun because when they run out of something they enjoy seeing how long they can last without it or trying to substitute other things. It’s important to assess what you have on hand now and eliminate excess.