“Housework, if you do it right, can kill you.”

— Erma Bombeck


Yesterday I took control of my life and began “tidying up.”

I began by throwing out 27 T-shirts. I didn’t know I had that many. Actually, I discovered that I had 47 T-shirts, which means after I threw out 27, I now have 20 remaining T-shirts.

I arranged two piles: “keep pile” and “toss pile.” When She saw the toss pile in the hall, She started picking through it. This is one of the few annoying things She does. I stood there and told her there were 27, but She kept picking, and then pulled three out of the pile. “You want to throw this one away?”


I wanted to say, “It’s in the toss away pile, isn’t it?”

But I reconsidered. That would be sarcasm. She had just come from correcting papers and paying bills, and it was not a good time for sarcasm. After 54 years, I’ve learned that timing, indeed, is everything.

The item in question was an old faded T from the Hollywood Writers Guild strike of some years ago. I forget which year. “I guess not,” I said to her. Timing.

“And this one. You’re not going to throw this away, are you?”

I bit my tongue.

In big bold cartoon letters it read, “Obama Is The New Black.”


“It’s a collector’s item,” She said.

So I took it back, knowing that it wasn’t of any value. It’s not like they only made 10 of them.

This process all started when I bought this book: “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up — The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” by Marie Kondo.

It’s on The New York Times best-seller list. I thought maybe it was about decor and flower arranging, the tea ceremony, things I like. I was wrong.

Ms. Kondo runs a consulting business in Tokyo, intended to help all of us transform our cluttered homes into spaces of “serenity and inspiration.” As a boy who spent two serene and inspired years in Japan, I can tell you that your average Japanese doesn’t even know what clutter is. Their penchant for neatness and order is in their DNA and goes back centuries. As I am inconsistently tidy, I thought the book would be of help.

Ms. Kondo promises that I will “gain confidence in life through the magic of tidying,” and it advises me to “discard anything that doesn’t spark joy.” I like joy.


This book isn’t for everyone. It will be of absolutely no help to women such as my friend Heather, who seems to have 79 children. Actually, she only has triplets, one extra little boy and a bulldog, all operating at Mach One.

Four happy, healthy small children can sometimes offer inspiration, but precious little serenity.

Kondo’s book appears to be a manual for people who have created a world filled with objects so carefully placed that we can find them in total darkness: the beloved stack of month-old and sometimes year-old magazines and newspapers; the mud room with 80 pairs of shoes of all kinds: running shoes, walking shoes, dress shoes with leather fans on top, penny loafers with actual pennies in them, and various dog-chewed slippers. Clutter.

There’s the cluster of framed photos of dead people on the mantel and jammed into albums that require constant dusting. I tossed out two big boxes of those. Kondo would be delighted.

Kondo wants us to get rid of this stuff. She wants us to “learn that we can do without.” She says that it will indeed change our lives.

Sorry. The very words “life changing” fill me with dread. I like change, as in changing my underwear or hair style, just not sudden change. “Sudden” is a scary word that appears in the paper in phrases like “He died suddenly,” or, “All of a sudden the house collapsed.”


In choosing words, I prefer “considering,” as in, “They’re considering giving you a raise,” or, “You’re being considered for a Pulitzer.”

I like sitting on the deck in the summer with a glass of wine and a chunk of cheese and just spending time considering.

At this moment near day’s end, I’m considering giving the book to friend Heather. Of course, I wouldn’t consider discarding She, who is upstairs.

She’s a genuine collectible. Here She comes now. She’s smiling.

I can feel my joy sparking.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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