As someone who compulsively throws stuff out, I was thrilled to hear that the bestselling book worldwide right now is about throwing stuff out: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo.
You should buy that book right now because my husband and I both loved it. I knew I’d love it because I am compulsive about throwing things out. She gives me deep spiritual justification for throwing out stuff my kids look for three weeks later. My husband loves the book because it feels entirely illogical to him that we keep things we don’t use, and it’s a relief to have the logic for giving all that stuff away.
See that dresser in the photo? The dresser is empty. Everything I was storing in there, I gave away. Marie Kondo defies sentimentality. Instead of saving things because they were there for us at an important time, we need to thank our stuff for serving us well, and then we pass it on to someone else.
But if you pass it to a friend, it’s just junk in their house. If you give it to a thrift shop then someone will like it so much they will pay for it. This is the type of analysis that appeals to me. Kondo also says we should only keep stuff that brings us joy. Now, each time I ask my husband to carry some oversized thing to the garage, he says to me, “Oh, does this bring you joy?”
That phrase reminds me to examine everything in the house and decide to either keep it in the house because I love it or to give it away. No halfway decisions where I just store things in the garage.
I start taking pictures of things in my house that are gone. I take pictures of emptiness.
Smooth surfaces. And uncluttered enclaves.
But just around the corner from this photo is a pile of books. Actually I have about two thousand books in the house. And they are sort of taking over, and I want to get rid of something, but for most of my twenties my only source of friendship and stability were my books, so they fall more into the love category than most stuff in my house.
But I notice a pile of books publishers sent to me to review. I throw out almost every book I get, but these books caught my eye and made it into my Read Now pile. Only they’ve been in the pile so long that it is slipping from important physical rendering of a to-do list into a symbolic tower of nagging and wishful thinking.
Still, I cannot give up the idea of reading them.
I tell myself if I read them I can box them up. So I spent the day reading my pile of books. These were the best of the bunch.
The first one I read seemed like it would be full of juicy tidbits for productivity: I Know How She Does It, by Laura Vanderkam. There were tips, but I found myself spending most of my time reading the detailed schedules of women who earn six figures and have kids. I learned the most by paying attention to what made me angry. I didn’t like that women were largely unable to figure out how many hours a week they worked because work was scattered throughout the day. Because if they don’t know how much they work, how will I know how much I work? Do I work enough?
I also didn’t like that many women called making breakfast “family time.” Probably because I spend so much time with my kids and it seems that I would not, with this daily log system, get credit for spending more than most women. It’s lame that I’m snippy and competitive. I liked the book for forcing me to see my lameness.
Next up was A World of Work, by Ilana Gershon. It’s a career guide, but I can assure you, as someone who receives every career guide published, this one is totally different. It’s about how to get jobs you didn’t know existed and the writing is half suspense novel and half anthropology treatise.
The chapter on the guy who fixes iPhones is a cliffhanger at every page turn. When the iPhone 5 comes out he imports screwdrivers from China and stay up 48 hours in a row in order to be the first to figure out how to take it apart and put it together again without destroying the hard-to-find, before-it’s-on-sale model he scored from a friend.
Gershon is an academic, so there are footnotes that take my breath away. For example, when the ballerina talks about ruining her feet for her career, the footnote is for Discipline and Punish by Foucault.
The best books make me want to learn more, and Gershon’s take on the underground economy of jobs you don’t know exist made me want to read Alexa Clay’s book The Misfit Economy. I have known for a while that people who do a good job running illegal businesses are generally good entrepreneurs, but with a morality chip askew. For example, drug dealers have always interested me.
Clay’s book takes a fresh approach to these unsung heroes of innovation. If you think of the fine line between legal and illegal, she is just one half a hair on the legal side, with chapter titles like Hustle, Copy, Hack, Provoke, Pivot. This is a great tool book for finding that elusive idea for a company.
Clay reminds us that we don’t need to invent a way to fly to outer space. And in fact, the person who invents the way probably won’t make a bunch of money. It’ll be the person who hustles, provokes or pivots in the most elegant way—that person will get all the kudos.
This book is really a great way to start the unlearning process we have to go through after eighteen years of school teachers banging into our head that copying and hacking are wrong.
Now that my reading is done, I want to give these books as gifts, but I know they will just linger in the naggingly high piles of over-booked friends. So I am giving them to the thrift shop.
I love that my pile is gone. So often our piles of books to read is so threateningly tall or dishearteningly intellectual that it exhausts us just to live with the books, and decisions need to be made. Which is why I am keeping the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Because it is life-changing, believe it or not.