What other option do you have when your world explodes but to pick up the pieces and fold them into thirds?
1. Pick up the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, when your aunt points to it and says she wants to buy it for your mum, who tends to save everything in the immigrant mentality of never wasting anything. This is how you ended up with one thousand plastic bags placed inside one big bag like a Matryoska doll.
2. Download the book on your kindle. Read it while nodding and walking around the house like Belle from Beauty and the Beast, singing passages out to your boyfriend, who shakes his head and laughs with fear. This is his worst nightmare, but he really enjoyed the personification of objects and the idea that they had feelings, too, and finally you’ve found a way to make tidying appealing to him. Is this woman a genius?
3. Let your aunt make you dinner. A fresh chicken vermicelli salad with mint, nuts, carrot, tomato and cucumbers. She pours a glass of red wine, nods to your 87-year-old Lebanese grandmother, and explains she got her mother to start drinking wine to help her sleep. It’s a Friday. On the Monday, your dad was coming home in an emergency careflight from Kuala Lumpur, where he was incapacitated, and breathing through a tube. Monday was also your grandmother’s birthday. As you go to leave, your aunt is already vacuuming the living room. Bye aunty, you call out to her while she was vacuuming, but she can’t hear you. You watch her move around the house. Can we help, you offered? No no, I enjoy it, she says.
4. Enjoy it? You think, pondering.
5. Something snaps in you, too. What if you could enjoy all of this chaos? You pull everything out of your closets. You don’t follow the rules at all. You just throw your possessions everywhere. You pull the house apart. You make a mirror, look at the chaos, look at yourself. That’ll do. Leave everything everywhere. Sleep in the cracks.
6. Clean everything. Marie Kondo doesn’t mention cleaning only tidying! You say, eyes gleaning. Your boyfriend turns his back for one second,and discovers a new thing has been wiped-- a new victim, a garlic tin, has been cleaned out entirely, the garlic bulbs sitting hugging each other like gossiping old ladies.
7. You won’t stop cleaning until your dad dies on Tuesday. You don’t get there in time. They say you did but you’re convinced everyone rehearsed the last minutes just before you got there, so you won’t feel bad. The following day you’re coaxed out of bed, and told to put your black clothes on and serve Lebanese coffee to the guests coming to pay their respects. Bend down carrying the tray of tiny cups filled with black liquid. Is this hell? Someone says the coffee is cold. How can it be cold in hell?
8. You throw out bags and bags. Your friend mentions the problem of landfill and burdening op shops. You laugh wildly. Who cares! We are all going to die!
9. When you are done tidying, you feel better. Then your mother gets kicked out of her house and she has to go through her possessions in one day.
10. You fight with your siblings and mother while going through her life and asking “why do you need this broken fan?!!!!!!!!!!” The collection of fake plants, the walkie talkies, the mysterious black briefcase no one can open, five different plane pillows?!?! Do sentimental items last, Kondo says, but it’s all sentimental, especially the used up tissues, the holy water your mum snuck into the hospital, and the ripped receipts with to-do lists scrawled quickly: “pay car bill”.
11. Discover all your university degrees were kept with your dad’s degrees. Your mum says he did that on purpose because he was proud of you. Spread them out on the ground. Waste precious moving time staring at how they stand together, awkwardly, like friends at a disco.
12. Pocket his notebooks, unfinished pages, only eight pages filled in, followed by 100 empty pages.
13. Take his Kindle, with the few books on it, unfinished, 3-10 per cent of the way in. Fixate on those numbers, the small black hyphen of progress, how much further he still had to go. You can’t find the charger. Take it anyway.
14. Find all the letters your dad wrote your mum from when he was living overseas. She says she threw out a lot and regrets it. She mentions putting them away and hiding them. She doesn’t want to read them now. Take them and frame the beautiful ones. Gift it to her for Christmas. She says she can’t read it without her glasses.
15. You find and recover his bushwalking backpack. Promise to go bushwalking. Go bushwalking.
16. It’s too soon to throw out any of his things. Yell at anyone who tries. Put everything in boxes. Guard the boxes. There’s nowhere to put them. Guard them anyway. No, I know he doesn’t need them anymore but we’re keeping them because they’re his.
17. In the rush to move, your mum can’t find her remote control for the TV or her phone charger.
18. Carry more things back into your house. Think about how dead your dad is now, allow yourself to think of everything that has happened. Tidy some more. You don’t feel better.
19. Develop tendonitis so you can’t use your hand anymore to tidy or clean or ‘grief cook’. Clean anyway and get another injury in the same hand, intersection syndrome of the wrist, a condition that affects the first and second compartments of the dorsal wrist extensors, fancy words for fingers, probably. Start to tidy with your legs, wonder why no one has thought of leg tidying before. Your boyfriend jokes that next week you’ll be in a full-body cast. He’s not wrong.
20. Your friend dies.
21. Some people complain that Marie Kondo is ableist because depressed people can’t feel joy. Scream into the void. This method is all you have!!!!!
22. You still feel joy, although it’s buried. You walk into an Italian cafe, looking for croissants, your Italian friend’s favourite food. They’re selling the best croissants and tiny jars of Italian jams, your friend made jams for a living. You buy one. Carry it to your therapist appointment. Tell no one.
23. One minute you are sitting down, the next minute you are marinating and roasting a leg of lamb (your friend loved when you made lamb). Seriously consider if people live on in the afterlife and can troll you. Your hand aches. The lamb is undercooked. No matter how long it’s in there, it’s never ready.
24. Get in trouble at least once a day for using your injured hand to tidy. A pair of shoes out of place here, a wayward pair of shorts there, things out of their place. You take a photo of the now tidied kitchen shelf, so you know where everything is meant to be and can keep it that way. Your boyfriend moves things around and you frantically search for the photo. Instead you see photos of your Dad. Forget about the kitchen shelf.
25. Everything has its place and you feel calm, for a moment.
26. Learn how to tidy things in a neat, small way, with one hand. Moving little things around. It’s better than nothing.
27. Marie Kondo says in the book when you tidy in this way you notice the flow on effect to other areas of your life. You lose weight. Your skin clears up. You’re more creative. All of these things happen to you.
28. The year is over and a new year is beginning, everything is new again. You haven’t kept up the tidying because of your injuries. You turn Netflix on. The new show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo is on. Her timing is always bang on. She arrives at the right moment,a delightful, sweet, compassionate, excitable, earnest and resourceful woman. Her tone in real life is dripping with kindness, whereas in the book she’s stern and emphatic. The show is a relief. Something you can control. It is not Marie Kondo that has triggered you, but life itself.
29. Read backlash against her online. But it’s not minimalism, you think to yourself. Resist the urge to respond every lame, humourless punchline-less meme by emphatically explaining that it’s humid in Japan and the damp and moisture in the air causes lots of damage to the books.
30. Make piles that dwarf you.
31. Go through all the stages.
32. Allow yourself to feel every emotion. Give yourself a hug. Cry when you hold up the memory of your dad and your friend. Talk to them. Tell them you wish they were here.
33. Look in the mirror. Make the “ping” sound indicating that what you see brings you joy. It’s as simple as that. Reset, start over.