I can’t help but notice the recent trend of Marie Kondo’s work with tidying and organizing, particularly in this month of January. I was intrigued because of the words in her mission statement: help more people tidy their spaces by choosing joy.

Choosing joy has been a mantra in this home, particularly since the arrival of Rachel, our first medically fragile kid with complex care issues - and then reinforced (read also in desperation) with the arrival of Janneke, our second medically fragile kid with complex care issues. The term choosing joy came from my maternal grandmother who also faced significant challenges with the birth and life of her son born in 1951 with developmental and physical delays.

The idea of tidying leading to joy does connect with something in me; though the method of sorting and organizing has evolved over the years, I guess it comes down to this truth: In welcoming the disorder that Rachel and Janneke present, I lean on order in other parts of my life.

So who is Marie Kondo? She’s someone who sees joy in cleaning up crap and organizing shit. Ok, that’s maybe too strong. Marie Kondo is like a tiny dancer who gracefully pirouettes into homes and points out the obvious: seeing what you have, understanding what you don’t need, giving gratitude for what you have and what you don’t need, acknowledging the relationship many of us have between our emotions and our things - and sorting all of it into purposeful places.

What would it look like to have Marie Kondo meet some of the older women in my life, such as my grandmothers, my mother-in-law Mina, or my neighbour Annie? These women were raised in the Netherlands, Russia and Germany in the earlier part of the 20th century. All these women experienced pain and loss with their villages, homes, families and endured interruptions of all kinds -due to war, starvation, and persecution. Following WW2, they immigrated to Canada and had to make-do with very little. This meant everything was repurposed, and that concept filtered down through the generations.

In my childhood, Ziploc bags were washed and reused; containers and cans were used to organize drawers, cupboards and leftover meals; bread bags kept your socks dry when you wore boots, and anything worn or torn was either mended or divided into material for patches or future sewing projects. Those thrifty lessons were formative; though I can’t sew, and I no longer store snacks in old yogurt containers, I still wash out my Ziploc bags.

The sense of repurposing can lead to a few problems though. I remember helping my neighbour clean out her basement one day, only to discover she had kept almost every jam and jelly jar she’d ever used. She figured there might be a purpose for it someday, so she rinsed out and stored them in boxes upon boxes in her basement. Her potting shed housed what appeared to be enough fruit baskets for a farm to collect and sell several crops of berries.

Rather than store (or hoard?), Marie Kondo says if an item doesn’t spark joy, you thank it and either throw it away or pass it on. In December 2000, Ralph and I visited China, and we brought his mom table napkins as a gift. Some time later, when I popped in for tea, she proudly showed me a new bag she sewed. It was made of the table napkins. Mina Pot-ism: When an item doesn’t spark joy, make it into one that does. #sewjoy

The stories of repurposing and make-do from my family’s history spark motivation for me -and Marie Kondo does too, reminding me to be conscious of what we collect and own.

And while Kondo’s work trends the virtual highways, I also can’t help but notice the news about a woman named Crystal who died retrieving clothes out of a donation bin, so she could barter for her basic needs. This is not how it’s supposed to be. While we sort our possessions into Marie Kondo boxes with names such as Balance, Clarity, Harmony, and Wonder, others are seeking a space to call home. #sparkjoy #sparkawareness #affordablehousing