Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up took so many of us — and our closets and spice racks and junk drawers — by storm last summer. A tidy, beautiful and controlled storm, like the whorled patterns created by rows of T-shirts, rolled and standing on end, alert little manicured cadets ready for deployment. She taught us to move category by category throughout our homes and our lives, gently holding each object and asking ourselves with all sincerity whether the item in question “sparked joy.”
It rocked my world, as I know it did many others. I started with a huge pile of reusable grocery bags, dumped on the floor of my kitchen, and realized that of the 14 (fourteen!), there was no way I would actually use more than five. I moved to blankets, linens, towels, then kitchen cabinets, then closets (what self respecting grown person needs 23 pairs of tube socks, Steven Abney?), then the playroom, where I even got the kids in on the action. Henry: “Charlotte, you have three cat stuffed animals. The white one has never sparked joy for you.” Finally, I took a huge glass of wine into my office closet and bravely and painstakingly went through photos and letters and documents, some of which I had hauled around in milkcrates from my college apartments through the 7 homes in 5 states over 20 years since, without having ever unpacked them. Talk about an albatross. The joy thing was incredibly liberating. What joy was there in keeping my Economics notebooks? To prove I had an education? Au revoir, 3 boxes of indecipherable graphs and doodles. Or what about my grandmother’s pictures of a trip to Hawaii, wherein no actual people were featured and it wasn’t my memories anyway? Adios, 200 slides –- slides! –- of volcanos and golf courses. Or an even greater weight loss: the huge file of my parents’ divorce papers. What possible joy could I take in keeping that? Sayonara to 2 bulging files of 35-year-old receipts and other people’s pain.
All in all, I hauled out 44 bags of trash or recycling (the tall kitchen bags, mind you), and took what amounted to $3000 worth of donations to Goodwill and area shelters. The attic and creepy, dank storage space under the house still remain, and – weirdly – the tube socks must be playing some Barry White and multiplying late at night – but I nonetheless ended 2015 feeling very virtuous indeed.
So what could possibly rival that kind of total house colonic? Friends, I am so glad you asked. For the past month, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Sarah Knight’s Practical Parody, entitled: The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck. Heavy on the practical, Knight introduces her book as one “for all of us who work too much, play too little, and never have enough time to devote to the people and things that truly make us happy.” The book is a hilarious and highly useful guide to mental decluttering, just as satisfying (if not more so) than taking out all those bags of trash and donations. And for those of us who are what Knight calls “born f*ck-givers” – overachieving perfectionists and pleasers who have spent a lifetime giving f*cks liberally to every project, task, standardized test, authority figure, friend, notion of obligation, ideal or patriotism … then, well – the book is a special treat.
Waitasec – is this just about shooting the bird at anything or anyone that doesn’t make you feel good? No way. Knight offers a careful guide to help you give fewer, but better quality f*cks, and to do so in such as way as to ensure you are not being an asshole. Carefully gauging whether someone else’s feelings would be truly hurt naturally informs whether you give a f*ck, and how much of a f*ck you might give. Bringing intentionality to your f*ck-giving, and being able to distinguish between feelings and opinions, are the twin keys to being happier without being a total dick. Applying her careful methodology in sorting through the messy squirrel’s nest of my own head and heart then became a clarifying process. And for the visually-oriented reader, she provides several helpful flowcharts and schematics.
The process of tidying up my sock drawer of f*cks, if you will, has already helped tremendously in several small situations just in the past few weeks. For example, when Henry’s pet bearded dragon died last month, he immediately began begging me for a ball python, (which he had wanted from the start, but I managed to talk him into a lizard).
Now, I give a Great Big F*ck about not having a snake in the house, of course. But Henry gives an even greater f*ck about desperately wanting a pet snake, and as a twin who shares his sister’s pink and purple room, he has very little to call his own. When I examined my own f*ck, I saw it was preference-based and not actually rooted in real danger (ball pythons have no fangs, no venom, and there’s been no recorded incident of them killing a human). The math then became: Henry’s f*ck > My f*ck
We got a snake. And importantly, I didn’t spend a ton of energy fighting or worrying the decision.
It’s not just about what f*cks you don’t give, but identifying where you do give a f*ck – and then finding the time, energy and money to allocate them accordingly. I have recently learned I love writing this blog and now happily make the time to give a f*ck to do it, even if there are dishes still in the sink at 10pm and several emails and phone calls to return. So how can do you do this on a grand scale? You create a F*ck Budget, answers Knight. Rather than explaining how it’s done, I’ll just share mine. It’s a work in progress, and of course, the f*cks expressed are mine alone. Yours would certainly look different.
The process of creating a f*ck budget is almost more useful that the product itself because it clarifies and helps prioritize what is aspirational (feeling guilty for saying “no” to new obligations), highlights where I’ve got my allocations all wrong (dicking around on my computer at night INSTEAD of spending time with Steven) and usefully validates what I already know to be true about myself. (I hate pretzels. HATE them. And I am tired of trying “just this one special German kind” because you absolutely love it and it’s from this ah-mazing local bakery). There is power in declaring. Just writing it down for myself in these categories frees me up from ever having to “try” another bite of that nasty salty dough, and sets me on a path to get serious about that headstand.
My f*ck budget also yields a more refined sense of precisely how precious few f*cks I have to give, so that I can give them in a highly mindful and purposeful way. For example, if I have a heightened awareness that I do give a f*ck about good, quality chocolate, then I have more of a fighting chance at not sticking my head in the pantry and stress-eating the kids’ crappy leftover Easter candy when there’s a pre-dinner mutiny. I’ll save that f*ck and give it over to a really nice dark chocolate with sea salt and toffee I got during my last Trader Joe’s run in a calm, ladylike and dignified way after 9pm. Ideally.
I don’t know, you guys. There’s a lot of gimmicks out there. I’d love to Kondo the hell out of the self-help section of Barnes and Noble. But some new ideas and methods have substance and can make a dent in the entropy of our unraveled edges and loose coins. And here’s the thing: when Sarah Knight says that the 3 types of people who don’t give a f*ck are children, assholes and the enlightened – I know which one I want to be.