The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: A book review

 

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.

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Knight, Sarah. On giving, and not giving, a f*ck. Page 39.

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.

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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.

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31 thoughts on “The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: A book review

  1. I love this – and am using it to sort through the fact that I give a f*ck about so many things because I really, really think they are fun to do. So it becomes giving up something I want to do versus something I want to do more rather than giving up things I feel obligated to do. But sip and sees and baby showers, hell yes, I am sending a gift (if I know you well) that will have to suffice.

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  2. Yes, revealing the f*cks I have to give, and prioritization of those f*cks (which shift and ebb all the time) is an even better discovery process than finding where I am fresh out of f*cks. Thanks for reading and commenting, Judy!

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  3. I thought you seemed “lighter” yesterday. Love this, I’ve got to get this book. I will say yesterday I watched part of a video of a ridiculous women who claims to be the most organized woman in America. I cut it off after she started showing her kitchen drawer dividers and thought smugly, she’s just a hoarder. So I’m greatful to Kondo for giving me a reason to be smug about something I’m never going to accomplish, which is a perfectly organized home. Totally with you on the kids crafty BS. I don’t even do favors for birthday parties because damnit I’m already giving you two hours of organized fun!

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  4. Brilliant and absolutely timely news for me! I want to attempt both the tidying up and the f*ck bucket! Thanks for the insightful and inspiring Monday words. I treasure them each week – and you, always!

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  5. This is excellent, Elizabeth!! Your Do give and don’t give is too good and funny! (Love your game of thrones comment:)… And all the dark chocolate. All in all a super list to aspire from… Nice review. i want to read it now, indeeeed

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  6. Once again, you do it again. Thanks for making me happier today. Love this perspective. I think I may need to get a ear mic and just have you talk me through my life. Do you do audio recordings? Love you

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  7. I am glad to see someone else mirror my sentiments on reading, grooming, and falling into the internet hole. We should hang…but not at a shower.

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  8. So applicable! I just learned the word ‘entropy’ recently, and I don’t know how I thought of society before I heard it, but as soon as I learned what it meant, I thought, “Oh! That’s our world right now.” I’m so glad you shared actionable, despair-fighting solutions!

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  9. Oh my – so, so, so happy your wrote this. Please share with with author; I know she will love it. PS. Peter Murray never reads anything like this, and he both READ and COMMENTED. You are inspiring folks all over!

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  10. Beauvais, you were born to do this bloggy thing (for as long as it makes you happy). Love to see that Bethany is to blame for this post. Off to create my budget!

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  11. Elizabeth, I’m just now making time to read this blog, and I see I should have read it much, much sooner! I have to get both of those books, but what if I end up not giving a F*CK about de-cluttering? Ha! Love your humor and your insights!!

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  12. I agree with all the sentiments that bucket you in the category of ” enlightened”, “brave”, “wise”, “talented”, “pee-in-your-pants-hilarious” and more. And this blog and you are on my “I give a f*ck” list…just saying…for the record. Bravo Miss E.

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