Pruning leads to growth. It’s so counter-intuitive, but the power of this truth continues to astonish me.
I see it in the lacecap verbera twisted through the arbor lattice. I pruned it a year and a half ago and now it’s fuller than I could have imagined. I see it in the apple tree buds, twice as plentiful after my husband Matt’s shears touched them last year.
We bought this little blue farmhouse on a third of an acre just over two years ago and christened it Mapleside. We had been living in a third story two-bedroom apartment, Matt and I, two kids, and two cats. The spaciousness of the change was gobsmacking.
But it wasn’t long before the effort to maintain this larger space became daunting. I didn’t even attempt to weed the overgrown garden the first summer. And as the months went by and we filled our space, I became more filled with anxiety. This beautiful blessing of a home felt like a ball-and-chain.
Matt could feel it too whenever he came home—the massiveness of the task to keep this place in order. I cleaned. Often, if not dutifully. I purged the kids clothes, organized, made master deep cleaning lists. But I was always just bailing the boat. As a writer, I needed the free space of evenings and weekends to do my work, not to organize the basement. It was a losing battle.
This spring, Matt took the kids to visit their grandparents and I opted to stay home to put the house in order. Five days to myself. I could hardly believe it. I told a friend about my upcoming tryst with the house elves and he exclaimed, “I’m about to do the same thing! Have you read this book?” He proceeded to tell me about Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, The New York Times bestseller about organizing your home once and for all.
Let me summarize her approach: Stop organizing, stop doing a little every day. Go through all your possessions by category (clothes, books, miscellany, mementos). Hold each item in your hands. Keep what sparks joy. Dispose of everything (EVERYTHING) that does not. Find a place for everything you keep. Do this once, do it thoroughly, and never tidy again.
In five days of tidying the KonMari way, I disposed of 20 bags of clothes, 200 books, and two carloads of donations to Goodwill. A professional house cleaner friend came over and deep cleaned with me. By the time Matt and the kids came home, the entire upstairs was complete.
Why did I think I needed all that stuff? Did that soup tureen wedding gift from 10 years ago bring me joy when I’ve used it only a handful of times? It’s beautiful, yes. But it makes me feel guilty that I don’t use it more often. That’s not joy. Do the clothes I seldom wear anymore bring me joy? No. They make me feel like I have lots of clothes but nothing I feel pretty in right now. I’d rather have five outfits I adore than 30 I feel bad for not wearing.
A trapping for me, a constant bargain shopper and thrifter, was to hold on to things that were valuable or beautiful, even if they no longer served a purpose for me. It was freeing to imagine that there was another person out there who would love to discover these possessions and give them new life. Let it bless someone else.
The upstairs has become a haven, especially my bedroom. I used to dump all my clothes on top of the dresser until they spilled over onto the desk chair and eventually the floor. Kondo claims that none of her clients have ever reverted. It’s been two and a half weeks since the kids came home, and Kondo’s method has stayed with me so far as I continue to tidy my things. I value my possessions because I’ve kept only what brings me joy. I feel protective over the sanctuary that my home has become.
Let’s keep it real: I still have a ways to go—the basement with all its sporting gear and tools, files, mementos, the kids’ artwork. Kondo claims a reasonable amount of time for this process is about six months. The kids still make messes. Folding laundry takes longer now (Kondo’s method involves careful storing so that all items can be seen at a glance). But my space feels like my own, not like some beast I’m constantly trying to tame.
This process is deeply psychological and freeing. I am in touch with what I truly love and aware of what I am tempted to keep out of guilt, obligation, or fear. I have become more decisive, not just about possessions, but about all my choices. When new items come into my home that don’t spark joy, I can acknowledge the intention of the giver, thank the item for communicating that intention, and dispose of it without guilt.
I have less stuff now. But what is beginning to grow in my pruned home is lightness of being, spaciousness for my soul, joy, and peace.