Paper is the element of the Dragon-Goddess

Probably the most controversial part of the KonMari Method (Marie Kondo’s approach to decluttering, which I’ve mentioned a few times recently) is the bit about paperwork. Her approach has been misrepresented as “Throw away everything and damn the consequences!” which is a bit harsh when you just have to read the book to see that what she says is quite different.

My basic principle for sorting papers is to throw them all away. My clients are stunned when I say this, but there is nothing more annoying than papers. After all, they will never inspire joy, no matter how carefully you keep them. For this reason, I recommend you throw out anything that does not fall into one of three categories: currently in use, needed for a limited period of time, and must be kept indefinitely.

So she’s talking about chucking out stuff like old gas bills, old tenancy agreements and so on – not your birth certificate or certificate of house insurance. And not “sentimental items” like old diaries or love-letters either. (They’re in a different category.)

Frankly, I think what she really writes is controversial enough without exaggerating it to misrepresent her. Throw most of your paperwork away? All at once? It is key to the KonMari Method that you tackle the job of decluttering each category of possessions in one go, while you are feeling focused and energised and excited.

All I have to say about that is…clearly Marie Kondo doesn’t have to deal with a fortnightly recycling collection. She doesn’t know about the British festival that is Bin Day and all the rituals that surround it. How we bond with each other through moaning about it, anxiously ask each other when it is and tut at the people who put their bin out too early.

The plastic shrines stand on the kerbside. (They are different colours for different areas of the country; if you tell someone from another area what colour yours is, they will immediately tell you what colour theirs is, in a tone of voice that suggests the colours for your area are wrong and barbaric.) Many households decorate their shrine with identifying marks so that the Goddess will bring their home good luck in the coming week.

And then, early in the morning, the Dragon-Goddess comes. She whines and whirs. Her joyful priests in their bright yellow jackets ride the dragon. They lift the shrines and throw the contents into the maw of the Dragon-Goddess while shouting incantations over the noise of the huffing dragon. Once empty, each household’s shrine is flung to the ground.

Later, once dawn has broken, the householders will come out to retrieve their shrines from all the different places they’ve been thrown; perhaps outside a neighbour’s house, perhaps a bit further down the street or on the opposite side of the road, perhaps simply lying in the middle of the road. Here the decorations on the shrines serve a practical as well as spiritual purpose: allowing people to identify which belong to them.

Every now and then, it just so happens that your paper & card recycling is not absolutely jam-packed when Bin Day rolls round. Perhaps it’s been a fortnight where you didn’t make any online purchases, so nothing arrived in an inconveniently large cardboard box. Whatever the reason, there is space to spare! This is a rare thing and you must take advantage now – it’s not as if you can save the extra space to use in two weeks’ time. So you rush round the house wondering what paper and card can be removed. Sweep up all the newspapers and magazines you’ve sort-of-finished reading. Take the eggs out of their cardboard box and put them in the holders in the fridge. Hey, that big box of tea has individual foil packets inside – why not take them out of the box so the box can go in the recycling? But still there is space. The Dragon-Goddess will not be sated. And that’s how my paperwork clearouts happen. Space in the box? Bye-bye, notes from that course I went on two years ago. More space in the box a fortnight later? Farewell, paperwork for a business venture I tried but failed to get off the ground.

Maybe it’s not as psychologically cleansing as doing one giant clean sweep, but it does provide sporadic nudges to get rid of stuff. And maybe by the time I reach the paperwork stage of the KonMari Method, I will already have so little unnecessary paperwork that it all makes just one offering to the Dragon-Goddess.

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