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Tidying Up

Sparking joy with less clutter

Jennifer Oakley
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Tali Blumrosen, Sallie Alcorn

Longtime friends Tali Blumrosen (at left) and Sallie Alcorn hold a dress from Alcorn’s newly organized rack of evening dresses. Alcorn arranges colors from dark to light. In contrast, Blumrosen says, “I keep my clothes in the same general area, but organizing by color is a bit much for me!” (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

Sallie Alcorn and Tali Blumrosen met as students at The University of Texas in the early ’80s. As the decades passed, they attended each other’s celebrations, debated politics, and shared an interest in good wine. But never … closets. Until one day last summer when Alcorn’s youngest child left for college and she was left with an empty nest – and a lot of clutter.

While at Ole Miss to move her daughter in, Alcorn stopped by the campus bookstore and bought The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo. “My co-worker had told me about the book and had sent me several articles that had been written about it,” recalls Alcorn, a Houston City Council staff member. “I read the entire book on the way back home, and then I looked at my husband, George, and said: ‘I am doing this!’

“The timing was right for me, and [it] did give me a project to do and helped me process the end of the road as a mother,” says Alcorn, whose children, George, Maria, Janie and Susie, are all either in college or have graduated. “It was cathartic because I was not crying and laying in bed with the covers over me.

“The method worked for me because you clean out not by room or location, but by category. The word ‘clean’ is replaced by ‘tidy up,’ and part of what you must do is discard and only keep items that spark joy. So, when you look at an item of clothing, for example, you must decide whether it sparks joy in your life or not.”

Alcorn rid her house of “30 to 40 huge, green trash bags” of items from her clothes closets – and “100 bags total of all kinds of things” that no longer felt joyful. What followed was the cleaning out of books, papers, electronics, makeup, skin-care products, kitchen items and more. “In the height of my cleaning I kept thinking I could not wait to get home at the end of the day and work on, say, my placemats,” says Alcorn, who admits to spending long nights and weekends on the cleaning up and out. “It is really logical, easy, life-changing magic.”

Alcorn says the process is liberating. “You have to actually touch each item and are supposed to thank it for its service and then send it on its way,” she says. “You are supposed to clean out in complete silence, no music or television on and no eating while cleaning. The author recommends lighting candles, saying a prayer and going all in.” 

Not long after Alcorn had started tidying up her home, her buddy Blumrosen was laughingly cautioned by mutual friends to “not bring up that book” in the presence of Alcorn. Of course, Blumrosen asked Alcorn about the book – and what followed was a similar cleaning out of Blumrosen’s home.

Like Alcorn, Blumrosen’s children are also older. Daughter Kelli has graduated from college while son Will is a junior in college. “When Sallie told me about the magic of this book, I decided to download it and read it,” recalls Blumrosen, an avid community volunteer. “Sallie was obsessed with it, but I value her opinion, and so I thought, ‘I can do this!’ Sallie was cheering me on!” And, Blumrosen said she needed that boost from her longtime friend. “I have a lot of scarves, and I called Sallie one day and said I had just gotten rid of 75 scarves. Sallie calmly said, ‘That’s nice – now go clean out more of them!’ She knew I needed to pare down even more!”

Blumrosen started with her own closet. “I picked a weekend when my husband was out of town, and then I took everything out of my closet. Our master bedroom was entirely covered – you could barely walk through it.” Blumrosen went one-by-one through every item and ultimately “got rid of 16 Hefty lawn bags full of things” that were no longer joyful. She also used the opportunity to clean every corner of the closet and the air vents – and think about an organized way to place everything back inside by color and category.

“I sort of obsessed about the process and got really into it,” she says. “I was feeling very proud of myself, and 90 percent of what I took out I took over to Goodwill. Supporting Blumrosen was her husband, Eric, who praised her efforts. “He was so funny and sweet and said he was glad I did not throw him out!’”

Sallie Alcorn

Inspired by the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, Sallie Alcorn now has the closet of her dreams: neat, organized and accessible. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

The new organizational plan – something out of Blumrosen’s usual comfort zone – did, however, give Eric the chance to play a prank on her. He hung a single black shirt in the middle of a row of white shirts and then sat back to see if Blumrosen could spot it in the newly straightened space. “On the third day, Eric puts me in the middle of my closet and played ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ with me about that shirt,” recalls Blumrosen. “I did not even notice what Eric did, and he said he knew this would happen!”

Alcorn’s husband, George, was so inspired by the tidying up, he cleaned out his own closet. “Once I saw Sallie’s side of the closet I knew I had to do this too because her side looked so good,” he says.

Blumrosen and Alcorn both have “to-do” lists that they will tackle next: gardening and camping equipment for Alcorn, and family photos for both of them. Blumrosen says she continues to scramble a bit when faced with the day-to-day aspects of keeping the closet neatly tended – something that pal Alcorn has incorporated into her daily life. “I look up to Sallie and I wish I could be like her, but I get bored!” she says.

Alcorn laughs and insists that her “quality of life is so much better now after doing all of this. Before I did this I could not find anything in my house and now I can – it really is easy, life-changing magic.”

How to tidy up

From The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo
Before you start:

  • Think in concrete terms so that you can vividly picture what it would be like to live in a clutter-free space.
  • Choose what you want to keep, not what you want to get rid of.
  • Take each item in one’s hand and ask: “Does this spark joy?” If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it.
  • Keep only the things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest.

Tidy by category: clothing, books, papers, CDs, DVDs, skin-care products, makeup, accessories, valuables, electrical equipment and appliances, household equipment, household supplies, kitchen goods/food supplies, sentimental items, photos, other (spare change, figurines, etc.)
Organizing after tidying:

  • Designate a place for each thing.
  • Pursue ultimate simplicity in storage.
  • Store all items of the same type in the same place and don’t scatter storage space.

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