I love to read and I am obsessed with Japan, so it isn’t surprising that the Japanese organizing book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo is one of my new favorites. Even so, I wasn’t really expecting the book to live up to its title. How could cleaning change my life? Her premise is simple: only surround yourself with things that bring you joy. Your home and life will never feel cluttered or disorganized again, if you just follow her method and get rid of anything that does not spark joy. While simple in theory, it is difficult to implement when you live in a house with young children. Kids have so much stuff, and you can’t really get rid of all of it. They are attached to their toys and clothes. Anyone who has ever tried to organize a kids room knows that the only way to get rid of anything is to secretly discard items while the child is napping or out of the house. If they catch you giving away old clothes, suddenly you are the worst mom because they absolutely love those torn pants and they wear them everyday.
In September 2013, our house flooded. Most of the families on our street and many of our friends also had flooding (some lost their entire homes), and it was a very stressful time for Boulderites. We had to throw away a lot of things that brought us joy. We didn’t choose to get rid of our luggage – maybe the luggage itself didn’t bring us joy, but traveling does – everything that was touching water in the basement had to go in the dumpster, because we didn’t know what was contaminated and what wasn’t. Books, clothes, furniture, carpet, toys left on the floor – all had to be thrown away.
Even as we worked to get all the water out of our house, the holiday of Sukkot quickly approached. I argued with my husband that we couldn’t possibly build a sukkah. We were exhausted (mentally and physically), our house smelled like mildew, it was still raining outside, and school was cancelled for days. And, besides, everyone we knew was busy dealing with their own flooding or loss of power, and they certainly wouldn’t have time to come over to help us build or enjoy a sukkah. It seemed like such a ridiculous waste of time given what we had to do inside the house.
Alas, the night before Sukkot, my husband went outside to our deck and started building our sukkah. It was past 9:00 p.m., and I was frustrated at all the things yet to be done inside the house. My phone rang, and it was a friend who was calling on behalf of our synagogue to check on us and see if there was anything we needed. I complained that Danny was outside building the sukkah by himself in the dark. Our friend immediately offered to help, and she was outside with a flashlight less than 15 minutes after hanging up the phone. The two of them worked until almost midnight wearing raincoats and gloves. The next day it stopped raining, and I half-heartedly decorated our sukkah.
On the first day of Sukkot, there was a knock at our door. The synagogue had flooded, along with the rabbi’s house and his entire backyard. Needless to say, he hadn’t been able to build a sukkah. I saw him standing outside with a neighbor, and I invited them to our sukkah. Another neighbor heard us and came over. By the afternoon, there was an impromptu party on our back deck in the sukkah that I hadn’t even wanted. The kids played inside the sukkah, and we ate pie and drank tea. Each day new guests showed up. None of it had been planned, but friends kept arriving with food and decorations.
Without intending to, we had floated above the distractions and chaos inside our homes. There was nothing we could do about the flood. It arrived, and we couldn’t stop it. Sukkot arrived in much the same way. We are commanded to be happy during Sukkot, which seemed impossible during the flood until it happened. Building the sukkah brought us guests, and those guests distracted us from our worries and brought us joy.
In the flood, I was forced to discard things, even some that brought me joy. This year, under the guidance of Marie Kondo, I am discarding items by choice. In the spirit of Sukkot, I want to surround myself with things that help me feel happiness when I see them. I know I won’t get rid of all the clutter that comes with having young children, but I do want to have enough tidy space to feel the joy that parenting brings.
Karli loves reading books, eating popcorn, working out at the gym, spending time with friends and traveling. She is active in the Boulder Jewish community where she lives with her husband and three children.