One of the things I look forward to most in life is having an audible credit show up in my account and then methodically counting back to whichever 44 Scotland Street book I get to have next. Then, I try my very best to eke out the book all the way to the next credit, which is an entire month–a lifetime really. Imagine my horror, then, when I scrolled carefully along and discovered that I had come to the end. There are no more 44 Scotland Street books. I sat for fully ten minutes on Monday, bereft, trying to decide what to do, loath to face a whole month catching up on Bleak House, but also anxious to use the credit right away lest one of my children sweep in and try to steal it from me. I don’t know how they do this, but somehow, they know it’s there and know how to remove it from my life.
My finger hovered for a long time, and then in exasperation, panic, and sorrow, I clicked on The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Might as well find out for real, I thought, instead of just blogging without knowledge. Also, that very day I read this, twice, and considered the material trajectory of my own life.
I am half way through–the book, not my house–and I find myself returning to that line I read somewhere, a long time ago, that it’s not that we’re too materialistic as a culture, it’s that we’re not materialistic enough. We don’t have a decent enough appreciation for the stuff that make up our lives. Toys accumulate in every corner, cupboards sit stuffed to bursting with kitchen appliances, drawers burst to overflowing with all manner of jeans and t-shirts–all of it so essential that none of it is. The sense of over inclusion, of eschewing discernment, of refusing to exercise judgement has come in and taken over our very homes. The Everyone is Special meme is filling up our lives, killing us softly with its stupid song.
Because truly, if everyone is special, no one is. If every little girl is Wonder Woman, there is no Wonder Woman. If every shirt is wearable, there is really nothing to wear. Choosing one thing over another once was the bedrock of civilization, the means by which human people, robust in themselves, could turn outwards and accommodate the thoughts, concerns, and existence of another. You chose your own wife, say, over all other women who were not your wife. You chose to care for your children rather than caring for all children. You lived in your own single house and did your own job. Each of these choices meant that you had something worthwhile, someone to be, and, then, by extension, something to share.
But the exclusivity of good and reasonable judgment somehow came to be upsetting, an anxious reality rather than a sane one. Ordinary people bought into the strange idea that it’s more loving to fudge the boundaries, to pretend they aren’t there, to claim that all choices are equal and getting rid of distinctions is the holy and good way of living.
The outward and physical sign of refusing to pass judgment on anything–neither for taste, nor for morality, nor for sense, nor for practicality–are houses, cupboards, and garages stuffed with objects that choke the life out of daily living.
Kon Mari’s invitation to hold each item that you own, thank it for its work, and set it free is a good idea if the things that you own are worth something. But many of the things in my house, and certainly in the average American McMansion, don’t deserve to be held and thanked. They didn’t deserve to come in in the first place. They are cheap, badly made, worthy of the fire that never dies. They should never have been made in the first place. And because they exist, abiding ever more in my house, they sap my mental and emotional energy. They suck away my ability to make good decisions about things that really do matter–like people, and time.
Because, in some real sense, all people are special. People are important. But when we try to say that everyone is the same, and should be treated exactly the same–the whole world are as my own children, all men are as my own husband–there is no way for me to care for anyone, to relate to anyone, to be changed by anyone. When you look out at the vast expanse of humanity, who must all be treated one the same as another, then of course you will not be able to deal. Of course you will go buy another pair of shoes, another lawn chair, another kind of kitchen gadget. You will take your eyes off the person that matters, and throw away your time and yourself on a piece of plastic. Because the whole world is too big.
And of course then, in this state of sheer overwhelmedness, you necessarily narrow the focus back down on yourself. You are the measure of goodness and rightness. Your needs come first. Your feelings rule all of creation. It’s a desperate cycle. It can only be broken by using judgement. By choosing some things over others. By seeing that good and bad are not the same. By buying another box of garbage bags and setting your feet on the narrow, rocky way that leads to salvation.