A few weeks ago I was trying to find a blog post I remembered Tim Harford writing about research into different perceptions of gift-giving depending on whether you are the giver or the recipient
. Along the way I also found that he'd written about Maria Kondo's book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying
and rolled my eyes a bit (I have read enough of my friends' reactions to the book to be sure I would personally find it intensely irritating), but was interested to see how he pulled out three principles of economics
that Marie Kondo is illustrating:
- status quo bias (Kondo says throw it out unless it "sparks joy", which Harford sensibly changes to "a compelling reason to keep it")
- diminishing returns (the tenth pair of jeans is less valuable than the second, which is why you tackle all the things of the same type in one go)
- opportunity cost (if you can't find a beloved possession under all the other things you have, you can't enjoy it)
So this inspired me a bit to start tackling the chronic mess in the house, a lot of which is down to the fact that things don't have a home, because we haven't got room to put them away, so they don't get tidied away. I started with the toys in the living room, because they were causing the most friction, and I also thought they were the best case of things that really should "spark joy". (Clothing rarely does for me, for example, and I doubt the children's school uniform does either.) It took me a good couple of hours, I did most of the work of division, with the children occasionally challenging my choices in one direction or the other, and at the end of it I had 2 carrier bags for the bin and another 9 for the charity shop. I reckoned we removed roughly 2/3 of the toys by volume; and what remained is small enough that we can keep similar things together when tidying rather than finding it too overwhelming and shoving everything away anyhow (and making the problem worse).
Nico spontaneously spent ages over the next week playing with some specific wooden jigsaws we literally hadn't seen in months if not years, which rather gloriously illustrated Tim's point about opportunity cost.
I've done several more sessions since, especially in the last few days. It needs me to have time and energy and inclination to spend several hours at a time sorting through a category of things, because I haven't figured out a way to bitesize it without causing even more disruption to everyone else and/or having my work undone again. It is tiring
to keep making decisions, especially potentially emotionally-fraught decisions. I found a fourth economic concept coming to my aid: in management accounting I learned the concept of sunk costs
, that is, when making decisions it doesn't matter what time and money have already been spent, what matters is the future costs/benefits that will result from the decision.
The children have learned to trust that I won't take something away if they say they really want it, so at least now let me get on with it until I'm ready for their review, which has sped things up a bit. And slowly the living room and bedroom spaces are becoming nicer for them. I've finally removed enough stuff from the children's room that I can actually tidy / reorganise what is left. This morning I asked Charles if he would rather I took him out to the cinema today, or continued working on their bedroom and he chose the latter.
And for all it seems a bit weird, I've found it sometimes helps me to let go if I say thank you to things as I put them in the discard pile.