By Betty J.B. Brouwer
Does it spark joy? This is the question we are to ask when following Marie Kondo’s method of organizing and decluttering as seen in her reality television show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo which aired on Netflix at the beginning of this year.
I must admit I have not yet watched an episode. It is not that I don’t like things to be organized and tidy. I do. Nor is it that I don’t think I need to declutter and organize. I do. It is just that I am not sure neat and tidy is the ultimate goal.
Intuitively I know and understand that life is messy. It isn’t easily quantifiable, or measured. And in fact, beauty and cohesion are often rooted and found in the midst of messy brokenness.
A while back I faced a long road trip. In an effort to stave off boredom and driving fatigue I downloaded a book to listen to while I drove. By chance I came across the book Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform our Lives by Tim Harford. In his book, Harford argues that we “often succumb to the temptation of a tidy-minded approach when we would be better served by embracing a degree of mess”(p. 4). He adds that in fact, messiness can ignite creativity, encourage resilience and help discover the best in ourselves. There can be a certain magic buried within the messiness. I was immediately intrigued by the title of the book because it spoke to the reality of life. Of my life. Of the lives that I am privileged to bear witness to in my therapy office.
I would consider myself an organized messy person. I tend to be a visual person and like to have the things I need to do stacked around me in various states of piles. I am able to easily free associate, letting my mind wander from one thing to another, always with a connection. But not always a connection that is obvious to others.
As a visual artist, I like texture. I like it when things are not absolutely perfect. Over the years I have enjoyed combining my love of textures, collage, and collecting of stones and sticks and other odds and ends into fabric assemblages. I enjoy the rich texture and story that is woven in fabric. Gathering pieces of fabric, stones, paper – little snippets of a life-story. Remnants with frayed and worn edges hold memories that when stitched together create a coherent narrative out of chaotic and disparate pieces.
Would these pieces individually spark joy? Likely not. Normally they would be relegated to the trash. But collectively the messy, disjointed pieces combine to create something that sparks joy. In the artwork, like in life, there are times when the stitching is unraveling or crude. But it is in those moments that hope emerges when we pick up the different pieces of our lives and stitch them together to make something new, bringing a different understanding.
As a therapist I am seeking to create space that allows for the messiness, the tension, the hurts and the jumbled and jagged pieces of life to exist. Then, together we can sort and arrange the parts and in doing so discover beauty and coherent narrative. A place where we can hold the gray, the tension. The notion that we can experience and hold both the hurt and the joy. We can be sad because close friends are moving away, while at the same time being happy and excited with our friends because this is an adventure that they are going on. We can be at a funeral and be crying as we are grappling with the loss of someone we love while also finding ourselves laughing as we recount memories and stories of this person. We often desire and long for what may in fact be an unrealistic orderliness.
In my office, as in artwork, I marvel and delight in how the colours, tones, rhythm, and textures come together to form the fabric of life, each uniquely imbued with strength, courage, warmth and hope.