Keeping Track

I come from people who keep track of everything: groceries to get, bills to pay, upcoming events, the day’s experiences, and past events.

As a young woman, my mom kept a diary that noted what mattered in her days: starting a novena and that a guy she was dating was kind of full of himself (they were happily married for 67 years anyhow). WE’RE AT WAR! she wrote in December 1941. Later in life, she recorded the weather daily on small pads of paper she kept next to the sofa. At her funeral, my cousins told me my uncle (her brother) had also kept meticulous notes—some about his garden, others about the weather. We marveled at the shared habit.

When my mother-in-law recently moved, at least 20 years’ worth of journals turned up. I was aware of her habit because she often asked how to spell something we’d served for dinner. Cioppino or ratatouille. She enjoyed keeping notes about what we ate and did during visits.

I’ve gotten an extra measure of documenting genes. Off and on since high school, I’ve kept personal journals in which I work out confusing feelings. I also make entries in a gratitude journal to remind myself of what’s good and right in my world despite the pandemic and trying political times. I document garden plans—what’s planted where and ideas for next year’s garden. I have lists of books I want to read along with books I’ve already read and what I thought of them. When dieting, I keep track of my exercise and meals.

I’m not alone in those habits, but for me, it doesn’t stop there. I have a ridiculous number of notes in my phone app. Supposedly 194 of them, but that can’t be right! Poems I like, blog ideas, writing tips, ideas for pottery projects, a list of lawn chemicals that won’t harm birds and pollinators, the steps for starting the snow blower. The notes go on and on!

My reasons can be practical. I want to remember something or find it quickly, and my phone is always with me. I tell myself I’m being efficient and orderly . . . but maybe ‘obsessive’ would be more accurate! Other times, keeping track is an emotional impulse. My personal and gratitude journals help me maintain equilibrium.

The habit of keeping track intrigues me. I think there’s something universal, something beyond the practicality of grocery lists, receipts, and calendars. The same impulse that leads people to document their lives on Instagram or Facebook, keeps me writing extensive notes and ongoing journals. It’s what caused my relatives to make daily diary entries.

As far as I know, my mom didn’t consult her weather notes after the fact. My uncle might have looked up which kind of tomatoes did well. I don’t know if my mother-in-law refers to her notes to remind herself of a previous year’s Christmas dinner. I suspect she doesn’t.

I believe the impulse to keep track is a way of saying, “I was here. My life matters. To me.”

What do you keep track of?

Can’t Do Kondo

At a recent gathering of women, I was impressed by how excited some of them felt about Marie Kondo (The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up). Her new Netflix show has boosted interest in the KonMari method. It is alluring—all those well-organized spaces. The simplicity of only keeping what sparks joy. The peacefulness of an orderly home that doesn’t contain random piles of junk. It all looks so virtuous. But I’m skeptical.

The key step in her process looks exhausting. You make an enormous pile of your stuff and then make endless joy/no joy decisions. I flash back to sorting out my mother’s household goods after she died. And then doing the same with my Aunt Corinne’s things. Repeatedly deciding which items were too good to throw away but not good enough to keep took such an emotional toll. After a while I stopped caring. Soon everything looked like junk.

It appears that’s the point people come to as they engage in the KonMari process. You become overwhelmed and stop making decisions. Everything except absolute essentials goes. So that’s part one of the magic. You have less stuff and feel lighter.

The young couple featured in the first episode did need help. They were unhappy about how out of control their home and life with two toddlers had become. They stuck with Marie Kondo’s process and voilà! Eventually they brought order out of chaos.

Last fall I dabbled with doing a little KonMari on my clothes. Admittedly, I only watched a short video about it and didn’t read her book. I didn’t pile up everything in my closet and dresser. Instead, I considered how long it had been since I’d worn something. I evaluated each item’s fit, style, and level of shabbiness. As a result, I cleared out a lot of stuff. Then I had the hassle and expense of replacing essential items that no longer were up to par. I’m still looking for wonderful replacements that spark joy.

After you get rid of stuff and organize what remains, another step in her process is folding clothes differently. I like her idea about folding t-shirts so you can see all of the colors. However, it definitely is more time-consuming, so often my laundry sits for days before I put it away properly.

What will keep me (or any KonMari advocate) from backsliding? I suspect it’s the painful memory of sorting through the enormous pile. However, I didn’t make a big pile and I’m known to have amnesia when it comes to recalling how hard a project is. It seems very likely that three years from now my closet will be overburdened again. At some point, folding t-shirts her way may be too much trouble.

I don’t doubt that Marie Kondo’s approach truly helps some people. The couple featured during the first episode came away with a system and new habits that will make their lives easier and more filled with joy.

Perhaps I’d feel lighter and more joyful if I fully embraced Marie Kondo’s system. But I know for it to work I’d have to incorporate her philosophy as well as adopt new habits. I guess I’m not ready.