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Several friends are reorganizing their lives according to Organizational Empress Marie Kondo’s dictates. It’s an intense discipline. As a teenager, Marie Kondo’s OCD obsession with tidying up was so consuming, she actually blacked out. While unconscious, she heard a voice proclaiming the tenets of her new organizational system. (Don’t judge: she’s a multi-millionaire today thanks to those voices.)

Only two skills are necessary to successfully put your house in order: the ability to keep what sparks joy and chuck the rest, and the ability to decide where to keep each thing you choose and always put it back in its place.”
― Marie Kondō, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up

There are two reasons why this would never work for me. First, of course, is the whole hearing-voices-while-unconscious thing. Except for certain pharmaceutically-enhanced occasions which we’ll skip over, my only other unconscious experience involved a middle-of-the-night attempt to paint our (pink) kitchen cabinets, only to find myself somehow on the floor with the dog licking my face. The only thing the voice in my head (which sounded suspiciously like my mother) communicated was a strong conviction that cabinets should be painted by someone else. [For some reason my subsequent book “Let Someone With Better Life and Medical Insurance Do It” didn’t make the bestseller lists.]

But the real reason the Kondo method wouldn’t work for me is of course, my mother. If anything sparked in her house, it was immediately covered with electrical tape and plugged right back in where it belonged. If a possession didn’t fill one of her ten children with joy, it was taken back and handed down to the next child in line. We learned early to be vocally joyful about anything that came our way—and then immediately hide whatever it was.

Growing up in the days before engineers like my father found their spiritual homeland in Silicon Valley, my family travelled from town to town with other nomadic engineering families who were selling their slide rules to the highest bidder. In each new place, my parents would buy the closest thing to the same two-story colonial house. (Easier than it sounds, because in those days builders were covering California with exactly two housing designs—single-story ranch and two-story colonial.) Mother would deal out the paintbrushes to any offspring tall enough to wield them, and every surface would be painted (usually Navajo White), after which she’d slot all possessions into the exact same places as the preceding two-story (Navajo White) colonial. Organization job done, and if anyone felt joy or sparks, they put it down to running out of fabric softener and/or my brother messing with the wiring again.

Ha-Ha drawer.(Every kitchen has one…that drawer that starts life with the hopeful/unlikely job of organizing take-out menus or dish towels or randomly essential matches, candles, batteries, etc. After about a week of religiously observing this role, the drawer mysteriously fills up with…everything else, achieving packing density that would make Tetris masters weep.)

Time passed, and soon I was welcoming my parents to my own (non-colonial) house following the birth of Child #1. My mother was the kind of person who you would swear was giving her full attention to your heart-to-heart talk, only she was somehow also completely cleaning your kitchen at the same time. By the time you warmed up to your main rant, she was warming up lunch, defrosting something for dinner, and sorting out the Ha-Ha drawer. 

On this particular maternal visit, I was feeding the baby while my mother chatted with me, made my bed, did the laundry, folded the clothes, and headed upstairs. Too late, I realized my mistake! I couldn’t move fast enough to intercept before she opened the top of the stairs cupboard we optimistically referred to as the linen closet.


I strained to hear…anything.

More silence.

Some minutes later, she came into my room. “I guess you’ve been too busy with the baby and everything to organize your linen closet.”

I nodded, trying to look pathetically busy instead of like the type of person whose linen closet looks like bombs went off in there on a regular basis.

“So I refolded everything.”

I tried to look like the person whose linens had ever even been introduced to folding as a concept.

“And sorted it all according to sheet size, bedroom, and color.”

I didn’t even try to look like I would—in an alternate reality—sort linens according to color and function, let alone according to joy-sparking. After all, she’d already seen my Ha-Ha drawer.

When she left, of course, the closet resumed its impersonation of the trailer park aprés-tornado. This lasted until the day Child#4 channeled her grandmother and organized the linen closet as my Mother’s Day present. Separate bins and shelves were neatly labeled according to her version of their function:

  • Kids’ Sheets with stupid characters we outgrew a decade ago but Mama won’t get rid of.
  • Mama’s White Sheets (She eats vanilla ice cream too. Just sayin’.)
  • Ratty Old Towels Mama Makes the Kids Use.
  • Guest Towels Too Good for the Peasants Who Actually Live Here** [**plus additional label with NOTE: DO NOT even think of touching Guest Towels because Mama says quick death would be too easy for you and she knows how to make you suffer.]
  • Guest Sheets** [**yet another additional label with NOTE: See Guest Towel note. Mama says she knows where you sleep.]

I thought that kid would never leave home, but at last she headed off to collect her (engineering, of course) degree. The linen closet and I breathed a sigh of relief and vowed never to organize anything again.

“But wait,” you protest. “What about what you promised in the title? Your secret ninja-method to declutter everything?”

I’m a professional writer. I didn’t forget a thing. Those 800 words above were just foreshadowing. Yeah, that’s it. So…decluttering.

My new book is available for only $24.99 and (because it’s printed on toilet paper) won’t clutter up your place for long.

Fact is, my friends’ new life-changing obsessive compulsive religious frenzy decluttering didn’t interest me until I read that Ms. Kondo’s books, consulting, and each organized breath brings in millions of dollars and even more in yen every year. Holy spark of joy! So I decided to look into getting my hands on some of that income share my organizing secrets with you. My new book, Declutter for Fun & Profit, tells the gut-wrenching story of the years I spent worrying whether that feeling in the pit of my stomach was my possessions sparking joy or just those supersized lunch tacos getting ready to blow (in which case we’d better all hope no sparking occurred).

I know neither of us wants some huge book cluttering up their place, so I’ve done this in graphic manga format, and printed on toilet paper for easy and functional er… disposal.

EXCERPT: Barb’s Manga Guide to Instant Decluttering for Fun (yours) and Profit (mine)

—100% GUARANTEED not to cause additional clutter because it’s printed on toilet paper.

I know that the Kondo method says you should touch each thing and calibrate its joy spark potential. But let’s face it…you own a LOT of crap and there’s dust and probably spiders. That’s why your place is so cluttered. (Even if you did get sparked, you probably just need a humidifier.) And then you’re supposed to roll each spark-worthy item so that it stands up in your drawers. Seriously. Life’s way too short for rolling bras. You’ll have plenty of time to roll underwear and sort your linen closet when you’re old and you’ve completely given up all hope of anything interesting happening in your life like Daniel Craig calling to whisk you away to a tropical island paradise for some uh-huh uh-huh.

I’d give you more pointers or the contact number for a really good travel agent, but Daniel just called and I’ve got to head out. Uh-huh, uh-huh!