Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Decluttering: Life-Changing Magic for homes and the Presidential Race

Donald Trump sparks joy
Yes, I'm one of the millions who read every word of Marie Kondo's "method" for home decluttering, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Tidy is one thing; pitching everything that doesn't send a thrill up your leg--her tack--is quite another.

Ms. Kondo hails from Japan, a place where tiny homes are measured by the size of sleeping mats. She offers an anecdote about a client who lives in a 7-mat apartment. Not much room to keep stuff.

To use her method, you'd gather categories of possessions together, and handle each item in the pile to discover if it "sparks joy." I have breakfronts and closets filled with items that spark joy.

    When Ms. Kondo suggests that readers rid themselves of treasured souvenirs and mementos, the difference in our cultures becomes apparent. You'd think that in a land of ancestor-worship (Ms. Kondo notes she volunteered at a Shinto shrine), people would be sentimental about objects connecting them to the past. No; throw away the notes from your college class, playbills, ticket stubs and old photos.

 Ruthlessly purge your closet for clothes seldom-worn or less-than-optimally flattering--roomy Saturday pants and comfy sleep-shirts included. And when you've proudly filled bags and bags of items to discard (she calls them "garbage" though you're supposed to thank each for its service before dumping), you're to fold what's left in origami squares, standing your shirts, socks and pants on end in rows in your drawers.

That this has brought the 31-year-old author millions of fans, surprises me. That she's followed it up with another book does not. In New York last week on promotion, she earned a New York Times story that noted the KonMari Method has sparked a backlash, including a book called "The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a (expletive)."

Ms. Kondo's new book, called Spark Joy, offers detailed diagrams for clothes-folding. Given that her quick-read first book explains her entire home-order program, this second volume merely elaborates.

However, there are grander lessons to learn here.

Marie Kondo signs her new book, in New York Times photo
The untidy field of presidential candidates needs some winnowing. The trouble is that Donald Trump sparks joy. He's the candidate people had in their living rooms saying "You're fired!", and holds the huuuge name blaring from the tops of conspicuous, fancy buildings.  Part of his hair is orange; the part that falls into his face. The rest is a shade of platinum blond, a combination that grabs viewers' eyes in perpetual query. His permanent frown and bugle lips make people smile.

The fact Donald Trump is unrehearsed, unfettered and unbothered by his lack of deep understanding of world issues adds to his appeal. He sparks joy in audacity; some of his earlier sexist and racist comments (ask Megyn Kelley) were such shockers that fans just can't wait for his next offenses--all of which are eagerly excused.

On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders sparks joy. He promises to provide for everyone from college students who get free tuition to construction workers earning some of the $1 trillion over 5 years he'd pay for roads and bridges  He sparks joy by offering free universal preschool and child care, $5.5 billion for a youth jobs program, mandating employers give twelve weeks' paid family and medical leave, government health care for all, and a $15 minimum wage by 2020.

 Joy! Joy! The 1% have plenty of wealth to cover it all; Bernie thinks they ought to pay their fair share. Right now, the top one percent--who are, after all, one percent of US taxpayers--pay nearly HALF the taxes collected (according to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, reported by CNBC). Why not make them pay a lot more to help so many? They have more than they need.

Sparking joy is the criterion far too many Americans seem to embrace. But as primaries and party conventions approach, our political scene needs some decluttering. Using more serious criteria than for ditching tchotchkes.

How about sparking national security? Didn't the terrorism in San Bernardino get anyone's attention? Illegal immigration was not the issue when Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik fired 150 rounds from five guns into a holiday party, killing 14 and wounding 22. Lucky their three wired pipe bombs didn't detonate.

Why isn't national security the primary issue? What good is a $15 minimum wage when shopping malls are deserted due to fear of "soft target" attacks? 

 Republicans seem transfixed by a racist-sounding threat from Hispanics dashing across the US border. Do you really think our most concerning danger is from Mexicans Trump wants to stop with a huuuuge wall? Truth is, of the 11 million estimated illegal immigrants in the US, 5.6 million are from Mexico, a drop from the 6.7 million here in 2007, when no wall was constructed. What reduced the number of illegals? Fewer economic opportunities
Bernie Sanders, sparking joy for all but the 1%
during our recession, and more serious enforcement of present laws.

We need candidate tidying-up based on focus on security, and mastery of the complicated intricacies of world politics. North Koreans test hydrogen bombs, as the murderous megalomaniac Vladimir Putin continues oppressing anyone in his imperialistic way. ISIS expands its territory in Iraq, Syria and Libya. Boco Haram, Al Qaeda and al Nusra bring parallel threats, all separate fires to extinguish. Expertise in international security should be the foremost qualification of our next president. If we're contending with encroaching terrorism, domestic pleasantries--free pre-school and college education, more family leave time--mean relatively little.

Let's clean up the presidential race and toss the candidates that spark joy in favor of those who can destroy terrorist and repressive threats. Our safety must be the first priority, and preserving the strength of our economy the second. It's not a time to replace capitalism with socialism but to bust barriers to earning more. We don't need candidates with legal and ethical problems. We don't need a wall to protect us from Mexicans--but we do need strong efforts to keep terrorists from our midst. It's great to live in an orderly 7-mat home, but most important to put our fundamental priorities for security in order.