Sparking Joy

Change is important but, as Danielle Bowler reminds us, it's not a neatly mapped out journey

By Danielle Bowler

I've always wanted to be the person who has a clean, crisp closet. Everything curated and beautifully laid out. A store front. A feed. (A Capricorn desire). It's partly rooted in seeking a slick, hyper-organization, general clarity and the kind of considered aesthetic that speaks to a recognizable sense of style, rather than the eclectic mix of patterns, prints, styles and colours that currently characterizes my clothing. Usually, I'm good with that difference, and a little chaos, and style myself according to my mood within its vast territory of trends. But caught in a whirlwind of change, I find myself seeking clarity and uniformity in response to the 'decision fatigue' and exhaustion of the present moment. As one of my friends often says, 'I want to Marie Kondo my entire life'.

The launch of Marie Kondo's show on Netflix, in which the Japanese tidying guru teaches her patented KonMari philosophy of tidying, was neatly designed to correspond with the start of a new year – a genius algorithmic wink to the 'new year, new me' philosophy that sees many of us make yearly resolutions to be better (whatever 'better' might mean). Many of them often spin around vows to shake vices, shift weight and gain signals of success or self-care. It can feel overwhelming, exciting and required. A sea of sought shifts.

I'm usually boss at beginning the year – meal prep, gym visits and vision boards in tow. This year, however, is different, for multiple reasons. In some ways, 2019 has arrived looking like 2018's twin, with the illusion of its difference and time spliced in two at midnight unable to perform its usual magic, and in others it's like 'girl, let's change the whole damn thing'. Imagine. When I jokingly asked whether we were all still on the 'new year, new me' tip on Instagram, someone responded that the year officially starts on the 1st of February, poking fun at what feels like an online rejection of January's regular resolutions, our inability to stick to them thus far and the idea of 'newness' all at once. I'm loving watching how we refuse to 'January' in the same way right now. As I watched MTV Wild N Out Comedian B. Simone's Instagram video where she states 'New year, same b***h', I thought 'Same, sis. Wow.'

Thinking this through, I've been trying to process my own rejection of (and inability to subscribe to) the 'newness philosophy' in 2019, amidst the larger backlash against it, in ways that make sense of our early year desires for new selves and how we carry this through in wardrobes, homes and bodies – with our multi-textured approaches.

Often it feels like we are seeking entirely new selves to the tune of Billie Eilish's 'idontwannabeyouanymore'. Faced with the sheer weight of this change, it's a daunting quest. New years remind us that change is possible, that we have dreams we want to pursue and ways we want to 'improve' ourselves and shake the past and things that hold us back. They push us to chase dreams, push boundaries and pursue possibilities. However, they are often tinged with ways we are fed idealized selves, bodies, spaces and success within societal expectations, and the way we often driven to understand this change at the beginning of the year is through immediacy (particularly in corporatized new year culture). Throw the whole self away. Success must arrive with speed, start on the first of January (or near it) and follow a steady path. For many of us though, clean breaks don't arrive with the clang of a clock at midnight – and they don't have to. Change can be slow, complex and messy.

There is a line from Hanya Yanagihara's astonishingly gorgeous novel A Little Life that speaks to this. In elegant prose, she writes that healing is not a straight line, but rather 'a mountain range of peaks and trenches'. It's similar with progress, growing up, adulting. Thinking about change/self-improvement/growth this way centres the messiness of the process, allowing us to be a lot gentler with ourselves and to understand that our lives are not simple journeys that are able to follow singular visions for the future that project perfection. We are often sold 'before and afters', with the process and work required to create change silent and stealthy, and its effect blurry. Reality is not so neat.

In a recent viral piece by Anne Helen Peterson on 'Millennial Burnout', she writes about how 'the media that surrounds us – both social and mainstream, from Marie Kondo's new Netflix show to the lifestyle influencer economy – tells us that our personal spaces should be optimised just as much as one's self and career.' She has later said that, "We have flattened our lives into to-do lists." It's an important piece, that has sparked a conversation and series of profound critical responses.

In thinking about Peterson's article in relation to 'new year, new me' philosophies, perhaps part of our present challenge with resolutions is that we can morph from thinking of ourselves human beings into becoming bodies and beings composed of series of resolutions, things that need to change and their required 'to-do lists', as these 'optimised [new] selves' – without allowing for the complicated nature of being a person. This way of thinking and being that can be ever-present, as she identifies, or particularly heightened at the start of a new year.

What I love about Kondo's tidying philosophy is that it centres on considering what sparks joy – not only as a way of cleaning and organising, but a thought process that can extend to that many other areas of our lives. It's particularly useful when considering pushing back against making resolutions based on what we believe will produce a societally-rooted 'perfection'. Through her method, tidying is broken down into sections; a methodical way of finding somewhere to start rather than an overwhelmingly immediate overhaul that new year's resolutions appear to demand (which can be helpful for some, and daunting for others).

When I look at my closet, part of me thinks 'throw the whole closet away, girl', and another part knows it's going to take time. As I found myself recently making a vision board at a friend's birthday, I realised part of my own struggle was rooted in the way I was thinking about change and clearing space – in my home, closet and life in general. Part of our dangerous dance with resolutions is caught up in the idea that we have to have it all together and figured out (particularly when everyone else seems to, online and offline – as Peterson points out), and be insulated against curveballs.

A friend recently spoke about how our accumulation of stuff is about so much more than actual items we own – as Kondo's show reveals – and I know my present struggle with my closet is indicative of larger complex challenges. In thinking about a new approach to wellness, curating my closet, change and dealing with curveballs, I'm consciously focusing on progress and pushing back against my own need for immediate results (and a whole new self). Centrally, I'm reminding myself that the important work of being human does not have to start on the first of January, each year. Change is important and we must pursue it. But it can begin anywhere, anytime, and it is not a neatly mapped out journey.

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