Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Thousand Pounds of Joy

It's transfer season for the Foreign Service. For those of you who think there are only four seasons, you are correct. They are EER (employee evaluation report which is the State Department's way of making sure we all have inferiority complexes) season, transfer season, bidding (when we beg for jobs) season, and the season where you could get a lot done but everyone is taking vacation that they couldn't take during the above three seasons and then it's Christmas and then New Year's and then we're back to EERs. I'm only joking a little. I actually get a ton of work done during EER season because that's when I do everything awful that I've put off for months but would rather do than my EER. Like cleaning out my file drawers or reorganizing my paperwork by color, or working on everyone else's EERs.

But transfer season is really the worst of the four. Seriously. You're either doing the work of the 1/3 of the Foreign Service who are moving this summer in addition to your own regular duties, or you're actually moving which really is the worst. Seriously. I got so stressed about moving next year that Husband and I extended and are staying in India another year just to avoid it. OK, also because we love India, but even if we didn't really love it, we might still extend because sorting and supervising the packing probably has sucked away years from my life. Every spring, I have my annual running from a tornado dream which comes from growing up in Texas and living in Tornado Alley. Now every summer, I also have a nightmare about packing and moving in which I am trying to supervise the movers and the pile of stuff keeps getting bigger.

Every year, a bunch of helpful people give everyone else suggestions on how to reorganize their homes in time for the big move. Like you should put all your jewelry in Saran wrap (that would require a huge amount of Saran wrap for me) or you can build crates for your antiques out of the bookcase you made from the crates your stuff was shipped in and isn't it wonderful that you can just recycle the wood again? And here is their 5 page labeling system that you only need a label maker, 17 different colored dot stickers, and a degree in theoretical physics to figure out. I can just see us now: Babe, can you pass me the cerulean dots? No, not the azure ones. I said ceruuuulean!
Image result for colored dots stickers

But this year, the helpful people keep posting about Kon Mari and how they got rid of 5,000 pounds of stuff because they picked up each object they own and if it didn't "spark joy", then they threw it out. There are a few problems with this method, the first being that I happen to have a lot of stuff that is extremely useful, yet will never spark my joy. For example: tampons. Now, some people might get joy out of a huge box of super-size tampons, but they are sick, so we aren't talking about them. We are talking about me and I find nothing about tampons to be joyful, but I have three boxes of them because when you are moving to a foreign country, you buy tampons in bulk. And do not try to get rid of them or I will spark your joy right into next week!

The other problem with Kon Mari is that people who follow this method want a room that looks like this:
Image result for minimalist living room

Now, aside from all the sharp corners and the white couches which are just begging to have a toddler write all over them in pink highlighter, there a couple of other things I don't like about this room. One is that they only own two books. And another is that if you think that is the kind of furniture that the federal government purchases for the Foreign Service, then you don't know your federal government very well. What we have is more along the lines of this:

Image result for ugly floral sofa drexel heritage

Now imagine having to create a room around that and you can see that minimalist is NOT the way to go. Husband is actually a minimalist and believes that we should get rid of a lot of stuff because our home should be clean and sparkling like in the white photo above. And he complains that we have too much stuff all the time. But my style is more like this:

Image result for downton abbey library

Which now that I think about it, rather explains my strange and insistent desire to have red couches when we moved to India so that now our living room looks like this:

The blur is because I suck at taking photos with my laptop, especially when I have to duck out of the way and get the angle right AND click on the stupid icon all at the same time. Our post has this amazing slipcover program, so that's why my couch isn't the usual mustard color. But you can see that I own more than two books. I own more than two of most things because of scarcity. For example, I have two green stripey skirts. Because my green stripey skirt is my favorite and I wear it all the time, so when I saw another green stripey skirt, I bought it because someday my green stripey skirt will wear out or get a hole in it and THEN WHAT WILL I WEAR WHEN I WANT TO WEAR MY GREEN STRIPEY SKIRT AND I CAN'T?! Because being in the Foreign Service is a little like having to shop to prepare for a famine of things like good spatulas, or green stripey skirts, or elephant throw pillows, for example. When you see the Cheerios, you buy the Cheerios because next week they will not be there to buy and we had a whole year in China without Cheerios and I don't want to relive that again. So when you see a beautiful tiger vase, you should buy it, hypothetically. Or literally since now we have a tiger vase in our dining room which I bought on Saturday.

So the very best piece of advice by the Kon Mari person is that you should hold each of your possessions in your hands and ask yourself if each one sparks joy and that is the stupidest suggestion ever because OF COURSE they spark joy or I wouldn't have bought them! And also, I have so much stuff that it would take at least a month if I did nothing else but hold each sock or string of pearls or decorative dish in my hand and ask if it sparked joy. (Answer: No, but you still have to have socks. Yes, and DUH!)

I know you think all of those things in that living room couldn't possibly spark joy, but let's go through a few, shall we? That's the collected works of the Brontë sisters on the shelf which Husband gave me for my birthday after Child 1 was born because she was named for two of them. And that olive green bowl is the one I made with Child 2 when her 5th grade class went on a field trip to the celadon factory and it is filled with ammonites which we bought by the kilo in China and we still love to look at and know we're holding 100 million years of history in our hands which I'm totally not exaggerating because I googled it. Child 3 still loves to sift through them to find the baby one. The handmade bowl of ammonites is sitting on the doily of Belgian lace that I got on the best TDY ever to Brussels.

Those paintings on top of the bookcases? My grandfather bought those in Germany in 1932 and they hung in his house for years and I loved them and wanted to go there and see Rothenburg ob der Tauber in person and then Husband and I actually did. And that globe in the middle is the one we gave Husband for Father's Day one year which is inlaid with semi-precious stones and everything is spelled wrong because we got it in China which is why it sparks so much joy and giggles when we take it down and read it. And that chest on the left is called a bai fu gui (百 富 柜 ) which is literally covered in 100 different Chinese characters for the word "Fu" which means both bat and rich and apparently 98 other things. That cabinet sparks joy in me every time I see it.

So the way I see it, we can either live with the thousands of pounds of joy we have collected over the years and still enjoy them, or we can erase my memory so I don't remember why the fishbowl full of chopsticks brings me joy. Since the latter is not very desirable because nobody will ever find anything in the house ever again if I can't remember where they last put it, it will have to be the former. I'll take my thousand pounds of joy over that sterile white room any day. Gerald the giraffe which I got as change in the Congo is way better than a brownie and I'm not giving him up.

Image may contain: indoor


  1. I am with you Jennifer...the Kon Mari method doesn't work for us either. Scarcity fosters hoarding, and I am not a hoarder but we do have lots of wipes, cheerios, bisquick, peanut butter, etc. in our house. :)

  2. Nice. Now everyone can figure out my name.

    1. You have no idea how hard it is to ignore this comment.

  3. :D Your post brought me lots of joy!!!

  4. such a wonderful post regarding "A Thousand Pounds of Joy"

    MCX Tips Free Trial on Mobile