Tidying Up: The Activist Edition

Or: Things I Found While Marie Kondo-ing my house And What They Taught Me.

I try hard to not be a bandwagon jumper, I really do. Whenever some new craze sweeps our nation, I am almost always stubbornly cynical, refusing to participate so I can maintain my position of standing out from the crowd. I’ve been like that since I was very young. When my fellow pupils were all putting bottle tops on their boots when Bros came onto the scene, I abstained, declaring them to be ‘plastic’, my smug 8 year old face never dreaming that 30 years later I would be sat in my pants transfixed watching the ‘After The Screaming Stops’ documentary trying to figure out what spirit realm Matt Goss comes from.

Then, this Christmas, I got ill. Really ill. You too? Yeah, we’ve all had it I think and so you’ll know what a bastard it has been to shift. What started off as a normal cold turned me into Slimer from Ghostbusters if he’d looked a bit more disgusting and listened to The Smiths. I’ve had steroids, antibiotics and had an inhaler attached to me like a hookah pipe for a month. I’d never heard of Marie Kondo, ever. Then her name came up in a group chat with some friends with a mention that she had a show called Tidying Up on Netflix. Not really being able to move from the sofa anyway, I decided to give it ago so that I could snort in derision at how twee it was. I watched the entire series in a day and a half. Begrudgingly, I loved it. Then all of a sudden, she was everywhere.

If you are not familiar with Marie Kondo, though I’d be surprised if you hadn’t heard of her by now, she’s an organising consultant who has written books and methods of how to declutter our homes. Tidying Up has been somewhat of a surprise hit here in the UK.  Thanks to her, you will now not be able to find a tiny box or basket in the whole of the land as thousands of us have rushed out and gathered them so we can store all of the t-shirts that we fold to the size of postage stamps now, smiling smugly as we do it.

 With the popularity of Marie Kondo, has also come criticism of her. The main one was the misconception that she has told people not to have more than thirty books.  Bibliophiles everywhere lost their shit over a statement that had much lost in translation. The thirty book rule is a personal preference of hers, based on her upbringing in Japan where the humidity means that having a lot of books will only leave them severely damaged and unable to open. She also faced some criticism about gender and the unfair distribution of work in the home, which may be true in society as a whole, however the families featured on the show were fairly diverse and can’t say that one 34 year old woman is responsible for the imbalance of unpaid domestic labour. 

I don’t look like the type of person who would be a convert of hers to be fair, cobwebs are incredibly goth after all, and I’ve never taken any joy in housework, seeing it more as a thankless but necessary task. For a long time also, I never had a fraction of the amount of possessions to constitute clutter. At one point everything I owned fit in two small bags, having lived a fairly transient lifestyle in my late teens till my twenties. Probably in my circles, being a fan of Kondo and her method isn’t considered very cool. I literally spent Saturday night folding tea towels and tucking them into a little basket. It might be pretty, but it ain’t punk and I’m gearing myself for a bit of piss-taking and accusations of selling out. This doesn’t concern me as such, as the way I see it, all I did was make my life lighter and easier. It was something I have needed for a long time and I reject the idea that we are the scummy, scruffy riffraff we are portrayed as, some of the squats I have stayed in being the cleanest most organised buildings I have had the pleasure to reside in, dispelling the myth that without authority all would fall apart. But after watching the show it’s also safe to say that the kind of items I found in my home wasn’t typical of the families on Kondo’s programme. Below are samples of the clutter and the treasure that I unearthed, which taught me more about myself than I was expecting.

Dead people’s hair– There are several collections of this, all in little grey velvet pouches and none with names on, so determining whose hair you are holding is tricky at times. Keeping little locks of hair after someone passes is something my family have always done, and I was in my teens before I realised that this is not usual practice in the families of everyone I know. It became apparent when a mate of mine asked what was in the pouch of my dressing table and when informed it was hair belonging to an absent relative, she had slowly backed away. Her family don’t keep hair. I asked around. No one else’s did either. I refuse to believe it’s just us though. Someone makes these pouches for this purpose, so there must be a demand. Please get in touch and tell me all about your familial hair collections. I don’t want to have to go back into therapy.

An Anarchist  sex zine– This delighted my cold, dead heart, not least because of the pangs of nostalgia over the fact that no-one makes zines anymore, thanks to the internet being able to reach much larger audiences and the fact that every dickhead with an opinion  has a blog these days… making a zine entailed literally copying and pasting articles, poems, pictures (typed or handwritten)- whatever your zine was about- onto paper, making it look like a cross between a scrapbook and a magazine, then photocopying all pages as many times as needed, taking care to get them in the right order if your zine had one. I never had the patience to make them myself but they were a valuable source of information away from mainstream media in the days before the internet. I’d get them from gigs, meetings, squat parties, anywhere I could eager to learn about sexual politics or how best to d-lock myself to a building. If it all goes tits up after Brexit and we end up living in some isolated backwards enclave, we’ll find a way to communicate and organise still. There’ll just be less memes.

Mr T-Doll– Give me a break okay, I barely even remembering ordering this thing. eBay was pretty new in this country, and following a very messy night with some friends where we’d been on a nostalgia trip talking about childhood toys that we loved, I vocalised a lament for the loss of my Mr T doll that I’d had as a child. A few clicks and a fast lesson on being wrecked in charge of a computer later, this arrived a few days later. I’d forgotten all about it and it took a while to figure out why I was holding what looked like a tiny Mr Motivator. Us activists always like to think we are not susceptible to consumer culture, but his very presence proves otherwise in my case and he is currently stood on my bookcase as a reminder not to be seduced by impulse buys and also that the A Team never went out to buy a tank if they needed one. They just built one out of a dropped box of safety pins they found  on the floor.

Lots of mix tapes–  There are literally teenagers who have no idea what these are. I remember seeing something on twitter recently where someone’s kid had found an old Lynyrd Skynyrd tape in the creek and had asked if it was from the civil war. They will never know the pain of a snapped cassette tape caused by constant rewinding to a favourite song. They will never know the labour of love and anxiety that went in to making one for someone else. Most in my collection were made by my best friend who would send me them as gifts after I moved away to help me still feel connected to them. I didn’t own a lot of music at the time either, so each one was like manna from heaven, packed full of memories and in jokes in the form of punk, grunge, nu metal and indie. They still play too, but certainly make me realise how fast time and technology moves.

Class War stickers and other political curios– During any archaeological excavation of my youth, there was always going to be a box full of reminders to my political activity, mainly flyers for fundraisers, arrest cards which we carried in case we got nicked and of course some class war stickers which were always good for a laugh and outraging the masses. Twenty years of it has left jaded and disillusioned with left wing political movements than I used to be. You can see the beginnings of this in a furiously typed rant created on my typewriter with a ribbon on it that was probably older than I was. I thought I’d fallen out of love with anarchism, but realised years later that this  wasn’t the case when I stopped thinking of her less as ideology and more how I chose to be.  What I had really fallen out with was never ending, solution-less debates. Of in-fighting and egos and usually more rules, agendas and strategies than a game of Risk. Anarchy is the flowers that grow in the cracks that with nurture and light will bring down the whole building. It is already everywhere, in nature and communities and in people that will never ever call themselves an anarchist, which is more beautiful than I could ever have hoped for. I’m still in no shortage of things to be furious about but the stickers, along with the zines reminded me that although my knowledge has grown and politics have evolved a bit over the last few years,  my core principles have stayed more or less the same.

Terrible teenage poetry– When you use the KonMari method, you save the sentimental items till last, the idea being that by this stage you are more attuned to yourself to better decide what you feel you need to keep and what you are truly ready to let go of. Whilst going through the process, I always knew there was a large box under the stairs I knew was waiting for me, ready to make my toes curl all the way up with the sheer cringe of what I knew I would be sifting through. I wrote a lot of poetry when I was younger. I have written precisely one in the last ten years, much preferring sticking to prose nowadays. Now Im not saying that 15 year olds can’t be good poets. I’ve worked in arts based programmes with young people and there are some amazing teenage writers out there. I’m just saying that I maybe wasn’t one of them. But their credibility was never they reason they were made, because they were never for public viewing. Very few other people have seen them. They are in a box stating that only my best mate is allowed to open it in the event of my death. Much Iike keeping a diary, it was my only outlet to vent the horror of adolescence at one point. Something to tell secrets to that could be locked away and hidden afterwards. If it wasn’t for this, I wouldn’t still be writing now and I have always found solace in it. It’s easy for us to be down on ourselves about the things we create. Think about what it is you do. Do you draw, knit, dance, cook or code? Do you sing, but only when everyone is out the house and you know the neighbours are on holiday? I’m guessing you don’t do it for public recognition, however nice it is to receive sometimes. You do it because something inside drives you to and satisfies a part of you that you can’t even describe. Whatever you and your muses like to do, be that embroidery, playing the harp or computer hacking, we can be sure that there is an art for all of us and you must endeavour to discover which one will choose you.

My last psych report– This was something I involuntarily took a sharp intake of breath when I realised what it was, dropping it like a horcrux, convinced  my hand would become withered and black like Dumbledore’s from having touched it, never able to rid myself of its curse. It was written following…. While not the worst, certainly one of the weirdest periods of my life, when I finally realised that the past will catch you up as you walk faster and decided to get proper help and literally face my demons. The report was written at the end of my three year engagement with an NHS mental health service. It is strange reading a short biography of your life and the events that lead up to you becoming involved in such a service, along with details of what has occurred since then, written by someone else. I’d expected to find it deeply unnerving and upsetting, when in fact, the opposite was true. What I learned was that I’ve come a long way. Sometimes, on bad days, it’s easy to convince yourself that things will never get better. What reading this taught me is that it already has and that my circumstances, support networks and coping strategies are a thousand times improved from the dark days. Our NHS is massively under threat right now and I’m very aware how lucky I was to receive the quality of care that I did, and less and less people are getting access to this now. Mental health and addiction services are stretched way beyond full capacity, meaning people are in support for less and are usually much further down the road of self destruction than they should be before they get to the top of the waiting list. We fought to receive this and need to protect it with the same energy before we become hostages to health-insurance companies.

Documents revealing my ownership of an unknown quantity of camels in Somalia– These belonged to my grandfather and appear to be legal documents made when he left there. In what must have been his early twenties. My granda never liked to talk much about his life in Somalia, stating England was his home now and he wanted to leave it behind hm. I respected this, but was always desperate for stories, so when I was given a box of some of his belongings after he died I was ecstatic to have some glimpses into his earlier life. There’s some old passports and papers relating to his travels with the merchant navy. I was touched to see he’d kept almost every card I sent him from being small, always worrying that he was maybe secretly disappointed I never became the good Muslim girl he hoped for after a failed attempt to spark an interest in Islam in me. It wasn’t his fault. I think he’d heard I’d started wearing black veils and didn’t know what goths were, and our relationship remained as good as ever after I politely rejected it. I don’t have much to remind me of him; a few photos, this box of treasure and a recipe for ‘Somali soup’ which was our name for the weapons grade curry he used to make. I have a jar of homemade xawaash (a Somali spice mix) which smells so much like his kitchen that it makes me cry happy tears when I open it. But back to camels. It’s unclear how many camels  there were. I don’t know what a normal amount of camels is, and certainly he was never a rich man so I can’t imagine we are talking a huge number here. The documents stipulates that the camels are divided up between his own clan and ally clans and that some are to be cared for and given to descendants when they come of age. Even though camels can live an incredible 40-50 years, given the date on the document, it is unlikely that any of those camels are still around. Still I am hopeful that a legal clause means I will be able to claim any offspring of those camels and am converting the garage into a stable as we speak.

It took over a week for me to complete everything and go through the house as much as I can. There is still a little bit more that could be done, but doing this has given me more than just space back. My home is back to being the haven it used to be. My thoughts are usually disordered and utter chaos, the inside of my head looking like an Atari Teenage Riot song. Having a house that doesn’t mirror this makes life easier and I am rediscovering the non-material items that spark joy in my life. I am writing again for a start. For someone who is easily distracted, having a house full of stimuli is never going to be conducive to a creative process. I’m spending much longer cooking again with music on loud and eating better as a result. My neighbours are now welcoming the return of the days where they have to listen to me belting out strange mixtures of anarcho-punk and show tunes while baking pies. Because believe it or not, it was that activity that instigated this blog. Punkfoodbandita was meant to be about DIY food on a low budget and food politics, but a cluttered kitchen in need of repair meant I’ve been spending as little time in there as possible over the last two years, meaning you’ve all been subjected to my politico soapbox rantings ever since. But screw it, there’s lots of bloggers doing that other stuff much better than I would, so this is what  you’re stuck with.

Overall I’ve learned that I have everything I need and demonstrate much more gratitude for that. My 14 bags of donations to give to the charity shop were a stark message that I am as susceptible to consumerism as anyone.  Instead of buying more stuff, I’m remembering what I already have and using it. If something I really like or need is broken, I’ll have it repaired rather than “get a new one because they are cheap”. One of my resolutions this year was to not buy any new clothes, due to the impact on the environment and the realisation that I simply don’t need them.  If there is something I really require this year, I’ll hit the charity shops first…. And thanks to Marie Kondo, they are all jammed packed with the really good shit at the moment. 

This is playing a lot in my kitchen at the moment, I hope you like it too. Punks With Clean Kitchens by Evan Greer



Author: punkfoodbandita

Writer and moss enthusiast

2 thoughts on “Tidying Up: The Activist Edition”

    1. Haha, cheers man. I didn’t worry it was morally reprehensible- the practice has brought a great deal of comfort to family members of mine. It was more that it didn’t seem to be nearly as common a practice as I’d always believed. Your reassurance is much appreciated though friend!


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