Feeling Helpless – My “Tidying” Regression

A while back, I did a review of Marie Kondo’s best-selling book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and wrote about my experience with using the Konmari method of tidying up. I often think about that short period of time where I felt fully satisfied with and proud of my space and the changes I’d made. I took the process very seriously and tried my best to internalize the many tidbits of advice and wisdom that Marie Kondo shared in her book. I felt like I made really important changes: I learned about how to let go of things easier and to cherish the items around me that truly “sparked joy.” I love to look at the before-and-after pictures of my bedroom and relive that time of total contentedness. It seems dramatic to believe that the simple act of tidying my bedroom is what could have caused me so much happiness, but it’s true. I felt accomplished, I felt organized, I felt in control, and free.

Since then, however, I have been living in a near-constant state of messiness, to varying degrees. It’s not what you might be thinking. I didn’t backslide (and according to Marie Kondo, she’s never had anyone backslide yet). I’ll explain.

I finished Konmari-ing my bedroom in May of last year. Just a couple months later, I moved to South Korea to teach English. It was a long-time dream of mine to do this, and of course I don’t regret it. I got a teaching job via a government program called EPIK, that recruits and places native English speakers at public schools all over South Korea, and I was lucky enough to be selected to work in Seoul, my top choice. I’ll admit, it’s quite a cushy job. The salary and vacation time are both great. The teaching hours are manageable. Housing is provided, and that alone is a major plus. Compared to some of the other English teachers I know, I have it pretty good. My apartment building is in a good location, it’s near my school, a subway station, and a major bus station, and surrounded by a decent amount of shops, cafes, and restaurants. I even have a convenience store in the lobby of my building! My apartment itself is not large, but I know some people who have even smaller apartments than I do. Most everything functions just fine and I don’t have any truly hideous features like bad floors or ugly wallpaper or anything like that. Theoretically, I should have nothing to complain or fret about.

But one thing you should know is that everything in the apartment (aside from what I’ve purchased on my own) belongs to my school, which means I’m not authorized to discard of anything. And since I’m not the first teacher to live in this apartment, everything has been…well-used. When I first moved in, I was impressed to have a full set of furniture, and I’m still grateful I have it. But as I started exploring and unpacking, I found a whole lot of things that I just didn’t know what to do with. The previous teacher left behind a lot of her personal stuff, like some toiletries and spices, etc. If I could, I would have loved to get rid of most of it. But there are two problems I faced, and in fact, am still facing. 1) I don’t know exactly which items belong to my school, and 2) I don’t know how to get rid of the things that I know are junk.

Compared to the United States, South Korea has a much more complicated system of waste disposal. It’s taken me months to figure out how to somewhat-properly sort my garbage (though I still have tons of questions and everyone I ask gives me contradictory answers). Back home, and I’m not saying it’s right, every residential home just has two large bins: garbage and recyclables. Anything you deemed to be garbage, you toss right in. Anything that can be recycled, no matter what material it was made out of, went into the recycling bin. Maybe bad for the planet, but extremely easy. Also, being an American and an English speaker, it was really easy for me to find places to donate goods or to research how to throw away unusual items. Now that I’m here in South Korea, as someone who doesn’t know the ins and outs of South Korean infrastructures, and can barely understand simple conversational Korean, the task of figuring out how to dispose of all the bulky and strange items in my apartment seems impossible.

I want nothing more than to purge my apartment of all the useless and joyless things (and trust me, there is a LOT), but I simply can’t/don’t know how to. Since I know what it feels like to complete the Konmari process, it’s a really odd form of torture to now live among all these joyless things when I know what life could be like. I’ve been growing restless, so I’m trying my best to both get rid of small things when I can, and compactly pack up and hide the rest. However, this still isn’t an ideal way of dealing with things.

There is some hope, though. My school recently granted me a budget to use for buying new things for the apartment. Usually, I think the budget is used to buy items that the apartment lacks, but I asked and was able to use it to replace existing items. Very soon, I’ll be replacing my painful old mattress, my huge (in a bad way) broken TV with something slimmer, and an over-sized china cabinet with a cabinet that’s less bulky and more storage-friendly. Hopefully I’ll be able to organize my things better after this. I’ve also been taking a closer look at the old furniture I have and  I’m trying to find ways to improve them. I’m currently in the middle of resurfacing a dressing, and I have plans to paint a small set of drawers. I’m also trying to deep clean my couch, but I if that fails I will look into getting a couch cover. I’m doing my best to make my apartment a place that makes me happy.

I’m a little ashamed to be doing so much first-world whining, but this is something that’s been plaguing me recently, and I felt the need to get it out.

I think it’s time for me to reread Marie Kondo’s book, and to purchase her companion guide, Spark Joy, and see if I can find some advice that can help me in my peculiar situation. And if anyone has advice, I’ll gladly take it. If you are able to fully take control of the space you live in, I urge you to not take it for granted and to do whatever you have to to make that space a joy-filled one! Konmari that place like there’s no tomorrow!

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