The Next Chapter

Brian Francis on the joy of decluttering vs. the art of messiness

Columnist Brian Francis tests two books with very different views on how tidy you should keep your house.
The Next Chapter columnist Brian Francis has tested both strategies.
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Brian Francis is the author of Fruit and Natural Order. In his capacity as a The Next Chapter columnist, he's tested out weight loss books, resurrected oddball pastimes and rated just how helpful some self-help books really are. In this segment, Francis puts two competing philosophies to the test — is there really joy in tidying up, or will he side with the competing title that celebrates the pleasure of messiness?

Decluttering for peace of mind

The idea of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is that you're tidying up, but not in the sense that you're putting stuff away. Marie Kondo's whole thing is that you get rid of it, and there's a process through elimination. You start with your clothing, and you start by taking every piece of clothing that you own and putting it in one room. When I did this and dumped everything in the living room, I was embarrassed by how much stuff I had. It really does provide you of a sense of perspective on how much stuff you have. And then you look at every item, and touch every item, and get rid of anything that doesn't "spark joy" in you. So that's the first phase, and it took me an entire weekend. 

Brian found several items in his home that he was sure Shelagh would like, including an authentic Tim Hortons pie plate.

The opposite of tidy

The Joy of Leaving Your Sh*t All Over the Place was written by a Canadian named Jennifer McCartney, who now lives in Brooklyn and has written for magazines like The Atlantic and VICE. She says the tidying-up craze is stupidity — you are born messy and you die messy so you might as well just suck it up and be messy for your entire life, because tidying up is not a normal way of life. She says you should be proud of your messiness because it's a sign of a creative mind. Being neat and tidy limits you, and living in chaos frees up your mind and your creativity to go places that it wouldn't normally go.

"Please do not pass judgment on me," said Brian Francis when he agreed to share photos from his decluttering process. (Brian Francis)

Which philosophy worked the best?

Marie Kondo's approach has a way of getting under your skin. I feel in control of my life in some ways that I never did before. It challenges you to evaluate your life in a way. She talks about how a lot of us are holding on to things, keeping our possessions around us, for fear of letting them go. For me, there were things in my life that I was holding on to, and I wondered why. So I got rid of those things, and it felt very freeing. It's about embracing your life in the present. 

Brian Francis's comments have been edited and condensed.