thank you, next: the magic of tidying up your writer’s life

I didn’t bother making any shiny new resolutions for my writing life this year. Sure, things had gotten a little out of control lately. I’d been stuck on the same plot problem (as in, I didn’t actually have one) for months. But that was okay, because I had Important Things to Do. Like check my Twitter feed.

As I scrolled along, lounging in bed past the usual time for my morning coffee run, I came across the following quote, from none other than A.A. Milne:

“Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it’s not all mixed up.”

Well, that made perfect sense. I wasn’t sure whether it was actually Winnie-the-Pooh or ol’ A.A. himself who’d said it, but clearly I needed to get organized before I could solve that pesky synopsis problem. Maybe I should clean another closet or two, in hopes of spurring a subconscious break-through. So far in the new year, though, I hadn’t made much progress on either the purging or plotting.

Besides, what I really needed to do was the first assignment for the online writing course I’d signed up for in desperation. The instructor had asked us to come up with personal mottos for our writerly lives. Ugh. That was way too hard.

Then my eye caught another Tweet: Marie Kondo, Japanese slayer of all things clutter, had proclaimed that no one should own more than 30 books, and her statement had drawn unbridled ire from all corners of the Twitterverse. I was equally outraged. Take that, Marie! You know nothing.


There was also a link to Marie’s reality-home-organization show on Netflix, which debuted earlier this month. One of the shows featured a pair of writers who had too many books and papers. I ran downstairs in my bunny slippers, hippety-hop to the TV and my husband’s massive recliner.

The first thing Marie does when she enters a cluttered home is kneel on the floor to thank the house for sheltering the owners, who sit on the couch, initially mystified. She asks them to envision the sanctuary they’d like their house to become.


As soon as the spell is broken, the owners’ apologies and guilt pour out. They have this and that and oh-yikes-THIS pile of clutter. They’re so ashamed and sorry and bewildered, and they want to do better. Marie just smiles. She doesn’t run from a challenge. She loves a challenge.


I went on a full-out Kondo binge—the TV show, not the actual decluttering part. No surprise: my favorite episode was the one about the writers. But it wasn’t about them tossing their books. It was about their finding joy. They both had different joys, as it turned out—but they helped each other find it, as Marie gently pointed them in the right direction. One of the writers seemed a lot like me. I sniffled as he chose which of his precious books and childhood writing efforts sparked the most joy above all the others. (Spoiler: Don’t worry, he keeps the writing notebook.)

As I watched each of Marie’s clients create mountains of stuff on their beds and living room floors, dragging clothes and toys and lamps from every part of the house to evaluate, I understood she was showing them how many things they owned, often completely forgotten. They couldn’t even find the objects that sparked joy and needed to be kept—because the people were stressed and tired, and the clutter was suffocating their most beloved items.

And then…I got it.


I launched myself from the recliner. Destination: dish towel drawer. I would put my faith in Marie and her methods and give this joy thing a try. But then I skidded to a stop. Would Marie rush like this? No, she would not. I took a few deep breaths, doing my best to summon serenity, and dumped all the towels onto the kitchen table. Did I really have that many St. Paddy’s Day towels? I’d never even used them. But I carefully and correctly folded each one, discarded a few, and sorted by color.


I proudly showed my husband my handiwork. “Aren’t you supposed to be writing?” he said.

“Well, yes,” I told him. “But I am, sort of. I’m working toward it.”

He rolled his eyes, and asked me please not to Konmari his sock drawer.

I agreed, and glided…oh so gracefully…toward my computer. Then I triumphantly wrote my new writing motto on a sticky note and plastered it on the screen.

Thank you, Marie. If you can love a mess, then I can, too.


Readers, what is your biggest challenge–or your biggest joy–right now? Let us know in the comments section!





35 thoughts on “thank you, next: the magic of tidying up your writer’s life

  1. Great post, Lisa. I’ve taken to writing a daily to-do list. I don’t always get everything done on the list, but it feels great to cross something off. That brings me joy. And there is nothing more healing than a good declutter. Clears the mind as well as your closet and cupboards. Good luck with the pesky plot.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I love to-do lists, too, Judy! I divide mine into “now” and “later” so I can focus better (and get less discouraged). But it’s a relief to get all the stray “I need to” stuff in one place instead of it darting from synapse to synapse (or disappearing.)

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Great post, Lisa. Definitely a good point about getting organized before writing. Sometimes it is hard to focus on writing when the things around you create stress. Now I’m going back to my pen and paper notes for my next book–using the beautiful silvery blue pen that says Lisa Q. Mathews on the side of it.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Obviously Marie doesn’t know any readers or writers if she thinks no one should own more than 30 books. I tried to read her book, which I could not finish, and would gladly give away. Unless you are in jeopardy of becoming trapped in an avalanche of old newspapers, sit down and let this fad pass.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I actually had the book already, and also set it aside (with my pile of TBR books, lol). But the TV show is a calming grabber. Subtitles, even. She always wears a white top to clean.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I just finished putting (most) of our Xmas decorations away. But I kept a few candles and the outside lights (don’t judge–even my husband hates it when I plug them in) because it is LITERALLY -5 and snowy/icy here in NH right now. So cheerful. You know, hygge and all. Xmas til April!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Bear traps, ha! Make your loved ones watch the TV show. It’s all about working together (there are a lot of people trying to do it all and their families appreciate that, but don’t realize the stress it places on one person–they think the person is okay doing it all)

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I wish I had a “Love” option rather than “like” on this one! That’s me also.But Marie would cock her head in a very slightly questioning way, then silently bat her eyelashes a few times until I saw the error in that.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Lisa, your kitchen towel drawer is an inspiration! I told my husband I was going to clean out our corner cabinet and he said, “Great. Why don’t you do that right after you finish your WIP and send it to your agent.” I’m tempted to throw away some of his socks. (And I’m so jealous of Grace. How do I not have a Lisa Q. Mathews pen?!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. OMG, this was great! I need to be on that show. Our house looks like hoarders live in it. Which one does, but I’m not saying who.

    Love your drawer! So impressive. I will never do that.

    Now, go write your joy!

    Liked by 4 people

  6. You are an inspiration, Lisa!

    Confession: I love to organize stuff. And to donate things that we don’t use!

    I totally GOT it when Monica pulled out her label-maker with such enthusiasm on FRIENDS.

    But even though I’m clutterphobic, clutter still finds its way into the house when we’re busy keeping up with the schedule and whatnot. Have to attend to that…in fact, there’s one room that needs it right now… but it’s hard to find the time for that and…oh I’m feeling overwhelmed.

    I’ll probably just close the door of that room. 😉

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Ohmygorsh! Absolutely love this!! Your Post-It note and drawer inspire me in equal measure.

    I’m terrible about clutter, but an unexpected remodel caused by a partial roof collapse forced me to thin the herd o’ stuff. Funnily enough, in the process of decluttering I found a number of things I’d been missing, including some misplaced joy. Thanks for sharing this wonderful post and reminder to unearth the important stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

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