“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said. ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”
– Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
My sister Mary asked for advice about moving into a smaller house since I’ve moved so many times. The story of Anne Lamott’s father telling his son to take it bird by bird came to mind.
I also suggested she read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. In full disclosure I admit I’m not the tidiest person. Things tend to explode on my desk, in the kitchen and my closet. I do my best to be a minimalist so these explosions are containable. I’ve used Marie’s method to simplify even more this summer:
“The best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one’s hand and ask: “Does this spark joy?” If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it. This is not only the simplest but also the most accurate yardstick by which to judge.”
Last month I took books down from the shelf to read a few pages. I thought of Marie’s advice that we should choose what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of. If the book sparked joy, inspiration, or knowledge I kept it. If not, I put it in the giveaway pile. If I get a new book I must make space for it on the bookshelf by giving away another book. This has stopped all new book buying for now, since I want to keep every book on my shelf.
I’ve been applying these techniques to my life also. What parts of my life do I want to keep, and what parts do I want to discard? What sparks the most joy? In order to decide, I take it bird by bird.