Closer to Home
Decade N° 5: A Not-so-Average Blog on Middle Age
Finding My Way Back to a Significant Place.
By Carrie McConkey
My Sister in Curls and fashion informant Laura Cope recommended I watch the movie Halston on Amazon Prime a couple of years ago. In doing so, she unwittingly sparked my love affair with Roy Halston Frowick, the iconic fashion designer who was in his heyday when I was in the single-digit age bracket.
Discovering his mastery of pattern design and marketing, I not only bought the movie and invested in a thick coffee-table book written by his devoted niece, Lesley Frowick, who also served as Executive Producer for the film, I went so far as to begin collecting jewelry designed for Halston by Elsa Peretti (still sold by Tiffany 50 years later), and, finally, purchased an orchid, his favorite flower, that sits on my writing desk.
So, when Laura texted me on a Friday night with the news that Netflix had released a new miniseries on the fashion icon, I couldn’t get to my computer fast enough to register. For years, I had been fending off the streaming service which was always buzzing in and out of my consciousness due to my friends’ persuasive tales of their favorite shows. This time, however, being roped into yet another monthly subscription was not a choice, it was a duty.
It turns out that the series was a turnoff… I had studied the man too much to be able to lose myself in the sped-up, five-episode version of Halston’s more than three decades of influence on the fashion world — even with Ewan McGregor, whom I adore, in the starring role.
Sitting unfulfilled on the weekend’s eve and staring at the Netflix home screen, I remembered one of their recently produced reality shows that had put me as near to temptation as that of the 70s designer: Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.
When I’d read Marie’s bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up five years before, I’d felt impressed by her philosophies and intrigued at how she seemed to be Sanrio’s Hello Kitty come-to-life. I also immediately became a follower.
Marie’s “KonMari Method” called for gathering like items in your home and taking a hard look at what you had (which, in most cases, was way more than you’d ever need), then, going through each item, one by one, determining whether or not it “sparks joy”.
At the time, this method of organizing translated perfectly into my small business as a fashion consultant. As I disappeared weekly into my clients’ closets and attempted to help them purge years’ worth of accumulated clothing, I was grateful to Marie for her simple yet powerful guidance. And, I, of course, began following Marie’s advice to fold my own items into neat rectangles, and thank my shirts and shoes before carefully placing them into the KARM donation bag.
The KonMari method goes far beyond clothing, however, and the Netflix series highlighted every room as she helped families tackle her other categories of books, paper, miscellany, and mementos (always in this order to allow your spark-o-meter to become more sophisticated).
And as I watched the organizational guru bring her book to life, I felt moved in ways I didn’t expect.
First, I was consoled to find I wasn’t the only one who struggled with clutter throughout my home. (Just one embarrassing example: in the corner of our master bedroom lives a teetering stack of blankets, bedspreads, and pillows which, terribly enough, are heaped upon what is supposed to be a quilt rack but instead has become a weird type of shelf. And, even more terribly, these linens haven’t served their purpose in making the bed for over 20 years.)
But on my television screen I watched as a writer labored over stacks of papers in the form of school assignments, greeting cards, and childhood stories written on looseleaf paper. In another episode, a young mother couldn’t explain why she was constantly overwhelmed by the family’s laundry — even after hiring an individual to help. On a different show, a baby boomer couple lived with the husband’s thousands of baseball cards collected through the years with his children, boxed in stacks nearly to the ceiling and taking up a sizable portion of their bedroom. As I watched, my guilt about my own home’s Leaning Tower of Bedding subsided.
I began pondering my own clutter, and that of my new TV friends. How did we get here? According to Marie, the reasons go deeper than we think. The way we relate to our possessions not only stems from our past, but is a reflection of our current mindset. In every case, as people’s lives busily move through transitions — new house, new marriage, new baby, empty nesting, and loss — the individuals experiencing the changes have had a difficult time keeping up.
I thought back to the early years of living in our 50s rancher home, and the excitement I’d felt as we’d furnished the rooms. Fresh from earning my Interior Design degree, I sewed pillows and window treatments, and had even created a reproduction of the fantastic bedspread and shams from our honeymoon suite at Club Med in the Bahamas.
John began to share my love of antiquing, and we gradually filled the house with pictures, furniture, and tchotchkes: a grouping of round and rectangular mirrors in the living room that reflected light from a picture window; a matching set of Gould hummingbird prints in the bedroom; a variety of collectibles in the kitchen, all in romantic pastel shades softly faded with age. What had happened in the years since?
I thought about how steadfast our house had been and how little I’d appreciated it. We’d never had an expensive and unexpected emergency; any home repairs were of our own choice. In the winter, our sunny and level lot allowed us to escape after a big snow. And even the house’s original refrigerator, which always garners compliments on its faux wood-paneling, was still keeping our food cold after 28 years.
I analyzed what transitions John and I had made during our marriage. We’d never had children, and never moved to a different house, but for the past 18 years after reluctantly ending my small home-based business as a bridal gown designer, my career had been in a constant state of upheaval. I tried job after job, every few years — non-profit, corporate, higher education, without finding the right fit. I would laughingly say that while I’d been very lucky in love, I couldn’t seem to land a long-term vocational relationship.
As I went through the constant cycle of job searching, interviewing, and onboarding, my commute, responsibilities, and wardrobe were always changing. I was barely able to keep up with basic housekeeping, much less make time to design, decorate, or declutter.
But in 2020, after years of being a working nomad, there was a sign of hope. The pandemic, which I roundly loathed, ended up providing a blessing as monumental in scope as the virus: it led me to my dream job of being a writer. My days have gradually become more peaceful, predictable, and stable. And watching Marie, I knew the time was right to turn my attention back to my surroundings.
My favorite part of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo comes after Marie has met the family, toured the rooms, and heard stories of material possessions and how they came to be. She then announces that she will introduce herself to the abode, and while she does so, asks the owners to envision their home’s future.
Marie then carefully chooses the right spot and kneels, her diminutive 4’7” frame forming the perfect Japanese silhouette of stillness and honor. Hands folded in her lap and head bowed, she closes her eyes, and the group silently gives homage to the dwelling.
After watching the final episode, I knelt alone in our living room. I thought about how young I was when I moved into the house, which John had purchased just months before our engagement. I was a bride of 22, and barely felt qualified to even own a home of my own.
Now, over half a lifetime later, I reflected upon the modest but sweet life John and I have shared in this sturdy midcentury home. I thanked it, and promised that I would once again embrace it, enhancing it for its benefit and ours.
Just a week or two later, John and I stumbled upon a darling antique store. We hadn’t shopped for vintage pieces for many years, but quickly got lost in the imaginings of this piece or that in our home, and felt the adrenalin rush knowing if we didn’t purchase an item that day, it may never be seen again.
We experienced the creative escape and delight in envisioning, as Marie says, taking a possession into our future with us. And I felt a spark of joy as I saw a piece: an antique maple writing desk. I bought it.
A much different size than my current, hastily-purchased Wayfair table, it may take a bit of ingenuity in fitting today’s work supplies to a piece of furniture from years’ past.
But, there’s plenty of room on top for my Halston orchid.