Fri May 29, 2020

Opinion: Queen of Clean won’t save us

By Diana Matthews

Posted on: 04.14.2019 at 03:00 p.m. |

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You have heard of Japanese home organizing consultant and author Marie Kondo. Her bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has been translated into English and at least eight other languages. 

Her famous, often-repeated advice, based in part on the Shinto religion, is to keep only the belongings that “spark joy” for you and get rid of the rest. 

Kondo shows up in magazines, tv and on the Internet. The last time I was in a bookstore, she appeared to have a good start on her own aisle. Her name has become a verb, as in the title of an article I saw: “Should you Kondo your kids?”

I’m wondering what Kondo would say about the litter on Columbus County roadsides. If tidying up has a life-changing, magical effect, what does the opposite do to our collective psyche? 

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It doesn’t spark joy to live with mattresses and broken toilets on our roadsides, fast-food bags on our sidewalks and used diapers in our parking lots.

We have university psychologists studying people displaced by hurricanes Matthew and Florence to analyze the attitudes that increase or decrease resilience. Maybe they should measure the amount of trash their research subjects see as they go in and out of their neighborhoods.

My mother used to pick up a piece of litter and hold on to it until she saw a trashcan. I take after her and sometimes do the same. In my garden club I accepted leadership of the committee that organizes roadside cleanup projects.

But I confess that I haven’t organized one for over a year, and I feel overwhelmed at the thought of how much more trash there is than one club can ever pick up.

Yes, I know some of it isn’t our fault. I know Florence is to blame for a lot of the mess, since she picked up everything that wasn’t nailed down and strewed it downstream. But Florence isn’t coming back to clean up after herself, and we can’t arrest her and fine her for littering. (Don’t you wish!)

County Commissioner Charles McDowell made the following comments at a recent meeting: “I don’t know if people have become depressed because of the hurricane, but there’s more trash — even in people’s yards —than I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s the worst I’ve ever seen in this county.

“Common sense says first impressions are strong,” McDowell said. “When people go through here and see all that mess, … how in the world can we ever convince them to retire here or to invest money in a business here? We need to do a better job making our county attractive.”

If you agree with me and McDowell, tomorrow, Saturday, April 13, is your chance to be part of the solution, at least in Whiteville. The city council invites individuals and groups to a cleanup day, beginning at Vineland Station at 8 a.m. Gloves, bags and safety vests will be provided. Council member Sara Thompson proposed the event and hopes merchants will join in to improve the areas around their stores.

If we don’t take action, the problem will get worse. 

Social scientists refer to a “broken window effect” that occurs when a neighborhood is lapsing into disorder. The first broken window in an empty building is a fair predictor that more windows will get broken nearby and crime will rise in the neighborhood.

Although I still pick up the odd plastic cup, I feel litter’s demoralizing effect. I feel angry and sad that we (that includes me) have settled for living in a dump. 

That’s partly my mama’s voice nagging in my head, but it’s also my sensitivity to a real social clue — call it a broken window — showing our community’s self-esteem has declined since the floods.

What happens to someone who has feeble self-esteem or an underactive conscience to start with? Does she increase her littering? Does he feel that, “There are already a million plastic bottles floating in the swamp,” so he may as well add his rusty refrigerator and heavy-metal-loaded electronics to the mess? 

We have a lot of outside groups coming to Columbus County to help us rebuild homes since Florence — a much-needed and much-appreciated effort, especially for our elderly. I wonder what those visitors think when they see that we who live here haven’t dealt with a lot of plain old trash yet? We aren’t all elderly. 

Marie Kondo can’t help us out of this mess. 

To organize your own group’s litter sweep, in your chosen location, you go to the Department of Transportation’s maintenance office at 1194 Prison Camp Rd. and obtain bags, disposable gloves and safety vests. The phone number is 642-7597.

You and your friends gather at your chosen place and fan out to pick up the junk. In our garden club we go in pairs, and we spend the time talking as we walk. 

When done, we leave our bags for DOT employees to gather and the project leader returns our vests. If desired, you can send a report to the DOT and receive a thank-you certificate. (I wonder if Marie Kondo has some of those?)

If you can’t make it tomorrow nor organize your own sweep, you can always do what my mom did and just make the world tidier, one plastic bag or old sneaker at a time. 

It may not seem to make a difference. But, you know that fable about the guy who throws beached starfish back into the ocean, saying, “It’ll make a difference for this one”? 

Well, I think when I pick up a piece of yuck and put it into my bag, I’m going to say, “It’ll make a difference for this piece of yuck.”

I suspect I may even feel a small spark of joy.

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