Recently, we received an email from artist Susan Dworski* from her farm on Lummi Island in the Pacific Northwest. The subject line was “when not Kondo-ing pays off(referring to decluttering guru Maria Kondo):

On Dec. 18 a young mother of three on island had put a post on Next Door Neighbor, our community forum, asking if anyone had some small lengths of cotton fabric suitable for making doll clothes in time for Christmas. She had been planning to cut up some of their old clothes to make doll dresses but wanted them to be ‘from Santa’ and not recognizable by her daughter. I invited her to cull through my boxes of odd fabrics lugged here from LA and still unopened. 
This photo arrived Christmas afternoon.
Dontcha love that smile?
Many of those materials were stored away in the cupboards in my Venice studio, for years.
Susan Dworski

Susan stored the all sorts of materials away in her Venice, California studio, and then hauled them to Lummi because she is a wildly inventive, resourceful person (check out what she did when her house burned down) and she knew that she might need them. Those materials, waiting patiently in their plastic bins, became a catalyst for unexpected delight years later.

Susan Dworski
As we were writing this, we stumbled on Jean-François Jaussaud’s photographs of legendary artist Louise Bourgeois’ home in NYC’s Chelsea neighborhood, which has been preserved much as she lived in it. We were thrilled to be able to see the abundance of unstyled detail, including phone numbers jotted onto walls, the odd, beautiful display of keys, clips, coat hanger over the mantle, piles of papers, and a stool that says We Love You. (Click on the photo at top to make bigger.) All are details of a singular life.
Jean-François Jaussaud
In New York Times’ A Look Inside the Louise Bourgeois House, Just How She Left It, we found more photographs and a fine description:

More than five years after her death, the house still feels inhabited by the woman who called it home. Dresses and coats hang in the closet. Magazines and diaries fill the bookshelves, which display the breadth of Bourgeois’s interests, including the “Joy of Cooking,” the Bhagavad Gita and J.D. Salinger’s “Nine Stories.”

A sense that at any moment Bourgeois might walk through the door is heightened by the atmosphere of bohemian dilapidation…

…A two-burner gas hotplate that fills in for a stove and an ancient television that stands next to a small metal folding chair further the impression of a home not ready to receive company. “I’m using the house,” she told a visitor, when she was in her mid-70s. “The house is not using me.”

Louise Bourgeois, artist, Chelsea; Dominique Nabokov, Courtesy Galerie Patricia Dorfmann, Paris


Sometimes we don’t choose to keep things because they “spark joy”, as Maria Kondo advises. We may keep them around for all sorts of reasons: because they remind us of something we want to remember, they comfort, they work, we don’t bother us, they offer possibilities…
*Susan Dworski has contributed many great articles to Improvised Life. Browse here. 
Jean-François Jaussaud’s photographs via Hypoallergenic

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5 replies on “When Not Kondo-ing Pays Off (Louise Bourgeois, Susan Dworski, Italo Calvino)

  1. I love this idea of a new use for an old thing. And it reminds me of an observation by Nora Ephron, a comment she attributed to her writer mother that “everything is material!” Ephron’s mother was talking about material for writing but the idea resonates for any kind of material. These are fundamental life-affirming acts of human imagination.

  2. I am a former art teacher. It seems that somehow that equates with being a hoarder. Budgets are tight and everything I would come into contact with was the possible use for a new project. Even though I recently retired, it is hard for me to part with things I find to be ‘usable’ bits of refuse. Hence I live in a messy tidy world.

  3. It reminds me of balance, so that things do not own a person, but one does not discard a thing without regard. It is also a decision whether you recycle something, or let someone else do it.

    (There are also beautiful images in Isabella Rossellinis book ‘Some of Me’.)

  4. @Lesley Simpson – that’s a lovely line (“everything is material!”), thanks for sharing 🙂

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