A Review: “Life Changing Magic” & “Absolutely Beautiful Things”

 

 

Like many others, I found the method and philosophy laid out in Marie Kondo’s book The Lifevchanging Magic of Tidying Up (which I read last year) compelling, even exhilarating. I could not sleep the night after I discarded “dead weight” clothing and organized my drawers the “KonMari” way, charged with the energy of the project.

This year, I read a very different book about interior decorating: Absolutely Beautiful Things by Anna Spiro. Two books could hardly be more different in design. The Lifechanging Magic: compact, pure text, generous white space, a softly colored cover. Absolutely Beautiful Things: coffee table dimensions, gorgeous full pages of photographs, pull-quotes and lively fonts. This difference in format reflected a difference in practice. Marie Kondo inspires many to minimalism. Anna Spiro unapologetically celebrates maximalism. Though not illustrated, The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up conjures images of muted, neutrally-toned rooms and simplicity of furnishing, perhaps with a touch of living greenery incorporated. The pictures in Absolutely Beautiful Things show layers of eclectically blending objects: vivid pink candles, stacks and shelves of mixed-size books, and piles of “divine cushions” in varying patterns of fabric. In a Marie Kondo room, you might contemplate an orchid. In an Anna Spiro room, your eye could wander through mazes of color and texture. In fact, color is a topic Spiro excels in discussing. The wonder of blue and white, light pink as a perfect background for anything, pink itself as the “navy blue of India.” When I read Anna Spiro, I think of India. When I read Marie Kondo, I think of Japan.

 

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Where the two agree however is in the basic principle: have nothing in your house, in your space, that does not spark joy. There is really nothing in Anna Spiro’s philosophy of beauty that advocates multiplying objects for multiplicity’s sake. The multiplicity is for the joy of it. And Marie Kondo herself doesn’t equate the paring she methodized with minimalism. Each person will have an individual “clicking point” at which the amount of stuff they own will feel right.


One of the deepest insights in Anna Spiro’s book is in her understanding that neutral tones and color are not enemies but rather complement each other like lovers. As I look up from my screen, lavender daisies and ferns against a stained-wood window frame with the deeper greens of late-spring woods beyond prove her point.

Beauty has many manifestations. My personal preference in furnishing is toward maximalism (especially when it comes to filling bookshelves!). But a “bright and colorful” maximalism has no more room for “dead weight” objects than the sleekest minimalism. And neutral tones and colors can live happily together, whether that means a single pink flower in a vase of pussy willows against a bare and neutral room or a riot of cushions on a sedate sofa. The KonMari principles we associate with spareness are generous enough to provide a foundation for the most cornucopian melange

The differing visions of interior beauty offered by Marie Kondo and Anna Spiro remind me of the differing literary visions of two of my favorite novelists. But that perhaps will be the topic of another post.

 

– Mrs. Aldertree

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