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A Japanese decluttering expert’s guide to the White Sox rebuild

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A prolonged purging period is new and scary, but some people swear by it

The White Sox will embark on a rebuilding season today, at least if the weather allows. Such a situation is not entirely new on the South Side, because this is the second attempt at a rebuild in five years.

The difference this time: The White Sox have yet to hit bottom. In fact, they’re in the process of seeking it out.

In 2013, the giant step back caught everybody off guard. They weren’t supposed to be a 99-loss team, but it happened. By the time the conscious rebuilding started, the worst was already behind them. They traded Jake Peavy for Avisail Garcia and Frankie Montas, and they acquired other young players with plenty of service time ahead (Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton). There’d be growing pains in 2014, and the White Sox weren’t going to spend until they could see the payoff, but the arrow pointed up.

Then they jumped the gun a year early, trading farm depth for a one-shot pitcher and investing too much in decline phases, leaving them without the resources to spend or trade past their pro scouting failures. Throw in an overmatched manager and building frustration, and now they’re back to where they started.

This rebuild should be different, because it has started different. Trading Chris Sale and Adam Eaton for prospects signals sweeping change. The change has stalled there, but I’m assuming the delay is due to market forces instead of mindset, because this rebuild needs commitment. It needs single-mindedness.

It might need Marie Kondo.

I’d only become aware of Kondo because her book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” had been sitting high among the non-fiction bestsellers at my favorite local bookstore for more than a year, while other titles came and went. Self-help books usually don’t have that kind of literal shelf life. I could only see it entrenched over the course of so many visits before I had to investigate the apparent popularity of her method, and I drew two conclusions:

  1. It’s simultaneously too severe and precious for me.
  2. I can respect the severity.

The “KonMari method” involves rounding up all your possessions by category, throwing them on the floor, and then picking them up item by item and seeing if they “spark joy.” It’s unapologetic, it’s methodical, it can take more than six months. She is very adamant about the tangible connection with things, so much so that she thanks her clothes for service before putting them away.

She loses me there. On the other hand, she admits she’s kind of a lunatic, and I can see the value of purging your possessions (she calls it “discarding”) to where storage becomes the end, rather than the means to it.

Going further down the rabbit hole of the organizational world, she drives a lot of people nuts. They don’t like the word “tidying.” They don’t like the phrase “spark joy.” They don’t like her rejection of other methods. The scorn she draws from counterparts could make a great “Best in Show”-style mockumentary, and it made me more sympathetic to her cause. I can appreciate people who write in a strong, clear and direct voice — even if it’s not my style — as long as they cede that it won’t work for everybody.

Which it doesn’t. But it seems like it could work for the White Sox.

After all, the White Sox got trapped in a dead end by their own clutter. They undermined their previous attempt at restoring order, undone by poor acquisitions and an inability to let go. They sure as hell didn’t spark a lot of joy. Another series of half-measures would’ve likely led to the same outcome, so Rick Hahn decided on a more drastic course toward discarding.

This being the case, I read both of Kondo’s books — “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and “Spark Joy” — to figure out how the front office and fans alike should approach this period. Don’t worry, I borrowed the books from the library, lest I add to my clutter.

She doesn’t mention baseball in either work once, which seems like a grave miscalculation. Nevertheless, I think I found 10 lessons that apply to what lies ahead.

No. 1: Eyes on the prize.

Have you started your tidying marathon only to find yourself numbly in the middle of your room with no end in sight? Don’t worry. Almost everyone experiences this feeling in the beginning.

Occasionally, one of my clients or students will exclaim, ‘KonMari, I feel like quitting. I just got started on my clothes, but it’s taking forever.’ Anxiety arises from not being able to see the whole picture.

The more you do it, the closer you get to a house full of joy.

Therefore, nothing could be more wasteful than to give up in the middle.

There are a ton of other passages that underscore this point, but I’ll limit it to one more:

There are only two tasks involved — discarding and where to keep things. Just two, but discarding must come first. Be sure to completely finish the first task before starting the next. Do not even think of putting your things away until you have finished the process of discarding. Failure to follow this order is one reason many people never make permanent progress.

Interpretation: The White Sox need to finish their talent pipeline this time before they start trading some of it.

No. 2: Commitment bordering on religious fervor.

The “god of tidying” never abandons anyone, even those who don’t believe in themselves. But first, you have to decide to start. We can only transform our lives if we sincerely want to. And when we finish, the “god of tidying” is sure to reward us.

Interpretation: This is what weirds some people out, and one can justify the process too far (see the Philadelphia 76ers and their endless cycle of losing). For the time being, everybody has to believe that there’s better living than a 78-win purgatory.

No. 3: Don’t cheer losses.

If I had been a little smarter, I would have realized before I became so neurotic that focusing solely on throwing things away can only bring unhappiness. Why? Because we should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.

Interpretation: It’s probably healthier if you focus on individual developments and the moments that signify meaningful progress. Losses (and draft position) will be a natural byproduct.

No. 4: Take care of what you have.

There are only two choices: keep it or chuck it. And if you’re going to keep it, make sure to take care of it.

Interpretation: Don’t make Jose Quintana throw 115 pitches.

No. 5: Acknowledge the players being dealt.

If, for example, you have some clothes that you bought but never wear, examine them one at a time. ... If you no longer buy clothes of the same style or color, it has fulfulled another important function — it has taught you what doesn’t suit you. In fact, that particular article of clothing has already completed its role in your life, and you are free to say, “Thank you for giving me joy when I bought you,” or “Thank you for teaching me what doesn’t suit me,” and let it go.

Interpretation: This is healthier to say to players than clothes, in my opinion (as long as you don’t say “bought you,” because they’re not chattel).

No. 6: Remember the order of things.

When you are choosing what to keep, ask your heart; when you are choosing where to store something, ask your house.

Interpretation: Take the best player available right now.

No. 7: Good decisions beget good decisions.

The lives of those who tidy thoroughly and completely, in a single shot, are without exception dramatically altered. [...] One of the magical effects of tidying is confidence in your decision-making capacity. Tidying means taking each item in your hand, asking yourself whether it sparks joy, and deciding on this basis whether or not to keep it. By repeating this process hundreds and thousands of times, we naturally hone our decision-making skills. People who lack confidence in their judgment lack confidence in themselves. I, too, once lacked confidence. What saved me was tidying.

Interpretation: Front offices look smarter when they have enough prospects to overcome individual failures. Hinging a rebuild on a single prospect — Gordon Beckham or Avisail Garcia — sets off a chain of reactionary measures to compensate, and desperation can mount.

No. 8: Reconsider the name of the ballpark.

One theme underlying my method of tidying is transforming the home into a sacred space, a power spot filled with pure energy.

“A Power Spot Filled With Pure Energy” is way better than Guaranteed Rate Field.

No. 9: Wear appropriate attire.

I don’t wear seats or work clothes when I tidy. Instead, I usually wear a dress and blazer. Although I occasionally don an apron, my priority is on design over practicality. Some clients are surprised and worry I might ruin my cltohes, but I have no trouble moving furniture, climbing onto kitchen counters and doing other active work involved in tidying while dressed up. This is my way of showing respect for the house and its contents. I believe that tidying is a celebration, a special send-off for those things that will be departing from the house, and therefore I dress accordingly.

Interpretation: A celebration or a funeral. Six of one, half-dozen the other.

No. 10: Pain is fear leaving the body.

When we discard everything in one go, which sometimes means disposing of forty garbage bags of stuff in one day, our bodies may respond in a way that resembles a short fast. We may get a bout of diarrhea or break out in pimples. There is nothing wrong with this.

Intrepretation: That could either be the emotional upheaval of active, strenuous renewal or the 16-inch brisket grilled cheese. Either one sounds worth the risk.

The testimonial

“Then, just the other day, I reached the end. I feel like I’ve been reborn. Wherever I look, all I see are things that spark joy. I feel a tenderness for everything in my life and am just so thankful!”

Interpretation: GD Cubs fans.

Happy Opening Day, everybody. Let’s spark some joy, because if we don’t, who will?