The Not-so-Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

My best friend Nora sparked joy in a way that Marie Kondo never could

Julia Sherman
Sep 13, 2016 · 6 min read
A photo of two photo scrapbooks on a table with some polaroids on the side.
A photo of two photo scrapbooks on a table with some polaroids on the side.
Photo: Tetra Images/Getty Images


My best friend is dying.

When I say “best friend,” it never feels like the right word to describe my relationship with Nora. In so many ways, we were extensions of each other. Born on different days but just hours apart. One in the same though always on different paths in life. Brought together with seemingly no rhyme or reason or roommate preferences survey by the NYU housing gods. I loved her like a sister, but almost more because there were no genetic requirements that insisted that I love her. She was my writing partner, my business partner, my life partner, my partner in crime, both petty and fashion. We were supposed to grow old together and retire to the 420-friendly cruise line we were going to start together and have proper burials at sea together.

But now Nora is dying because of a brain tumor. A brain tumor she never even got the chance to treat because her brain hemorrhaged two days ago and has left her with no brain activity and on life support. A brain tumor that we all maybe knew might kill her, but years and years from now — not this week. A brain tumor that we tried but failed to use to get out of having to wait for a table at breakfast last Monday morning. If only the hostess had known that Nora wasn’t joking when she said she didn’t have much time left. If only we had all known.


Seventeen months ago, I decided it was time to pack up my life in New York and move to L.A. This was a move I had been wanting to make for a long time, and the right career opportunity presented itself just as my lease was going up on my apartment in Brooklyn. This also meant that for the first time in my adult life, I would be embarking on an adventure without Nora.

I was faced with the choice to either purge myself of all the shit I had accumulated over my eight years in NYC and start fresh in a new city, or shove everything I owned into yet another tiny, overpriced apartment. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that purging everything seemed appealing. It was also right around this time that Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up had just about every woman I knew full of joy from folding their socks — it didn’t take long until I too was a KonMari devotee. I was a purging machine. Notebooks from college lectures? Not much joy-sparking there. Costumes from sketches we had shot years ago? Thank you for serving your purpose but get out of my closet. Stacks and stacks of cards and notes from friends and family? Hold it, read it, and then toss it. I was a woman high on the purge and sent on a mission by Marie Kondo — if I could get rid of all the clutter that wasn’t sparking joy in my life right now, then my life would change for the better and I’d be guaranteed nothing but great success in everything I did. It was foolproof. I arrived in L.A. with two suitcases and eight boxes and no clutter and a dream and my cardigan.


Here’s a sentence that I never imagined I’d have to write: My best friend just died.

Between when I started writing this an hour ago and just now, my best friend died. She was surrounded by her family and it was peaceful and she felt no pain.

It’s incredible how, in just the shortest amount of time, your entire world can flip upside down and never be quite the same.


Early Saturday morning, I got a phone call warning me that Nora didn’t have much time left. I spent the rest of the day collapsing in just about every corner of my apartment, alternating between sobbing and heavy sighs and yelling “WELL THIS FUCKING SUCKS.” Friends and family took turns coming over to watch this scene, while filling me up with wine and ice cream and love.

Around 8 p.m., I found myself with a window of alone time. I quickly got to work, bringing out the pretty pink Ikea hat boxes I had labeled “mementos.” I pulled out everything that was Nora related — photos, sticky notes, cards she had made me over the years, rocks she had brought me from Egypt, postcards addressed to “Julia and Nora” from our friends when they traveled abroad. And I laid them all out on my kitchen table.

I was completely underwhelmed. After 9+ years of nearly inseparable friendship, I thought there would be more stuff. Where were the notebooks from Carol Martin’s class sophomore year, full of our notes back and forth to each other? Where were the drawings we had made together at our 22nd birthday party, after Crocodile Lounge but before Rodeo Bar? Where was the green dress from Drunk Girls In Heels that matched the orange one Nora had? Sure, the table was covered in mementos, but our friendship was special, and I wanted there to be more. I knew there should have been more.

That Marie Kondo bitch. This was all her fault.


It’s been a full day since Nora died. Word spread quickly. My phone hasn’t stopped ringing. I’ll do something very normal, like unload the dishwasher or send a work email, and life will feel very normal for a minute. But then something on the kitchen table will catch my eye and I’m reminded that I’ll never see her again. Someone she never liked will write something about her on Facebook and I’ll hear her voice: “Oh well, where the fuck were they when I was alive?!” A friend will tell a story about her that I had forgotten, and I’ll go to text her about it and see that she never received my last text to her about how I hoped the doctors at Sloan were just as handsome as the doctors at Lenox Hill.

These realizations make me so sad but they also spark so much joy. To have loved someone so hard and to have been loved by that same someone just as hard is such a rare thing. In so many ways, we were extensions of each other. Very much the same, but completely different. The yin to the other’s yang. Always on the same wavelength, just going in opposite directions. My kitchen table may not be overflowing with all of the physical items that I wanted to have yesterday. Instead, I have her spirit, as mine will always be a bit of an extension of hers, eternally connected and forever with me. Plus there are videos and photos and notes of ours, the good and the bad, all over the internet and, like it or not, the internet is forever.

I will always wish that I hadn’t KonMari-ed my life quite as much — that I had taken more time to think about what’s truly irreplaceable and meditated more sincerely on what truly brought me joy. Life is full of surprises and very rarely ever goes as planned, so maybe it doesn’t hurt to hang on to a little clutter just in case.

At the end of the day, tidying never changed my life. Nora changed my life.