When I first read this author’s claims that her organizing method meant I would never have to clean up or tidy again, I laughed out loud. Was she insane? If I had a dollar for every time I waged a war on clutter, or heard “Where’ve you been…out of town?” from the staff at my local Container Store, I’d be rich enough to hire someone else to worry about it. Permanently.
Intrigued, I pressed on.
Somewhere between the introduction and third chapter, I stopped laughing.
When I finally turned the last page I sat motionless, stared into space and uttered a single word.
I got up, went to my closet, and scanned the interior.
Even that was just the tip of the iceberg, I quickly calculated. There were loads more hidden from view, jammed in seasonal storage bags under the bed and in the basement.
She’s right. Long on volume, short on joy.
The Japanese are on to something. And thanks to the English translation of Marie “KonMari” Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing (which rose to #1 on the New York Times bestsellers list), the rest of us – for the crazy low price of $10 – can finally get to the root of this vexing and universal problem once and for all.
What to do with all our stuff.
Only a fraction of which actually sparks…joy. And joy, I discovered, had been the missing key question all along.
We’ve tried countless times to get a handle on it in the past. To purge, organize, sift, sort, rearrange, downsize, recycle. We called 1-800-GOTJUNK. We burned through vacation leave to stay home and throw ourselves into frantic clean-up efforts before family showed up. (The more extreme cases among us wound up on TV shows like Hoarders.) We promised exasperated spouses that this. was. the. last. time. and they could finally reclaim that corner of the house that hadn’t seen daylight since the Bush administration.
Rarely did these organizing efforts hold. Before long, we found ourselves back to square one. Piles of boxes, garments and trinkets crammed in any room not “company-facing.” Hall closet doors that we sprinted to slam shut when confused guests went in search of a bathroom.
I could start naming names here, but in the interest of keeping peace within my family, I’ll stand down. (See you Sunday, Mom.)
Plus, I’ve got my own glass house to worry about. Along with the worried gaze of my husband, who can only stand by and watch as his side of the closet keeps shrinking in the months following our honeymoon. As I settled into my new home and unpacked my life bit by bit, we started running out of space to store things.
Getting remarried in midlife poses unique challenges. Between us, my husband and I had to merge nearly 100 years of accumulated possessions into a single household. But I married a minimalist, which means…
Most of the crap is mine.
If I’m being honest, I used to think this whole minimalist movement was just a fad. As I look around my own home, though, I realize I was wrong. The older I get, the more annoyed I become at having to store and keep track of all this stuff. It’s just too much crap. Don’t get me wrong. Some crap is good, and I like my fair share of it. But only if it truly delivers joy every time I look at or touch it. Sadly, precious little is currently meeting that standard. So it’s got to go.
As Kondo explains, I needed a fresh outlook and radical approach to lighten my load – and footprint – for good.
10 Things I Learned From KonMari:
- Tidying is hardcore. If you hear the term “tidying” and think immediately of June Cleaver in heels and pearls puttering about the house before Beav, Wally and Ward get home, think again. The Japanese word tidying loosely translates to what we know as decluttering and organizing, often on the scale of a full-blown Hoarders episode. Think 35+ Hefty bags’ worth.
- Most of what we’ve been told about how to tidy is wrong. The main myth: It’s best to chip away at the problem by tidying a little bit each day or weekend, or maybe one room at a time. Kondo’s answer? By tidying a little each day, you’ll be tidying the rest of your life. That got my attention. I am not here for that. Her approach is all-or-nothing, one-size-fits-all: it’s a special event that should happen in one fell swoop, and the effect will be permanent. (Also, no one cares that your personality type is X or your personal history is Y. It’s irrelevant. The techniques are the same for everyone.)
- Tidy by category, not by location. The general order is this: (1) clothing, to include shoes, bags and accessories; (2) books; (3) papers; (4) kimono (“miscellaneous”); and (5) things with sentimental value. The reason you don’t go room by room is because we often store similar or the same items in different places throughout the house, so it’s impossible to see or understand the full shocking volume of what you’ve amassed in any one category. That’s what happened to me when I had to gather clothes from three separate locations – my bedroom, the hall closet and the basement seasonal storage. Once I dumped it all on my bed (see pic below), the visual alone was paralyzing. I wanted to crawl in the middle of it, curl up in a fetal position and just wait for the sun to come up, but I knew I had to dig in and get to work or I’d be at it all night. The point is, once you get in the groove of quickly moving through and discarding one type of item, you don’t want to be skipping around categories and task areas, throwing yourself off track. That will also add time and inefficiency to the entire process. (We talked about that in my Multitasking = Failure post already, remember?)
- Ignore family (and their junk) while tidying. At worst they can be obstructionists, at best a distraction from getting through your own stuff. Tidying is a personal affair, and even if your loved ones have their own hoarding issues, you can’t do their work for them. That means you must sidestep and quarantine their mountain of crap as you work. Help yourself first, worry about them later. (Specific tips on how to handle family are laid out in the book.) In the end, be the change you want to see in others, and it will likely inspire them to take action on their own.
- A place for everything, and everything in its place. There are two main steps to tidying: discarding extraneous items, and putting everything back in a defined place immediately after you’re done using it. The book provides way more specifics than I have space to get into here. Trust me, it all comes together nicely, and it all works.
- If the object sparks joy, keep it. If not, discard it. This is the central premise to the whole system. No other criterion matters. Not whether you’ve worn or used it in the last six months or year. Not whether it still fits, or is in good condition. You must physically hold the item in your hand, run your hands over it, and ask that one simple question as the only test. (Kondo describes joy as “a quick feeling of unmistakable happiness upon handling the article.”) I think most of us will find that our homes and lives are overflowing with perfectly good items that we avoid using or wearing because it no longer sparks joy. We keep them piled up around the house, though, because “it’s still in excellent condition” or “I paid a lot of money for it and would feel guilty getting rid of it” or “Aunt Gladys gave it to me” or “I may be able to fit into it again after I lose this weight” or, my personal favorite, “somebody in [Jamaica] [Guatemala] [India] [other country of immigrant family origin] might be able to use it.” The only exemptions, obviously, would be official and legal documents that must be retained whether they spark joy or not, or which can’t be retrieved or reproduced in digital form. Or, papers that need to be acted upon. (More details on how to handle all these items are in the book.)
- Complex storage systems won’t fix it. They are unnecessary and, in some cases, lead to more clutter. All that’s important is that everything’s been sorted (see #5) and has its own place. I found that a few drawer dividers that I picked up for around $10 each at my local HomeGoods store, plus some existing clear shoe boxes, did the trick. My one indulgence: a pack of Pliio Clothing Filers. But only after I analyzed the purchase carefully for “joy factor” and concluded that they would not add any additional clutter, or complexity. By no means are they necessary. Kondo provides a perfectly good method for vertical storage using no additional hardware. That said, I have a lot of flimsy fabric items that don’t really stiffen well or hold their shape when folded vertically. So I splurged. They made the clothes in my drawer look so pretty, it was like a double dose of joy goodness. (It also made me aware of how much black and gray clothing I own.) For me, these clothing filers provide an added incentive to keep things stored vertically instead of in piles (which Kondo goes into great detail about in the book), where all but the top item is hidden from view. Which, as we now know, is the entrance ramp to Hoardersville.
- “If you don’t love me, let me go. Sincerely, Your Stuff.“ Sounds flaky, but it’s helpful to think of your things in this context: Every possession I have should be treasured, thanked and treated with care. Belongings want to be used, and if they are not wanted or used, they want to be let go. This is where extremely logical people tend to check out. It is true that animism, or anthropomorphism – the belief that inanimate objects have feelings – is one aspect of Shinto, the official religion of Japan (which is where this book was first published). But one doesn’t have to believe in animism in order to benefit from the underlying concept. Here’s what that looks like: Let’s say I’m taking inventory of all my stuff and come across an item – it could be a purse, shirt, jacket, whatever – all jammed, balled up and stuffed at the bottom of a closet or drawer. What does that say about how much I care for or value that particular item? First off, I forgot I even had it. Second, I clearly didn’t miss it, since it had been living in the bottom of God-knows-where for God-knows-how-long, while I went on living my life. Third, my handling of it indicates it’s not a treasured item. Maybe it was at one time, but not anymore. (And we’re dealing with what is, not with what was, or what we hope will one day be again.) I don’t have to actually believe that the item felt hurt about its treatment, in order to acknowledge that neither of us are being served with it in my continued possession. And that I’m only hurting myself and diluting my own sense of clarity and purpose (not to mention sanity), by drowning in a sea of things that no longer spark joy.
- I can be shackled by my future, as well as my past. If I’m having trouble letting go of something, it’s likely traced to some excessive attachment to the past (shame and guilt over some amount of money already spent, or souvenir from a soured relationship) or anxiety about the future (What if I discard this item and then come to miss, need or regret it later?). Some of the other examples given in the book are bound to sound familiar, as we all can identify with holding on to something way too long, for all the wrong reasons.
- Tidying, when done right, can be life changing. In my case, it led to more careful introspection and insights about my own family dynamics, and generational history, around the accumulation of “stuff.” (That’s another post for another day.) My shopping habits are forever changed. I routinely take five extra minutes to perform a “joy check” before checkout. I’m still pruning what I have by donating items to charity, family, friends or – failing all else – trash/recycling. And I’m in the process of building a Capsule Wardrobe so that there’s never more than a fixed, finite number of items hanging in my closet. But also, there’s this: When you get used to being surrounded ONLY by possessions that bring you joy, you not only become content with much less, but you start to seek out same in all other areas of your life. If you’re stuck in a miserable job or relationship, maybe you start to think: Why not “tidy” that area up, also? Many of Kondo’s clients went on to start new jobs or careers, leave unsatisfying relationships behind or otherwise embark on new adventures.
A little sidebar to close us out:
Something I tell my adult daughters all the time is that there’s no such thing as a significant other having a neutral effect on your life. You are either growing, standing still or dying a slow (spiritual, psychological and emotional) death as a result of that person’s presence and energy in your life. Since the last two net the same result – a poisonous drain on your life – you need to take action. Thank them for what they once meant to you (and the learning experience they represented), bless them on their way out the door, and free up space in your life to welcome those who are able and willing to contribute to its joyfulness.
That’s the KonMari Way. I cannot recommend this book enough. I got so much from it relative to the $10 I paid, that I feel like I robbed somebody.
It’s a game changer! Check out the YouTube videos below (en ingles y espanol!), buy the book, and then go forth and tidy!
UPDATE 01/03/16: Have you heard about the author’s follow-up book set to release January 5? It’s called Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up. (Looks like Marie Kondo heard all the cries from fans begging for a step-by-step companion guide.) You can order on Amazon by clicking on the book image or HERE.
Version en español disponible!
VIDEO #1 (English):
VIDEO #2 (Espanol):