Every so often, we read a book that changes our lives.
Such was the case when I picked up Kondo Marie’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (人生がときめく片づけの魔法), a book I read in a single afternoon, it was that engrossing. “What could possibly be so interesting about cleaning?” you might ask. It’s a valid question. Cleaning is exhausting, boring, and it never seems to end. But that’s exactly what made reading about it so interesting: Kondo-san’s life work, shared publicly in her book, is all about eliminating the constant need to tidy and clean from one’s life, permanently.
Kondo-san is a consultant. A cleaning consultant. She teaches people how to clean, and how to clean right. She has been doing this for years, and she’s never had a relapse (someone who falls back into their old cluttered habits after she has worked with them). You might now be thinking, “that’s impossible, Brooke.” Let me assure you: it’s possible. It’s more than possible, in fact, it’s magical.
Kondo-san’s theory is that most people have cluttered, disorganized homes, and are constantly cleaning them up (while making little headway), because they have grown up believing various misconceptions about the act of cleaning itself, such as: “cleaning must be done room by room” or “cleaning should be done a little at a time, each day.” In fact, neither of those approaches ever end up working long-term. Kondo-san argues that if you clean room by room, or day by day, you’ll be cleaning forever. The best way to clean is by category or type of object, and all at once (over a back-to-back “marathon” time-period, which could take anywhere from a weekend to 6 months depending on the degree of cluttered the living space and/or person happens to be). However, the most important aspect of Kondo-san’s methodology, and the thing that has made a huge and lasting impression on me personally, has less to do with putting things away, and much more to do with deciding what things to keep in the first place.
KonMari, the cute (and incredibly Japanese) nickname that has been given to the “Kondo Marie Method” (see how they’ve combined her first and last names?), brings to light something that we hardly ever think about, but absolutely should, especially when it comes to cleaning and organizing our homes: “What brings us joy?”
You see, that is the crux of Kondo-san’s solution to clutter, and it’s extremely simple: only keep things that bring you joy; the rest? Discard!
“To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose. To get rid of what you no longer need is neither wasteful nor shameful. Can you truthfully say that you treasure something buried so deeply in a closet or drawer that you have forgotten its existence? If things had feelings, they would certainly not be happy. Free them from the prison to which you have exiled them. Let them go, with gratitude. Not only you, but your things as well, will feel clear and refreshed when you are done tidying.” -Kondo Marie,The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, page 60 [Kindle version].
Over time, we accumulate stuff. Loads of stuff. Stuff we have bought, stuff we have received as gifts, stuff we have borrowed (and forgotten to give back, oops!), stuff we found, and stuff that, well, just kind of ended up with us somehow. In addition, we often buy new things with an impulsive, short-sighted mindset: “what an amazing sale!” or “I could use this for [that thing I’ve been meaning to try but don’t know if I actually like]!” or “this is one-of-a-kind – I better get it while it’s still available!” We often don’t consider the long-lasting joy any given object will bring us. Sure, we need to own some things out of necessity; but as Kondo-san points out, even if we don’t like to admit it or find it hard to admit, a lot of the things we own are, well, junk. And we tend to hold on to things (for years even!) that do not serve any sort of practical purpose in our lives anymore.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t own things out of sentiment, or that the sentimental items we do already own (such as photographs, yearbooks, tickets from events we attended, etc.) have no purpose. We’re human, we’re going to feel attached to certain things out of love, nostalgia, and other emotions. It’s inevitable. The purpose of those objects is to make us happy. What’s important is separating out those items that we truly love, from the ones we feel neutral about or don’t actually care about at all. And you’d be surprised how many of the things you’ve collected over the years (when you really sit down to think about them) don’t actually bring you that much joy!
So how does one begin the KonMari process? It’s simple:
- First, one must discard all things that do not bring one joy.
- Next, one must organize and put away the remaining joyful things.
This must be done in the following ways:
- By category (or type of object), not by room (and moving from least sentimental to most sentimental)
- All at once, or consecutively (though by no means should it be rushed).
The first category Kondo-san recommends one start with is clothes: the least sentimental (for most people) thing that we own. Clothes are always changing – by season, by fashion trend, as we age, and as we change likes and dislikes.
So I began discarding clothes. I did as Kondo-san advocates: I held each item of clothing in my hands, I really thought about whether or not I wear it often (and whether or not it brings me joy), and if I chose to discard something, I thanked it (I know it sounds silly – but this is an important step!), and then threw it in a bag to be donated or thrown out (I’ve chosen to donate all of the clothes we discarded – two whole garbage bags worth!)
Kondo-san makes a point of noting that you should not idly throw out or discard items that belong to other family members or roommates in your living space (if you happen to share with others). However, I asked my husband Jack for his consent and participation before beginning, and he was fully on board with giving KonMari a try (let’s face it: he’s tired of a cluttered home too).
After figuring out which clothes actually bring us joy, the next step is to organize those clothes in a more intuitive and efficient manner, and, as Kondo-san says, in a way that makes one “feel lighter, happier, and more motivated to put the item back where it goes once worn.” When it comes to clothes, folding and placement are key. Instead of placing one article of clothing on top of another, as we so often do growing up, Kondo-san recommends a method in which clothes are lovingly and carefully folded or wrapped and then placed side-by-side. This way, gravity doesn’t allow clothes to weigh on each other and cause more wrinkles. In fact, after trying this folding method for a few days now, I’m happy to say that my clothes are definitely less wrinkly than they were before!
When it comes to the closet, it’s important to hang things in a way that makes you “feel good.” I know it might sound arbitrary or stupid, but it does make a difference! Kondo-san advises hanging from dark to light, and from heavier to lighter, so that the eyes travel “up” as you scan clothes (which fosters a more positive mood overall). Really, though, the way clothes are hung should be personal preference – whatever makes you “feel good.” Use your intuition – where you initially want to place something is probably the right place for it to go!
In the end, Jack and I were able to clear out half of our closet space, and empty out two entire drawers from our dressers. We realized that we actually had a ton of clothes we were keeping for sentimental reasons (though not strong enough for us to keep them, in the end, since they were never getting worn), because we had “forgotten” about them, and because we thought we would wear them again but we grew out of them or our styles changed. KonMari has already taught us a lot about ourselves, and what we value – our current fashion likes and dislikes, and our tendency to hold onto gifts people give us even if we don’t like the style or pattern of the clothing. We now know what to buy in the future, what actually ends up fitting us long-term, and how to gracefully part with a gift we didn’t actually like, with gratitude and acceptance (you never have to tell that person, after all! Especially if it’s been years since you received the gift). And remember: you don’t always have to keep something just because it was free! After all, it’s truly the thought that counted.
The KonMari process is beautiful and cathartic. I’ve only just begun, but I can’t wait to continue my journey. The process of active discarding and recognizing the items that bring me joy makes me feel satisfied, accepting, and peaceful. It’s a new, fresh start. There is a necessary bitter-sweetness to letting go of certain things…but in the end, it is extremely fulfilling, and all of the empty spaciousness that remains feels empowering and full of potential.
And that’s exactly what Kondo-san wants for us. She explains that her desire is for all of us to be able to create living spaces that support our dream lifestyles – whether that means more space and time to work out, de-stress, garden, read, take baths, go for walks, be with loved ones, it doesn’t matter. When we eliminate the constant need to tidy up, and when we finally have the space we need, we have more time for the things that are actually important to us.
Onto the next categories: books and papers!