The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

The KonMarie method for decluttering your home was developed by Marie Kondo. She describes it succinctly on page 1 of her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. She writes, “Start by discarding. Then organize your space, thoroughly, completely, in one go.” Next she makes the bold claim that if you take her approach, you will not rebound into a cluttered state.

It just so happens that I love sorting and organizing all manner of things. I learned about the KonMarie method during a flight home from work travel and was thrilled that it was a Friday afternoon because I was ready to tackle my home promptly after arriving. Admittedly, I didn’t think I’d have much to do since my family already has a rhythm for semi-annual edits on our belongings. I was wrong! I was surprised by the outcome of using the KonMarie method.

Kondo explains that simply putting things away falsely leaves one thinking that the clutter problem has been solved. In reality, clutter is only resolved when a thorough purge happens. This purge is done in a specific order that I will outline below, and with a single very important qualifier for keeping items. Simply ask yourself, does this item spark joy? If it does, keep it. Otherwise discard it.

This process should be worked by category (not location) and it should be done in one fell swoop. Kondo writes, “Tidying is a special event. Don’t do it every day.” She explains that it is easiest to dispose of items we know can be easily replaced. It’s more difficult to discard objects that were gotten from loved ones or during once-in-a-lifetime vacations. For this reason she believes the following order should be used when sorting belongings. Also that all the items in a category should be worked at the same time, no matter which room they are in.

  1. Clothing – tops, bottoms, clothes that should be hung (coats, suits, etc.), socks, underwear, bags, accessories, clothes for special events, shoes
  2. Books
  3. Papers – statements, warranties, instruction manuals, etc.
  4. Miscellaneous – CDs, makeup, valuables, electrical equipment, tools, supplies (tissues, detergents, etc.), kitchen items (pantry, utensil drawers, etc.), collectibles
  5. Mementos – gifts, sentimental items, photos

The process is simple. Empty every item within a category so that it is visible. So for clothes, remove all clothes from your bedroom closet, dresser, chests, storage, spare room and hall closets. Then go through each item and ask yourself, “Does this bring me joy?” Joy, to me, means getting a practical use out of it that makes life easier, or simply a thrill from owning it.  If neither applies, place it in the discard/donate pile. Once you’ve gone through every item individually and packaged up your discarded items, decide how best to organize the remaining items.

Tackling clothes and books first can give you momentum to carry you through the remaining categories which can be more emotionally charged.   As I mentioned, my family goes through our belongings twice per year. I thought that, for sure, we would have few things to get rid of. I was mistaken – we had 12 garbage bags full of belongings that brought us no joy and served no purpose. This was the result of going through every closet, drawer, cabinet, shelf and storage bin.

Personally clothes were the most liberating for me to discard. I cannot tell you how many items I owned that hadn’t fit for years. I kept them because I wanted to fit into them again…or so I thought. As I forced myself to stack beautiful J Crew blouses and Anthropologie skirts into my donate pile, I was flooded with memories of the me who bought them. Many were from the time after my MBA, but before my wedding. I felt accomplished, sophisticated, free and fit. I loved that time of my life and these clothes were a symbol of that time. It was healthy to let that go, because I want to embrace who I am now. Also, it’s a blessing that I can literally grab any garment from my closet or dresser, knowing that it fits and I enjoy wearing it.

Similar epiphanies happened in other categories. For example, I found books I once loved, but no longer relate to. I’ve changed and I don’t need to hang on to things just because I used to love them. It’s good to accept that I’m different and that I value different things now. Furthermore, I permitted myself to discard keepsakes from travel and gifts from family and friends that I never liked. I kept them because of where I got them or because I care for the giver.

I highly advise working through this massive decluttering exercise. It took me three weekends, and it has been worth all the effort. As I look at my tidy home with clear counters and a place for every object, I find myself more peaceful. I enjoy walking from room to room and (unless the kids are running amok) I feel a refreshing stillness. My quiet time in these uncluttered spaces is offering me moments of mindfulness – uncluttered thinking.

My final note is to do this for yourself. Don’t force it on your family members. Instead watch as they are inspired by what you’re doing. They will take on this experience for themselves in their own time. I was fortunate that my husband saw the benefit after I completed my clothes. During the second weekend he worked through his closet and by the third weekend he tackled the garage.

To understand the charming philosophy behind the KonMarie method, and how Kondo developed it, read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I give her two thumbs up for her thoroughness and consideration – the magic in decluttering is in the practice of better defining what we prefer which triggers personal clarity.  I appreciated every moment of it.

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