It does not take much to overwhelm me, and I feel real, measurable stress in an environment littered with lots of stuff, especially when it is in no sort of order. Before we had kids, it was easy to keep things relatively tidy. Items that were put in a certain place actually stayed in that place!
But that changed with two little boys running about. And for a few years, when they were very young, it seemed all we could do just to keep up with them. The house became cluttered, stuff got shoved into closets willy-nilly, we began to burst at the seams, and my stress level grew. While I was working outside the home, it wasn’t too difficult to deal with, but once I started spending more time at home during the days, I knew something had to change.
The rule in our house is that it is okay to be high-maintenance as long as you are self-maintaining. In other words, if you want something a certain way, you are welcome to make it so but you are also responsible to take care of it yourself. Because I am willing to live with untidiness to a lesser degree than the rest of my family, I knew I would need to lead the charge on any sort of clean-up initiative. And, having been outside the home for several years, I was not sure where to even begin. We’d tried over the years to get things decluttered and organized, only to have the closets fill again and piles of stuff begin accumulating on every flat surface and in every dark corner.
So it was with the frenzied glee of desperation that I devoured in one afternoon Marie Kondo’s terrific little book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. As soon as I finished, I told Darah, “We have to do this.” And, after she read through it for herself and agreed, we began the tidying process that Kondo teaches, which has become known as the “KonMari Method”.
The book is filled with very helpful practical details, and so is worth reading in its own right, but the KonMari Method of decluttering and organizing can be summarized very briefly:
- Address items by category, not by room.
- Address each category one at a time and in the prescribed order.
- Completely finish with each category before moving onto the next one.
- Handle every item in the given category and ask yourself while touching it, “Does this item bring me joy?”
- Gently but firmly discard items that do not bring you joy.
- Retain the much smaller number of items that do bring you joy.
- Organize joy-bringing items following a simple set of principles (differs for each category).
That’s pretty much it. What impressed me about this method was its non-intuitive (but amazingly effective) approach of how to organize the tidying process itself, the handling of every single item one-by-one, the “joy” question, and the claim Kondo makes that she has never had a client use her full tidying method and then revert to an untidy state again in the future. Once you organize things her way, she claims, you will never go back. If that was true, I wanted in!
It took us about 6-8 weeks to go through the entire process in our 1200-square-foot house. I could not believe the sheer amount of stuff we had accumulated over the years! There is far more space than I had realized for things to get poked away, even in a home as modest as ours. I did not keep an exact count, but we had a lot of stuff exit the house: many, many garbage bags full of trash and several carloads and at least one pickup truckload of items to consign and donate. I estimate that we got rid of approximately 60% of the items that were in our house when we started the process.
Of the items that remained, we found, just as Kondo describes in her book, that we already had on-hand everything we needed to effectively organize it. After getting rid of so many things, we had lots of empty boxes and baskets to use for organizing the remaining items. I’ll provide just one example to give an idea of how this worked. To the right is my clothing drawer as it appears today. (Click on it to see a larger version.) I was able to repurpose a shoe box for my pants (upper right) and a different cardboard box for my socks (on the left). We found we were able to do this all through the house. Other than a couple organizers in the kitchen and a secretary cabinet in the living room, we did not need to purchase any organizational items to help with tidying the items we chose to keep.
The clothing drawer image also does a good job of illustrating a few KonMari Method organizational principles:
- Note that all items are folded so they can be stood on edge. This allows all items to be seen at a glance. No more lost clothes because they get sorted to the bottom of a pile that never gets touched!
- Similar items are kept together.
- Socks are not balled up — this is one of Kondo’s pet peeves, and I honor her by now folding my socks.
- Color is used as a way to make the assortment pleasing to view. (Admittedly, I do not have much color in my wardrobe, but underwear is sorted light to dark [lower right corner]. Darah likes to hang her items in the closet in a rainbow!)
- I also added my own touch by using a thin piece of cardboard as a marker for what clothing item I will wear next (visible in the shirts [middle] and underwear rows). This allows me to rotate through my clothing, ensuring even wear — and because every piece of clothing brings me joy, I never need to decide if I feel like wearing a certain item. (Of course, this has never been much of an issue for me, but I know it matters a great deal to some. KonMari helps reduce or even eliminate that concern.)
- And, of course, the most obvious detail of all is still one I cannot help but point out: Besides a couple pairs of work pants and a few pieces of formal clothing hanging in the closet, this is all the clothing I own. What freedom there is in simplicity!
Another interesting thing that happened as a result of this process was my learning more about what I do and don’t like when it comes to physical objects. Not that my preference is of much importance, but it has been helpful to learn that I like the colors of a stormy ocean sky and feel much more at rest when arrayed in those muted hues. One indulgence I allowed myself as a result was replacing all of my white socks and with grey ones. It is a small thing and of no great import, but if I can have at so low a cost a moment of delight each morning in the otherwise mundane act of putting on my socks, why not choose joy?
It has been over six months since we completed tidying and organizing our house. We have no signs of heading back to our former untidy ways. There is not even a temptation to do so! We have gained so much by eliminating from our living spaces the things that did not bring joy. In about 30 minutes each day, I can keep the house completely organized (except for the boys’ bedroom, which is mostly under their own control — and can quickly be sealed off from view behind a closed door when the chaos emanating from it grows too threatening!), even with two active boys home with me all day.
While taking photos for this post, I snapped a couple more in our bedroom. Once upon a time, we couldn’t even see the floor of the closet pictured below. When we finished decluttering, we actually took down a third shelving unit that had been in here to use somewhere else in the house. And I can actually walk into this closet, a feat previously impossible! I will confess that when we first got this closet to its present tidied state, I would go into it and just stand there for a while. It probably sounds weird, but I got so much pleasure from simply being in such a clean, well-lit space!
The Eastern flavor of our bedroom was present before we started the KonMari Method, but now it has an added significance to me, as it is a reminder of the debt of gratitude I carry for Marie Kondo and her brilliant tidying method. I highly recommend it!