It's been a couple of years since Marie Kondo asked us to examine whether our belongings “spark joy” in our lives with her popular KonMari method of extreme decluttering.
As the book “ The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” and subsequent TV show rose in popularity, I and my somewhat organized room stood on the sidelines. I wasn't intrigued by what I heard. I had my way of organizing, which I believed worked just fine.
Flashforward to 2020, the global pandemic has led to stay at home orders, and spending so much time at home, I found my room/home office was in dire need of reorganization. So when my boss suggested I try it out to see if it was still relevant for these times, I thought, why not? We’re all going to come out of this so much tidier, I think!
The KonMari Method Basics
As I listened to the book (mind you this was my first audiobook) I was skeptical when the robotic-like voice of the narrator told me this book would change my life.
I was bemused by some of her directions: I must allow my socks to breathe by folding them upright, I have to thank inanimate objects for serving me, and, lastly, I have to remove every single item from my purse at the end of each night.
Honestly, the last rule concerned me because I feel there would be a greater chance that I'd forget to put my wallet in my purse more times than I'd like. Whenever I decide to change handbags, I almost always accidentally leave my wallet in the wrong bag.
Kondo believes we should express gratitude to the items we no longer need, as a way to be able to part from them. It struck me as odd. During my cleaning frenzy, I followed her suggestion and thanked some items for serving their purpose as I was discarding them. I think it actually helped me part with more stuff!
While some rules were hard to follow, I did learn I was doing something fundamentally wrong in the way I was organizing.
“Strike one for me,” I thought.
In the past, I would tidy by area — say the vanity or closet — and not by category. I could see that by doing this, I wasn't wholly organizing or cleaning up all the items in a category.
As Kondo states in her book, “tidy a little a day, and you'll be tidying forever.”
According to Kondo, you should declutter in one day.
Halfway through listening to the book, and armed with some early advice, I got impatient and decided to jump into action. The first category I tackled was my beauty supplies.
I pulled out two different drawers and a box and placed them on the floor. Staring down at my items, I immediately recognized the jumble as chaos and knew I needed to reduce the clutter—if only because I had more free time these days!
I was an hour into my decluttering. As the book played in the background, I heard the narrator describe Kondo's category sequence for organizing: clothes first, books, papers, komono (miscellaneous or accessories), and last items that hold sentimental value.
“Oops,” I thought to myself. “That's another strike.” But I couldn't turn back, not with all my brushes and lipsticks in a pile on the floor.
According to Kondo, clutter is a failure to return things where they belong. As she explains, clutter results because we either find it too difficult to put things away, or it is unclear where items should be stored in your home. Her solution is to store things vertically.
Stacking things vertically, you always have a line of sight of your items, which is easier to reach. But Kondo also states that stacking puts pressure on items that are at the bottom of the pile.
Decluttering One Category at a Time
So I began the task of clearing out beauty items. Listening to the audiobook made me realize that I was holding onto some unnecessary things: old unused makeup and clumpy nail polish that I couldn't see because of my (lack of) organization. In no time, my trash pile was larger than my keep pile. After hauling four full grocery bags to the trash, my beauty items are neatly stored, and everything easily visible.
This task wiped me out, and there was no way I could have done everything in one day. I don't know if that's because I had too much or I was too slow.
Since I was out of sync, I decided the next day I would tackle papers and books. I'll note, as I listened to Kondo talk about all the unnecessary paperwork she found in clients' homes — like years of old receipts and checkbooks — I scoffed, who does that?
Then I opened a long-neglected drawer, and to my horror there it was, a checkbook that had not been in use for at least a decade. That discovery, coupled with my first day of decluttering, really prepared me for the day ahead. I went through stacks of papers, easily throwing away piles of paper, starting with old Christmas and birthday cards. In the end, I threw out two large trash bags. The process inspired me to finally clear out my desk and set up a functional workspace, perfect for working from home and as a backdrop for video conferences .
Throughout this process, there was one idea I had a hard time subscribing to: you need to vertically stack everything, even clothes.
While I agree with the concept, I'm not sure it's always feasible. So I decided to look at the amazon reviews to see what others thought of the process. Even though I was in the minority, I found someone who had a hard time as I did.
“Some of us are collectors. Some have saved for a lifetime as the historians of our lives. The goal of such lives is to surround ourselves with cherished possessions and enjoy them, not to sip herbal tea of an afternoon with nothing to look at but a bouquet of flowers -- the ideal state of being Ms. Kondo holds out,” Susannah wrote in her one-star review.
But I couldn't get over what seemed like Kondo's obsession of thanking inanimate objects. Like asking me to thank my purse for carrying my things daily, or my clothes for providing me warmth. It didn't seem like a habit I'd keep up.
Then I read a review from April, who had been living in Japan and spoke about the cultural difference between Japan and the United States.
“They appreciate and respect everything, people, pets, children, flowers, trees, and their hard-earned things, and they really don't believe in wasting anything,” she wrote. “You aren't gonna burn in hell if you hug your favorite 20-year-old threadbare sweater before you get rid of it. And you don't have to talk to your socks. But by God it will change how you feel about the things you truly treasure.”
Maybe it didn't change my life, but the KonMari method has given me a better perspective on decluttering, and it set me on a path toward being organized. Maybe that’s also out of necessity for a lot of us, with so many of us organizing our homes since it’s where we spend more of our time these days.
I hear she just released a book on organizing your workspace. I might give myself some time before I jump into that book — my trash can only hold so much.
If you've tried it, let us know what you think by sharing some photos.