Joining the life-changing cult of tidying up: My foray into KonMari organizing


the_kellbot
Linen closet before and after, no fancy baskets or labels needed.
Linen closet before and after, no fancy baskets or labels needed.

If you are a person who reads the internet, you have probably heard of Marie Kondo's book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Perhaps you have even tried to read it. Most people who succeed in reading it, join her KonMari tidying cult. But in all honesty it can be a challenge to get past the first few pages if you are turned off by the huge number of self-help cliches found in the beginning. I'm told that part of this is due to the book's translation, and perhaps also some bad advice from an editor… or very good advice, given the book's position on the bestseller list. Suffice to say I found the beginning of the book a little grating, but I'm glad I stuck with it.

The book contents can be divided into three categories:

  1. Super useful advice about de-cluttering and organizing
  2. Somewhat repetitive stories about her childhood/clients
  3. Advice that might be useful to some people, but doesn't seem to apply to any of the American yuppies I know

One example of the third is her assertion that you should carry all your coins as "no one actually cashes in their change jar." Do they not have Coinstar in Japan? Because cashing out a change jar is an amazing treat whereas digging through my purse for a dime sucks.

I'm reading the book and feeling inspired to clean

Okay, I read the book because I was inspired to clean and felt overwhelmed by how much stuff I have. The book suggests starting with clothing because it's the easiest, and I agree. I did my sock drawer first:

Before
Before
After
After

As you can see, I got rid of about half my socks. They were not in great shape. Many were threadbare at the heel or stretched out. Others were in okay shape, but I had to ask myself "how many pairs of black athletic socks does one person need?" I decided the answer was "not 10," and culled all but the heartiest. A couple pairs of socks were like-new but didn't really go with my wardrobe, or were nearly identical to other socks I never wear.

Organized tank tops
Organized tank tops
Undies, sports bras, and pajamas
Sports bras, pajamas, and undies

After socks I moved on to underwear and tank tops. Next is T-shirts. Nice tops, jeans, and dresses will have to wait until I'm done being pregnant and my body returns to normal. Lucky for me there is really no shortage of other things I can tidy.

At first I struggled a lot with wastefulness

A feeling that nagged me while reading the book as well. Kondo talks a lot about discarding things, and, as someone who is opposed to waste, this was hard to accept. I rolled it around in my head for a few days and realized first: "discard" does not mean I have to throw it in the trash — there are still plenty of responsible ways to pass something on for re-use. Second: I was already being wasteful the second I purchased that six pack of athletic socks, knowing full well I still had some at home (they were on sale!). Holding onto something indefinitely when you've already replaced it isn't being responsible, it's hoarding. Then I had a moment of "well I wear these socks when I run out of ones I like, what will I do now when I run out?" Um, wash them? Stop playing King of the Mountain with the hamper?

One of the most often cited ideas from the book is to only keep items which "spark joy"

I can immediately tell which critics haven't actually read the book, because they make snide remarks about how something mundane-but-necessary fails to spark joy. Except even items we don't actively like can spark joy. Maternity underwear does not spark joy directly, it's pretty dowdy, but not having a wedgie 100% of the time is its own indirect joy.

A lot of people who haven't read the book decry the idea of getting rid of all the "nonessential" stuff

That's not what Kondo is suggesting at all. I have a huge yarn collection, and I assure you it brings me joy (though I still plan to go through each skein and get rid of any I know I'll never use). Ditto for my fabric collection.

There's nothing wrong with having collections of things. The problem is having collections of things that aren't actually making you happy.

Kondo talks a lot about the emotional reasons we hold onto things

To some people it seems really cold hearted, getting rid of items that may have been a gift. But I think it's important to acknowledge the emotional toll of stuff we hang onto just because it was a gift.

If anything, keeping something we don't really want, just because we feel obligated to, strains our relationship with that person. You shouldn't be an asshole about it, but ultimately there's a limit to how much stuff we can hang onto. Some of it has to go sometimes. It doesn't mean we love our friends less, or don't appreciate their gifts.

Slowly, painfully, I'm learning to let go of stuff I'm keeping because I "might" use it

I have never, ever remembered to take a travel pillow with me to the airport; I definitely don't need three. I am never actually going to read that book on Renaissance artwork, I don't actually like Renaissance artwork. I don't need to own any clothing that is too gross and old to wear outside the house. I need exactly one pair of painting pants and two painting shirts (I know from experience that after two days I will be sick of painting and go do something else). I will never actually turn those old T-shirts into a cool crochet rug.

I am letting go of the ghosts of people I thought I wanted to be (but don't) in order to make room for the person I actually want to be (someone who can see the top of her desk on more than a semi-annual basis). I've joined the cult, and even if this experiment is a total bust and my sock drawer is back to being a warzone in a week, at least I managed to get rid of some baggage in the process.

  1. Total coincidence that I 'KonMarie'd' my clothes yesterday! I too think the book is a little cliched but the power of it for me was the way it changes your relationship with your stuff. The 'sparking joy' thing sounds mad but what it forces you to do is assess why you own that thing, and what use it has for you in your life. It really helped me get rid of gifts too, as she emphasises that the gift has fulfilled its intended purpose once it's been given to you, totally removing the guilt I had when trying to get rid of presents. Some of the book is too 'self-helpy' for me, but on the other hand, it's the first self help book that I've ever read and then acted on, so she's definitely getting something right! Now, on to my piles of paperwork…

  2. I live in a small (612 sq ft) apartment, and a lot of the advice seemed really suited to small spaces. I've been happy with the changes I made after reading this book. The "sparks joy" idea helped me let go of clothes I liked, but associated with negative memories because of why I bought it, or something memorable that happened while wearing it. Definitely worth the read.

    • Yesssssss. I got rid of so many things that reminded me of my ex-boyfriend (been with my husband 9 years now). None of them were critically important to my life or valuable in any way, I just hadn't pitched them because they were still "useful."

      There were definitely some things that didn't apply to my sprawling yuppie mcmansion, but I finally learned that just because I CAN store something doesn't mean I should. There's an emotional cost to hanging on to so much stuff, and a financial cost because with so much of it I could never keep track of what was in which closet (or keep the closets organized) so I'd buy duplicates of things not realizing I already had one hiding, carefully filed next to the mementos I never ever look at.

  3. I'm on the wait list for this in ebook form at the library. I'm interested to see how this will affect me because I'm already pretty opposed to clutter, but at the same time live with my bf and his brother, who are kind of an incarnation of Sanford & Son…

  4. I love this article! We just moved and I employed a lot of these techniques in our 'pre move purge.'
    I also have to say that I use a similar technique to 'spark joy' when I'm out shopping: "Love it or leave it." This helps me to reduce clutter where it starts and helps me get clear when I'm feeling indecisive. This is especially helpful when I'm looking at a $2 shirt at the thrift store and the bargain hunter in me gets a little overzealous ('But it's only $2! MUST BUY.").

    Also, I think these sorts of things are great to do on a semi-regular basis. I know, for me, I'm constantly changing and growing and a decluttering session can help me get clear about the 'new' me. I recently gave birth to my first child and found that throughout the pregnancy and after her birth, I had grown and changed quite a bit (as big life events are wont to do). And one of the ways I got clear about this was by going through my closet and getting rid of things I no longer felt fit with the new me. I also ended up going from 20 inches of hair to a shaved head – and I love it!

  5. I love the idea of this but instead of throwing things away I encourage you to donate, donate, donate! Especially winter items for the homeless!!

    I am working my way through my home one room at a time right now and I am donating as much as possible to help those that go without plus its better for the environment not to mention a tax credit if you have a receipt for your donation.

  6. I haven't read the book, but I do love a well-organized drawer, and periodically I'll purge and reorganize my drawers and cabinets. But inevitably, after a few weeks or months, they'll get messy again. The hard part for me is the upkeep. When I'm in a rush and looking for a particular shirt or whatever, I'll rummage through and mess it up. Gradually, my perfectly folded linens become slightly less perfect, and then dissolve into a pile. Anybody else have this problem?

    • Yes, absolutely. In fact my husband currently has a bet for how long it will take my perfectly folded sock and underwear drawers to revert to the 'before' photos.

      According to Kondo, the reason this happens isn't because you lack the perfect sock drawer organizers, or suck at folding, but because you just have too many of those items (and maybe suck at folding a little).

      When my sock drawer was full I saw no point in carefully arranging my socks. But now that I have a more limited selection it's not so hard. I don't have to wedge them in there and I can organize them by type without thinking too hard (knee socks, ankle socks, athletic socks).

      Linens were the same way. It's easy to throw a disheveled pile of sheets on top of an already disheveled pile of sheets. But now that I only have one spare set per size I can see the value in taking an extra 5 minutes to fold them correctly (which I can only do now that I've watched about a dozen youtube videos on the topic).

      The other big "AHA" thing for me is storing things on end so you can see everything all at once. Cuts way down on rummaging.

      It's been about two and a half weeks since I did my closet and so far so good. This is definitely the longest I've kept it organized. Still, only time will tell if I can keep it going for the long haul.

      • Yes – I agree with Kellbot that having less makes it easier to stay organized. A few months ago, I organized all the stuff in my dresser on end like this and I won't say it looks great now, but it's still passable. It's still better than before, and it took longer to get bad.

        I think the method of folding and putting things on end is important too. For me, being able to actually see it all has cut down on my rummaging, especially since I have a dresser with extra deep drawers. I can easily "file" a shirt when I put it back in the drawer, rather than just pile it all in there.

        Finally, I've been trying reeeeeally hard to mentally categorize the whole staying organized/keeping spaces organized thing as a type of self-care. Sure, I don't really feel like folding that laundry nicely now, and yes, it is easier and faster at the end of a day to throw something in a drawer whatever way it comes off my body, but I try to remind myself of the cliche, "a stitch in time saves nine." If I take the minimal time required to simply fold a single shirt and file it in its space now, I won't have a breakdown when I'm tired/frustrated/grumpy about going to work later when I'm looking for that specific item. I am taking care of and being nice to future me when I maintain my own systems, much as I am otherwise averse to doing.

      • My Aha! moment with linens was courtesy of one of those pinterest lifehack lists (that are usually trying to get you to click through to a pageful of ads). Put the duvet cover and sheets inside one of the matching pillow cases. No more trying to find the rest of the set! Everything's together! This works especially well for my and the other half because when we moved in together he brought standard double duvet sets and I brought king size, so we have a kingsize duvet on a double bed (and a double duvet on a king size futon), so we've matched all our sheets accordingly.

  7. I think I have been doing this my whole adult life, I have big bouts of tidying (usually when I am procrastinating instead of studying/working), but especially when moving house, why move stuff that just wont get used in the end? There are so many random pictures and framed photos I have had stuffed in a box as every rental property has not allowed hooks to be installed, so they stayed in the box for what must have been the last 3 moves, finally I went through every box and have removed some of the photos, stuck them on the fridge where I can see them everyday and the broken frames went into the recycling bin, and the good ones are off to Vinnies! Next on the list is my scrapbooking collection – I have still not once made a scrapbook in the traditional sense, and my fabric collection.

  8. I'm curious if anyone has any advice on discarding clothing that isn't fit to be donated. I've been using many ripped or holey clothing as rags, but I need to cut that collection way down. I feel awful throwing fabric into a landfill – suggestions?

    • If you don't want to throw out clothing that is still suitable for rags, donate them to your local mechanic/school/mens shed, or some charities (such as lifeline, st vinnies, endeavour, etc) here in Australia, actually turn them into rags, and on sell them in bulk to businesses.

      • Holy cats this will change my life! I've always held back the clothes that I thought were too ratty to resell, and wondered what to do with them. Now I can just donate them all!!

      • St Vinncent's does that here in the US as well. When I worked as a furniture finisher, I actually got a pair of work pants from the rag bin once.

      • I did something like autumn cleaning and I have a lot of things to throw. But a friend of mine have told me that instead of throwing them, I can donate them. There is a orphanage in my city, so I gave everything to them, even bought new things because the kids there have nothing to wear.

        Let more of us think about this option. Kids get really very happy 😉

    • Our local Salvation Army actually said to donate them anyway. Anything that isn't in good enough condition to resell gets sold in bulk by the pound to fabric recyclers. From there it gets shredded and sanitized and re-used as various industrial fiber products.

    • I'm in SF and the city has a fabric/shoe recycling program (http://www.sfenvironment.org/textiles). You may want to look into similar near you, or do as kellbot suggests with donating them anyway – I found out about the recycling program because my local Goodwill sends you over there for items they don't want to accept 🙂

    • In charity stores in the UK, anything that isn't fit to sell gets sold by the shop as rags, so donating everything is a win win for the shop. Worth checking out that it happens near you too. I'd be surprised if it doesn't. There are also companies that buy clothes by the weight (so rags included) so that might be an option? Again, that's in the UK, but there must be something like that in the US.

    • you might be able to donate to animal shelters as well, to use as beds/ blankets for the animals. I know old sheets and towels are welcome.

  9. Check to see if there's a local Buy Nothing Project chapter (Facebook) near you. I usually just donate stuff, but then feel guilty that someone is going to have to pay for that shirt from X Thrift Shop when if they wanted it I could just give it to them straight across. I got rid of an old vacuum cleaner on the Buy Nothing Project and it felt really good! And then if nobody wants it, I donate it!

  10. I think I must by the boyfriend this book. I declutter my life regularly but when I make space he fills it with crap!

    • If you do, let us know how it goes over! There are some people in my life who desperately need some tidying motivation/help, but I feel like handing them the book would be sort of insulting. I've noticed people have two reactions to my personal blog posts on tidying: "I must buy this book!" or "I could never get rid of all my things!"

      I do regret getting the Kindle version instead of a hard copy though, I wish I could lend it to the folks who have the first reaction.

      • Well we had a spring clean yesterday and he threw out some clothing, he has not done that in years, he had a full wardrobe. He wasn't ruthless enough as far as I am concerned but it was a start. However, when he saw the stuff I was getting rid of he starts going, oh that oh that. She is right about not showing people what's in your bags.

    • It's hard living with someone else! My boyfriend says he wants to be minimalist but god forbid he get rid of anything his grandmother ever touched. Knitted potholders, tissue box holder made of yarn-woven plastic, etc. He's also a computer man, which I LOVE but holy shit how many mother boards and wires and stuff do we need? My ideal home has him in it… but not all his stuff.

  11. I have been working on decluttering our apartment since the spring time. In part, this is in preparation for some new homey stuff as wedding presents – why keep the broken shit if we're asking people to buy us a non-broken one? And also because in April, I got a promotion which requires me to dress nicer. It also means I have to wake up earlier and leave the house before my fiance does, which means I often try to plan my outfits the evening before so that I don't wake him up with all my rummaging. I've sorted through most of my clothing and done a decent sized purge, but hadn't thought about putting everything away on end so that I can see it better. This might make life about a zillion times easier!

    Next up, I want to go through the linen closet and a few other closets. I think I still have a 5 disc, am/fm/casette stereo system that's been sitting in the closet since we moved in. It worked the last time I used it, but it's clearly not something we need – surely someone else could get some use out of it.

  12. Ah, so this book is what everyone is talking about! I haven't read it yet, but I can tell already that I'd have to pitch and choose what works for me. Does it say anything about shoes?

    For my personal system: I don't fold my underwear! If you have an appropriately sized drawer or basket-type thing, it saves so much time to just throw it in there.

    My dude has an ideal sock game, as long as you don't like variety. He has 3 kinds of socks: ankle, crew, and dress, about 6 identical pairs of each. He doesn't fold them, pair them, or match them, just throws them into a drawer. They all get worn regularly, so all his socks wear out at the same time. So we get a new batch of rags and he gets a new pack of socks.

    Tank tops: If I fold them in half and roll them, they sit on end so I can see them all. This system has lasted about 4 months so far, which is a record for me.

    I like seeing all my shirts, but I don't like the idea of filing them. I tried it, and it only lasted 1 laundry cycle. They don't all need to be on hangers, either, so I'm thinking I'm going to convert to storing shirts in multiple short stacks on a shelf or one of those hanging shoe/sweater organizers like this: http://www.amazon.com/Household-Essentials-6-Shelf-Hanging-Organizer/dp/B0041HLT80

    We almost have the bedroom redone, so closet and clothes organizing has been on my mind. SOON

  13. Timely! I had a week off in between jobs last week, so I did this for all my clothes. I probably kept too much, but it was still very much worth doing. Then came a huge trip to Goodwill which required 5 trips up and down the stairs to get all the bags into the car.

    What I thought was the best tip from the book is to do a purge by category, rather than location. Gathering up everything from one category in one place really hammers home how much of it you have. For example, I keep tops/shirts I use for sleeping, working out, going to work, going out, and lounging in separate drawers, but piling them all up at once helped me let go of more than I would have if I had gone by drawer.

    I was also surprised by some of the things I did keep vs. what I got rid of. I kept some skirts that I don't wear much, which I'm excited to wear now because I can actually see everything that will match them. On the other hand, there were some things that I thought would hold sentimental value that weren't that hard to let go of when I actually held them in my hands–mostly presents–by remembering what the book says about gifts, or things you just know aren't your style.

  14. I'm so happy to be reminded of this book! We are buying a house at the end of the month (where I work) but will maintain our rental house 4 hours away (where my husband is preparing to graduate from school) until the end of December. This will allow me to move whatever fits in my mid-sized car over the next several weeks, which I'm really excited about. The moving truck at the end of December will only be used for large furniture and things that can't reasonably fit in my car (ie. rototiller, large gardening supplies). The way I see it, if it didn't seem important enough to move in my car, but could have fit, it doesn't need to be moved.

    The possible challenge with this is that I'll be moving things that *I* need to live in the new house and my husband's stuff will be last to transition. Alas, he is the one who likes things. Here's hoping that seeing the potential in a new, tidy house will help him reconsider some of his things.

  15. I haven't read this yet but probably will soon! I'd also like to recommend the tumblr called Unf*ck Your Habitat. It's great for daily reminders ("Make your bed. Excuses are boring.") and user submitted victories in tidying up.

  16. So I'm hoping I'm not here too late to get a response. I just listened to the audiobook, and I'm excited to get started, but what happens, say, you dislike nearly your entire wardrobe (or the only items you like are special occasion items that you know won't get everyday use)? If I get rid of my clothes that don't spark joy, I'll be left with next to nothing to wear, and I can't afford to replace my wardrobe with things I DO like.
    She also mentions in the beginning a few excuses people typically make on why they can't tidy, one of which being not having enough time. She never does address how to get started if you legitimately don't have time, though.

    From someone who is a hobby photographer, it was painful to hear her go on about how you should get rid of many of your photos! I enjoy a good photograph, even if you can't remember the location/moment that went with it. I've also heard a way to help part with sentimental items is to take a picture of it, so you can always hold onto a physical copy of the memory but not the thing that is taking up too much space. I was actually quite surprised she didn't mention this at all in the book

    • Very few items in my wardrobe spark joy on their own, I'm not really into clothes, and a lot of them spark downright misery (see: aforementioned maternity underwear). But having appropriate clothes to wear is its own sort of joy, so when going through my clothes I figure out how many of any given item I really need and purge any excess that I don't like.

      Like most things, I've found that you have to make time to organize if you want it to happen. I really only feel like I make real progress if I carve out a few hours at a time to work on it. Otherwise I end up with weird piles of half-sorted stuff around the house.

      I have an auto-document scanner, so I admit I cheated on most of the memorabilia. I batch fed it through the scanner before throwing it out.

      • Unfortunately I never feel like my daily clothes are "appropriate" for anything other than casual hanging out. I don't like how they look on me and, since I work in a salon, I never feel "put together" enough so I generally end up complaining as I get ready in the morning. I have a pinterest full of clothes I love but even if I could find them in the stores, I couldn't afford them! I thing clothing is the biggest thing I'm hesatent to part with, because as much as I don't care for much of my wardrobe, I already feel like I don't have much (in terms of everyday clothing) and I wouldn't have anything left if I discarded any more!

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