I see it so often on the Internet and in the media … I think the universe is poking me: Declutter. Eric and I aren’t the worst packrats—we haven’t starred on Hoarders yet, but we have a ton of stuff. Okay, several tons. On the tidy-to-trashy scale, we’re probably at the apex of the bell curve. I have a select few friends who keep semi-spotless houses, but truthfully, I think most of us struggle.
Eric and I have so many fine excuses: We’re two collection-prone, sentimental people living in a small house with 1913-sized closets and a Model T-sized garage. We are burdened by our parents’ possessions, which we haven’t dealt with even though our folks have been gone for years. Work takes up too much of our time … yada yada yada.
Like most people, I want to do better. So it was with a flicker of hope that I picked up this book while we were shopping at Costco. I had to find out what all the fuss was about.
I tossed the book on the dining room table with the rest of the clutter. After three weeks, was it my imagination, or did the tabletop looked somewhat cleaner? Curious, I began reading.
Author and Japanese tidying guru Marie Kondo is nothing like me. She’s been obsessed with tidying since she was five years old. Five! I was already collecting sentimental junk when I was five. When she was in junior high, she’d rush home from school to spend hours organizing a cabinet. When I was in junior high, I collected more junk. I haven’t changed much, but I know we must get the upper hand if we are ever to move to another house. Yes, Kondo is an obsessive-compulsive tidier and seems a little one-dimensional, but to her credit, she’s created a culture of tidy “Konverts” in Japan, and since her book about the Kon-Mari Method was released here, she’s taking over the U.S.
Kondo dictates some strict tidying rules.
- Tidy your entire house at once, not room-by-room.
- Do it in category order: ALL of your clothes, then your books, then papers, then miscellany, and finally, mementos.
- Handle each item and keep it only if it “sparks joy.” If it doesn’t, thank it for its service, and discard or donate it.
- Do all your discarding before you seek storage solutions.
- Tidy your house “all in one go,” which can mean in a few hours to over six months, depending on size.
In the end, you’ll be left with a small fraction of your former belongings—only the pieces that you really love. It sounds tempting … but I have a lot of items, and I suspect a lot of them would spark joy.
As I read Kondo’s rules and some pretty out-there claims, such as living in a tidy house may help you lose weight (because nothing’s left in the fridge?). I grew skeptical and even resentful. Discarding? You want me to toss everything that doesn’t bring me joy? I’ll show you discarding! I imagined her book here.
Kondo even encourages you to discard her book if you don’t like it. Of course, you know I would never throw out a book! I’d file it in the library and keep it for life. The thought that she would frown if I kept her book even though it didn’t bring me joy made me smile. Bwahaha!
Despite Kondo’s warnings that ignoring her rules will spell certain failure, I decided to dip a toe into the KonMari Kool-Aid and try an itty-bitty test. I’d tidy only one measly drawer. I had to find out if I felt any joy when I held my clothes, and if folding clothes to the right dimension would be, as she promised, addictively fun. So, I present … my drawer of tank tops.
My work uniform consists of various colored pants and a tank top or tee, topped off with a sweater. All the tank tops live in the top drawer of one of my mom-and-pop dressers. Three stacks of tops fit in the drawer, which was full to bursting. I couldn’t stuff even one more top into it.
I took everything out of the drawer and laid it on the bed. I picked up each top, smoothed it out and folded it as Kondo advises, into a rectangle that would stand on edge in the drawer, like a filing system. Did my clothes spark joy? Nope, I can’t say that they did. They sparked “like.” They are useful and worn often, and I have some favorites, but they’re just clothes. Meh. I got rid of only two pieces.
Was folding fun? Well, it wasn’t … unfun. Besides, I had the help of a cute guy.
The fun came when I filed all the little rectangles in chromatic order in the drawer. Lo and behold—I had extra room! I can buy four or five more tank tops! The next morning I was happy to see the tops in their rainbow order, and it was a snap to find the one I wanted. No more rummaging! Okay, KonMari passed that test.
Time for a bit tougher test: the foyer coat closet, one of three (count ’em—three!) closets in our house. You can bet it was overstuffed. Eric got fed up with it and removed all of his coats to “his” closet in the library. The top shelf groaned under a jumble of golfwear, hats, scarves, and gloves. I didn’t even know what was on the floor, and I was afraid to find out.
I piled the mountain of coats on the back of the couch. Duke somehow knew that getting all of the coats from the closet did not mean we were going for a walk.
The floor wasn’t as bad as I’d thought … a shiatsu foot massager (definitely sparks joy), a hand-held vac (no joy, but useful) a couple of area rugs, and a couple of jackets that had fallen from their hangers. And two big, empty cardboard boxes.
As I sorted the coats, only six sparked joy, but they weren’t the ones that I wear most often. Could I really get along with only the six “joy” coats? Heck, no, that would leave me without a raincoat, THE most important type of coat in Western Washington! And I’d have nothing to wear working out in the yard or taking that walk with Duke. Isn’t that what the coats long past joy-sparking are for?
I didn’t time myself and I didn’t hurry, but within a couple of hours, the closet looked like this.
So much better! Maybe there is something to the KonMari Method … or am I just cleaning?
I had trouble casting out anything that didn’t spark joy. I came to the conclusion that I’m not willing to pare my clothing down to only what sparks joy, because most of my wardrobe is somewhat this side of joy. That sounds like a pretty great excuse to buy all new clothes, if you ask me! When I look through catalogs, I’m attracted to arty designs, that I’d wear if I owned an art gallery. But in real life, I write technical documents in an office cubicle, and I work with engineering and IT wonks. I already feel like my wardrobe is a little too colorful for my office sometimes. The “joy scale” is difficult for me to apply to clothes. I know Kondo would push me to simply throw everything out, even if it left me with a single pair of underwear and an old flannel shirt.
Kondo pushes my BS button, however, when she advises emptying one’s handbag every night and storing the contents, only to pack it back up in the morning. Thank the bag for its hard work, she says, and let it rest in a spot that makes it happy. I don’t have time to round up my necessities and repack my purse in the morning!! So I hang mine from the treadmill in the dining room, where it can watch TV. (I have long thanked items for their service. I’ve imbued inanimate objects with feelings all my life. Yup. And I have seven cats.)
While the thought of handling every item I own and disposing of half of it (or more) is totally daunting, I can’t get KonMari off my mind. I’ve read it twice. I find myself evaluating potential new possessions on that joy scale. (I just ordered three pairs of shoes sure to spark joy!) I’ve been encouraging Eric to read the book because I can’t and won’t sort his belongings. He’ll have to be on board. Wait—I’m talking like I’m going to do this! What’s happening here?? Has the KonMari Method brainwashed me?
Eric is currently cleaning and organizing his basement shop, a big and desperately needed project that is consuming many hours. Whenever he heads downstairs I remind him to keep only what sparks joy. So far, he hasn’t hauled me to the dump, so I guess I’ll be back to blog another day.