I live in a very small apartment. It’s adorable and close to everything. About a hundred years ago, this building was a Basque boarding house. Every apartment is different and a little bit special. I’ve very much enjoyed living here except for one thing–we have too much stuff.
To be fair, we are middle-class Americans. We were always going to have too much stuff. And to be fair to my husband, the majority of stuff is either mine or “ours” like kitchen goods.
I’m pretty good at organizing, and I love getting rid of things, but it always seems to be too much anyway. I love organizing, but I hate putting things away and when the clutter starts to pile up it just messes with my productivity (since I work from home and can’t escape it except for short periods of time).
A lot of you will be familiar with Marie Kondo’s Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It’s become almost a cliche in certain circles, and it’s made fun of on a regular basis. I think this is a shame.
Here’s the cliff notes version of the book: Go through all of your things by category rather than by location. Move everything from it’s original location (i.e. take clothes out of closets and drawers) and then touch everything, decide if it brings you joy. If it does, keep it. If not, discard.
You wouldn’t think that a self-described vintage enthusiast could feel happy at the prospect of giving away half of her clothes and accessories, but it’s been glorious. I can actually see and access everything in my closet from, and every outfit feels like an opportunity instead of a reproach.
Here’s why I think her method works better than other methods I’ve tried in the past:
- You go through everything all at once (which she defines as within 6 months) while you still have momentum instead of doing a little bit every so often.
- You see and touch all the things you have and may not remember owning–it’s a great way to take stock.
- Taking everything out of its original location makes it easier to get rid of things because it’s not easier to leave them where they are.
- The criteria of “joy” is an emotional one rather than a rational one. I often rationalize why I shouldn’t get rid of something out of guilt (something was a gift) or because it still has use left (awful ballpoint pens). Making emotional decisions allowed me to really see my things for the joy they can bring to me.
- This method teaches you to make decisions quickly and to trust those decisions.
Now for the big question:
Can everyday, boring items bring you ‘joy’?
I think part of the problem with the book’s reception sometimes is that everything is taken very literally instead of abstractly.
I read a Goodreads comment suggesting that Ms. Kondo was crazy for forcing her clients to say ‘Thank you’ or greet their home, and further suggesting that if they heeded her advice that the house would in turn welcome them. Taken at face value, this can seem, to put it nicely, a bit of a stretch.
But how many of us say grace before meals or keep a gratitude journal? This is really no different. Being actively thankful for the things in your life has been shown to be very good for mind and body, so why not be grateful for shelter? And your house may not literally talk to you, but when you put good vibes into the world I find that they tend to come back to you.
The advice in this book need not be taken literally. It’s language is extreme because it is trying to change the way people think about their things.
Similarly, you might not actively find “joy” in antibiotic ointment, but isn’t it amazing that you have something in your cupboard that can be used to help heal yourself and others? I treated this process like a game. And if I really couldn’t find an answer? Chances are it wasn’t really an essential item or it was, but I’d always hated it.
I’m sure I’ll find more to say on this subject. But here’s what I’ve gone through and gotten rid of so far:
Clothing: donated, tossed, or consigned 200+ pieces
Books: kept, about 100, donated about 200+
Art supplies: discarded about 2/3 of things I was keeping for “someday”
Papers: I went through all of our home papers and weeded out everything except essentials and took it to get shredded. Now we don’t have to keep the big, ugly filing cabinet that I’ve never really liked.
Still to go: lots of little things (CDs, DVDs, the kitchen, the bathroom, towels and linens, etc.) and mementos, which will certainly be the most difficult, which is why Kondo tells you to leave it for the end (otherwise you lose entire days reminiscing over pictures and derail real progress, which is super true. I’ve done it many times…)
Now over to you: Do you like or dread organizing and tidying? Have you read or tried Marie Kondo’s method? Let me know in the comments!