It was around this time last Spring when I first heard about Marie Kondo, a Japanese organizing consultant, from friends who spoke her praises in an almost religious zeal. They described her methods as transformative. My friends started her method was nothing short of life-changing. They each described how they’d transformed their lives, homes, businesses, and marriages. They all told me this wasn’t a book to check out of the library, that this book was “a keeper.” And in case you have been living under the proverbial rock for the past two years, they were speaking fondly of Kondo’s 2014 book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, the decluttering craze that continues to sweep the globe.
Here in the west, we think of decluttering as donating a few knick knacks here and there, but Kondo’s decluttering services command a waiting list in Japan of no shorter than a six to eight month period. Luckily for the rest of the rest of us who wanted to research this unicorn of organizational systems Kondo’s book breaks down her revolutionary approach to decluttering into a simple two-pronged approach, which she has dubbed, tidying.
The short of the method is as such: First, you must change your mindset. You have to wrap your mind around the idea that your home should only serve to house the items and belongings which spark joy in your life. And how do you know if you’re belongings spark joy? Simple, you gather all of your belongings by category throughout your home, and touch each and every item to see what items truly spark joy. Items that do not spark joy, the item should be thanked for its usefulness and donated. Second, once only your most joy-sparking belongings remain, put every item in a place where it’s visible, accessible, and easy to use daily. And it is at this point that Kondo says will you have reached the nirvana of peace-filled housekeeping, and never have to clean again.
While all of this sounded wonderful, as a working woman who could barely keep up with the demands of daily life I didn’t know how practical this method would be. But once I read Kondo’s book, I got totally motivated and as it turns out, tidying really was my quickest way to household happiness.
There is so much information that I learned from the Kon’Mari method. For the next five, Thursday’s I’ll be sharing what I learned from the Kon’Mari method by category, starting today with clothing, and ending with Kondo’s newest master-level book, “Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up.”
Here’s what I learned about clothing:
Lesson #1: Tackle Categories, Not Rooms. In the past, I have always tackled clutter a room at a time. Generally starting in my bedroom and working my way to the front of the house. Instead, Kondo’s first rule is to tidy by category—making sure to engage and sort you’re all of your certain type of clutter at once, in a single day. She advises beginning with clothing since it’s the least emotionally loaded category for most people. Then onto books and so forth, leaving emotional items such as photographs, letters, and holiday cards, things that hold great sentimental and emotional attachment to the end, to keep your momentum going in decluttering. I gave each category one afternoon which seemed more than plenty.
Lesson #2: Regard Your Belongings. With a new mindset in place, I realized my closets were a disaster. To remedy this, Kondo asks that you consider your clothing’s feelings: Are your clothes happy in a corner shelf? Are they happy crowded onto hangers? Are your workhorse socks really being best utilized, lint-covered and balled up? As silly as it may seem, after considering this perspective, the clothing, and unmentionables I spent so much time acquiring didn’t look very valuable after all. I spent two separate occasions. A large purge and then a second afternoon to create my first capsule wardrobe. Now, every day when I open my closet I love every item I see. It’s such a relief. My biggest lesson? Treating your things with respect makes them look better.
Lesson #3: Nostalgia Be Gone. As I started emptying the closets, I happened upon several hat boxes filled with letters and old photographs. Serious mistake. Seeing photos of my grandmother sent several days of decluttering to the wayside in afternoons filled with watching the film Beaches, shedding tears, and vast amounts of wasted time. Mind you, this was my own fault. I did not heed Kondo’s advice to focus only on the category of belongings at a time. I was procrastinating.
While I was keen on the idea of living intentionally with clothing that sparks joy each and every morning, but I still had hang-ups: What will I be left with? Will I wear to meetings? What about date nights? What about church attire? Will I have to sacrifice favorite belongings for the sake of decluttering? In the end, the Kon’Mari method helped me work through this clothing insecurities and fill my closet with only pieces that currently fit, will work for a multitude of occasions, and are easily seen in my closet.
Lesson #4: Purging is Cathartic: From this point forward I took decluttering my home seriously. Channeling Kondo’s advice, to say a prayer upon entering a client’s home, I lit a candle, said a little prayer, and started digging through the each day’s tasks. Every day between work, on breaks, in the evenings, and all day Saturday’s I purged.
What was surprising? The more I purged the more my clothing style emerged. I was left with clothing that didn’t look better on someone else, things found in magazines belonging to someone else’s journey, I was left with clothing that looked amazing on me. Mind you, this realization came 16 bags of donations destined for consignment and Thredup later. Sixteen bags with non-joy-giving clothes. Sixteen bags of guilt-ridden clothing. Clothing I tortured myself over no longer being able to fit. Kondo’s clothing purge ideas gave me freedom to enjoy my clothing for one reason, to make myself happy. Kondo also advises hanging clothes so that the line along the bottom slopes upward—it adds an optimistic “smile” for your clothes. I did this too!
Lesson #5: Fold Everything. So, once you’ve sorted out the things you plan to discard, you then decide where the remaining clothing and everything else for that matter should go. Kondo suggests clothing would be happier folded in a dresser. So, most everything aside from dress clothes found themselves again. Everything from unmentionables to workout clothing, everything.
I started folding using KonMari’s vertical fold, which can be applied to everything starts with a long rectangle, and then fold from the bottom up, and in half again until it’s in a little package. How do you know if it’s done well? It stands up on its own! To keep these little-folded packages standing at attention in the dresser, Kondo suggests using shoe boxes as drawer dividers.
Lesson #6: Love Your Closet. This is why people become evangelical about the KonMari method. Once you’ve cleared away the clutter, you truly can see the light of day on your own, hard-earned things! What do I love most about my closet, post method? There’s breathing room between pieces, I can literally move my belongings along the bar and see light between each and every piece I own. Each piece in my closet give me hope, and dare I say joy. What brings me the most joy? My simple, vintage polka dot dress.
Lesson #7: Don’t Let Others Go Through Your Donations While Decluttering. Kondo warns against allowing others to delve back into donation and discard bags since they’ll want to stop you from getting rid of so much. Never a truer statement was made. Throughout my closet cleaning, I was met with not only self-doubt, but family members asking, “you’re not getting rid of this are you?” For this reason, I suggest decluttering alone.
Lesson #8: Your Style Shines: For years I’ve worn the same rotation of easy-to-launder, neutral pieces. The color was a nonentity. There were not any pieces vibrant with color in my closets. Once a closet full of dirt dobber brown grabs, now houses my true, truth-speaking passion for color, including turquoise, coral, and shades of pink. These are the forgotten colors of my youth, the colors I had long admired in my study abroad to Europe. These were the colors that drew me into Art History. These are the dances of tone. These are the colors that now greet me each morning.
Lesson #9: Getting dressed is not a chore. Getting dressed is a joy. Having dug out my current closet from nothing short of a painful, weight-fluctuating past. Now my closet feels richer. My closet feels simpler. My closet is easier to navigate. I feel privileged to have nice clothing and take pride in what I wear. Case in point, every Saturday morning I run errands and take a long lunch with my family when able. Each and every outfit I put on, despite having owned many pieces for years, brings a smile to my husband’s face.
Kon’Maring my closet has helped me to see that when there are gaps in my staple wardrobe it’s okay to purchase new or new-to-me items to fill those needs. I also now collect only things I love for my closet. I know focus on finds such as hand-crafted handbags in lieu of expensive handbags. I look for cool, moisture wicking cotton summer dresses and beautiful abalone shell earrings.
My only criticism. While cleaning is so much easier I still have to tidy from time-to-time. I would assume that only the most devout, extreme minded KonMarists would never have to clean again their closets again. This was not my experience. Maybe it’s the fact that I live in an older, dusty house but I still dust my closet floor and clean my closet doorknobs weekly. But now that everything flows with color, order, and purpose maintaining my closet is a pleasure and never a pain.
I am a better person for having Kon’Maried my closets.
For next week, books. I’ll be sharing how I went from Bibliophile on the verge of a hoarder to Zen reader.
Here’s to better living,