True Confessions of a “Magic of Tidying Up” Convert

This post from Dana Simpson is the perfect follow-up to Joan’s blog a couple weeks ago about Why it’s Smart to Buy What You Love.  Her blog was about thoughtfully purchasing/acquiring things that you love and will keep…this post is about how to thoughtfully part with the things you no longer need or get joy from.  – Auntie M, Editor of Hammertown.com

magic-of-tidying-up-for-danas-blogLast month I purchased the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo, as a gag gift for my husband who is very satisfied by tidiness. The small piles of magazines and papers, the Lego leftovers, and frankly the general overflow that gathers here and there each week can drive him crazy.  Frankly, I don’t like piles and clutter either, but there is only so much time in the day and between my stuff, the kid’s stuff, the kitchen stuff, the mail, magazines and beyond, the job of sorting and discarding seems to be never-ending. When he opened the book we all had a good chuckle and then it landed atop some new piles of holiday gifts that were forming in the living room. While I was grateful for the bounty I cannot help but see the irony in it all!

I had heard about the Mari Kondo tidying method before. This Japanese professional de-clutterer did,after all, start something of a global tidying craze which took root last year. At Hammertown alone we sold hundreds of copies of her book. But frankly, I had written it off as a bit of a joke. I mean really, her method expects you to touch every item you own and ask if it “sparks joy”. This all seemed a little crazy to me. The demands of daily life are enough…when was I going to find the time to personally thank and discard all my clutter!

It wasn’t until a friend of mine waxed on about the “life-changing” tidying strategies that I wanted to see if it could work for me. If she could do it, maybe I could too. Flash forward a few days. I pick up the book and begin to read. In minutes, I get totally sucked in to Mari Kondo’s tale of tidying nirvana.  My takeaway from the initial read was that if I used her method and saw it through to the end, I would never have to tidy again. Too good to be true? Perhaps, but I was willing to give it a go. She was gentle and made sure you knew it didn’t all have to happen at once. The tidying needs to be accessible and you need to set clear goals. Her overarching advice: address the clutter by category not by room. In this way when you are done with a category, you won’t have to address it again, ever! Another gem of advice, think about what you want to keep, NOT what you want to give away. This made it much easier to part with items that I clung to over the years for the wrong reasons.

 

before during tidying

I decided right then to make it happen. After a mind-clearing walk with the dog, I embarked on the first category, Clothes. First, I did some online research and many people suggested it could take at least one or two days to complete the clothing category–and that was just their own closet. My plan was to address my closet, my kids’ closets and then the coat closets and basement (more bins of clothes).  I would be buried for weeks!  I decided to break it up and started with my own closet. By New Year’s (less than a week later) I had completed all the closets in the house! As with most acquired talents, de-cluttering gets easier the more you do it. Here’s the Marie Kondo lessons that helped me through the darkest moments (see “before” pic above to get an idea of what I mean).

Lesson 1: Look at it all. Touch it all.
Bring everything out where you can see it all together and get a sense of what you have. OMG when I emptied my drawers and closet and brought every item in to the middle of my room, it looked like a hoarder’s delight. I was embarrassed and shocked. My family was too. There was not a chance all these items sparked joy.

Lesson 2: Sentimentality and Guilt are not your friend
The simple truth is, if it does not make you happy, get rid of it. No matter who gave it to you or how much it cost. Thank that cashmere sweater in the off color you never wear and send it off to a new home!

Lesson 3: Stay focused and have fun.
OK, let’s be real. Nine hours of closet cleaning can upend even the most devoted tidier. The novelty of verbally thanking my clothes was thrown out by hour two and frankly, I had no idea what “joy” was anymore. Just like running a marathon, I decided to forge ahead, albeit with less enthusiasm, until I hit my second wind. I rallied and kept at it and indeed, with some sort of end in sight, I found my enthusiasm again. I wanted to get to the next step.  I was ready to put my stuff away and have a place for it all.

Lesson 4: Folding is your friend (hangers, not so much)
According to Kondo, a lot of our clothing would be much happier (yes, I did just give my clothes their own feelings 🙂 folded in a dresser than hung in a closet. When I was ready to get to the task of putting items away, I limited the hangers and folded mostly everything else, including all my socks! Of course many items still hang or sit on shelves, but my drawers are now places of beauty which make me smile whenever I open them. Following her method, (illustrated to perfection here: http://goop.com/the-illustrated-guide-to-the-kondo-mari-method/), I began to put items away in a neat line rather than stacked on top of one another. In this way, nothing ever gets forgotten and you can see all your clothing at a glance when you open your drawer, even your socks get the Kondo folding treatment! Every item in my “keep pile” found a home.  A few “non joy” items were discovered in the folding round and another give-away bag created.  The joy I still feel opening my drawers is a little embarrassing but I ain’t ashamed to admit it!

 

after-tidying-Dana

Once my closet was complete, all my clothes, including my off season ones, fit into my closet and dresser. Aside from my coats, there is not another piece of clothing in any other place in the house! I repeated the process for both my kids and amazingly, they appreciate the outcome as much as I do. We also had fun sorting together…tidier bonding I guess. They were able to decide what clothes brought them joy and clear out the riff raff.  Sometimes it was harder for me to let go of their clothes than it was for them! Now we are ready for the next category, BOOKS! I am waiting one month before started on that one.  Be on the look out for installment number 2 in my tidying adventure.  Before signing off however I want to give you a few take-aways to inspire you to give it a try.

One month after the initial tidy, here are some of the best benefits I see making my daily life better.

1. Sharing the love comes back time and again. Over the past month I have received multiple texts and emails from friends who were the recipients of some of my “chosen just for them” bags of goodies. Items that didn’t spark joy for me or my kids are now sparking joy all over New England!
2. I am only adding clothes that I really love to my wardrobe (echoing Joan’s sentiments). I am thinking much more about what I buy and not being impulsive. I want my closet to keep bringing me joy.
3. I have become a more effective decision maker! I never expected this exercise in de-cluttering to spill over into other areas of my life so drastically. I can honestly say that going through hundreds of items and asking if they sparked joy has lead to quicker choice-making in both my professional and personal life. YAY!!
4. Cleaning is much easier. I suspect only an official client of Mari Kondo could ever reach the true place of tidying nirvana that leads to never having to tidy again. That said, now that everything has a place and there is room for it all, clothing clutter is almost non-existent and laundry gets put away almost immediately. It is easier to keep my closet and room clean and I feel the joy (rather than fear) whenever I enter my tidy closet.

HAPPY TIDYING!