Fighting the War on Clutter: The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up
Today I’m inviting you into my home. Allow me to show you around.
It’s cozy, it’s clean and comfortable.
I arrange my bookshelves and (try to) make things pretty.
But look a little closer, and you’ll notice that there’s junk everywhere. Hidden in drawers and under beds, stuffed in closets and cupboards, and covering any surface with space to spare.
Here, have a look at my nightstand. Gross, right?
This is my husband’s closet.
And here’s what you’ll find if you open the top drawer of my dresser.
This is all very embarrassing to show, especially since I spent the entire month of January organizing my house (and my life) from top to bottom. While my method back then was solid, it clearly didn’t stick.
I don’t like being surrounded by clutter. In fact, I feel like I’m constantly cleaning up. But something in my approach to domestic maintenance is broken and it’s time to fix that.
The Clutter Challenge, Part Deux
Enter Marie Kondo’s massive bestseller The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I’d heard about it for months, but only recently picked up this short, practical read that made me want to give this organization thing another go, hence this month’s goal:
Every single item in my house has a specific and designated spot.
The idea of assigning and maintaining a designated spot for every single item seems highly unrealistic, especially with little kids at home, but I realized after reading this book that maybe my things are so disorganized because A. I have too many things, B. it’s unclear where they all belong and C. it takes too much effort to put them away.
I’m also the type of person who believes that good enough is better than perfect, which perhaps is the mindset that led to the accumulation of even more clutter. Kondo advises the opposite: aim for perfection.
The work involved can be broadly divided into two things: deciding whether or not to dispose of something and deciding where to put it. If you can do these two things, you can achieve perfection. Objects can be counted. All you need to do is look at each item, one at a time, and decide whether or not to keep it and where to put it. That’s all you need to do to complete this job.
It sounds perfectly rational and straightforward, but I’m worried.
I’m worried that I won’t be able to keep up with my kids who are terrible at putting their toys and all of those darn little pieces back in their designated spots.
I worry that my husband (who, as it is, doesn’t understand the concept of putting things away) will resist my efforts to dispose of things like electronics, kitchen gadgets, and the many, many random things we keep stored and never use. He subscribes to the “what if I need this one particular [insert useless item here] at some point in the future so I should install some fancy storage solution” school of thought.
Kondo, incidentally, says that storage adds to the clutter; “[it] creates the illusion that the clutter problem has been solved.” She’s right. 90% of my husband’s storage solutions have failed to keep the clutter contained.
Finally, I’m worried that I’ll get lazy and give up altogether.
But worries and uncertainties and fears are part of the process, and I’m putting my faith in the method and diving in.
Before I move on, I want to point out that while this challenge will include a fair amount of clutter clearing and organizing, it will not be a repeat of January.
This time around, I want to take a deeper dive into how our environment impacts the way we live and work, exploring the science of space, clutter, color, and feng-shui.
My hope is that this project permanently changes the way I think about my things, my environment, and in turn, my lifestyle habits.
The KonMari Method
The KonMari (a play on Marie Kondo’s name) method is not tailored to any one type of personality, and involves just two steps:
- Decide what stays and what goes
- Designate a spot for everything
There are, of course, some nuances to the method that make it so effective:
- Discard first: Then you can think about putting things away in their designated spot, otherwise the whole process becomes jumbled.
- Do it all in one go: If you try to tidy up a little each day, you’ll be tidying for the rest of your life, so make the project a one time “special event” and not a daily chore.
- Sort by category, not location: We have a tendency to store the same type of item in more than one place, so a category based approach helps to avoid repetition.
- Sort in order: Start with things that are easy to make decisions about. This gives you momentum, and simultaneously trains your brain to make decisions more quickly. Clothes are the easiest place to start, then books, papers, household/kitchen items, and finally gifts and sentimental items, which are the hardest to let go of. This is the list that I’m following:
- Pull everything out and put it in one place: Once you’re able to see everything in one spot (and get over the shock of how much stuff you actually have), take each item into your hands, one at a time, and decide whether or not to keep it.
- Does it spark joy?: As you hold each item, ask yourself this question, especially with things you feel torn about. Yes, it’s a touchy-feely thing to do, but the whole point of this process is to have a space that creates a sense of happiness and calm. Asking yourself if the item “sparks joy” is the best criteria for deciding whether or not to keep the object.
- Put things away when you get home: Empty your bags, put your groceries and keys and papers away. It doesn’t take that long.
The book goes into much more detail about how to organize and store certain things (like why folding and stacking clothes in a pile is a bad idea), what to do when you come to something that’s difficult to discard, and how to deal with uncooperative family members. So if you’re intrigued, do go and pick up a copy.
So Far So Good
This is a slow process that will probably take the better part of the month to complete.
But it feels liberating to see rows of empty bookshelves, to have drawers and shelves in my closet with nothing in them, and to see things transform from this:
So is tidying up magical and life changing?
Will I hone my decision making skills, develop my intuition, and gain confidence in my environment like Kondo promises?
Will it change my life in other, more profound ways?
I’m about to find out.