If you’ve read any of my posts here or on Not a Pedestrian Life, you’ll know that traveling and moving is part of the story of our family. You’ll also know that I feel strongly about the value of carefully chosen items which remind us of who we are and where we come from.
Nevertheless, every year hundreds of books are published about decluttering, organising, downsizing and otherwise ridding yourself of stuff. There’s something very western and very consumptive about this phenomenon. In order to worried about organising all your stuff in houses cramped with stuff, you are marked out as being in the top 5% of the world’s population. There is something kind of sickening about the way we consume and collect more than we could every need or use.
One of the latest books/theories in the long line of theories is the KonMari method. A theory and a book, that promotes the philosophy that there is a way to declutter and never have to clean up again. Marie Kondo is Japanese and her way of thinking has pushed me to reflect on how her cultural perspective is different to that which I have been nourished and nurtured with. Even to be ready to read the whole book took me some months, so if you’re not ready to walk down this road, I would encourage you to reflect on what it is that makes you uncomfortable or resistant.
I know that I live through a cycle of refinding my joy in my things (like Christmas day), establishing, nesting, resisting bringing new things into the home in preparation for moving, and divesting in preparation of the next move. After 4 international removals and countless other moves, knowing this cycle is repeatable is helpful.
Do you have a cycle like this in your life?
Let’s explore the KonMari Method in a little more detail. The challenge is to ask of each item in your home:
Does it bring me joy?
Initially, I found her ideas a little kooky to be honest – the idea of speaking to your belongings, thanking them for their service as you let them go borders on the ridiculous. But, even as I resisted the idea, it struck me over the last few weeks that there were a few things that I was resisting giving away because of the good memories associated with them; for me, that often relates to both clothes and books. And then, realising that is actually a key idea she tries to present – that we are often more connected to the emotions, than to the things themselves.
One of the areas I’ve realised is to the guilt I feel if I don’t at least attempt to make sure these things we’re letting go of are not merely ending up in a landfill. We’ve tried donating to St Vincent De Paul Society, Salvation Army, selling clothes to ThredUp, donating clothes to a wonderful local organisation that hosts a clothes closet for women trying to get back on their feet, and I’ve been exploring organisations like Free The Girls (US), UpliftBras (Australia, NZ, and Singapore), and BreastTalk (UK), and BraRecycling (US)
Another of the projects that we plan to tackle in the next few weeks is putting all our CDs and DVD into a case with their liner notes so we can free up the space that the jewel cases take and sell or give away the tower bookcase they are currently being stored in. There are some great Book-like options for this kind of storage that look great and take up far less room than storing these things in the traditional way. Do you have other suggestions for a nomadic family like ours?
Being in a a privileged situation to be able to say that it is better to only have a few things you really love than alot of things you kinda like is a rare gift (though much more common in western countries in the USA). But, that doesn’t mean you should keep things just because you have them.
Here’s the KonMari steps. I do recommend trying to find the book at your local library:
The general theory is that with the KonMari Method, you can get out from underneath your clutter once and for all. It can be broken down into 7 steps:
- Tidy all at once. Tidying a bit at a time never works. Things will get messy again quickly. (All at once means allotting about 6 months to the project.) This is perfect if you know you will be moving – but it is also overwhelming if you live with someone for whom the mess that you need to make in the process of the decluttering and tidying is unsettling! 6 months is good length of time to give yourselves.
- Visualize your destination. Before you throw things away, Marie Kondon suggests that you visualize your ideal lifestyle. Goals such as, “I want to live clutter free” or “I want to be able to put things away” are too broad for this. Kondo suggests that you must think in concrete terms, such as: “We want to live in a beautiful home, where we are always ready for company and where we enjoy peace and comfort.” – William Morris’ idea that all things in your home should be either useful or beautiful is definitely part of this for me.
- Identify why you want to live the way you envision. For every answer ask yourself “why?” again. For example, if you want to live clutter free so you get a better night’s sleep, ask yourself, “Why do I want to sleep better?” Do this 3-5 times. When you find the answer to why you want to be tidy, you are ready to move on.
- Determine if each item “sparks joy.” Rather than focusing solely on throwing things away, which Ms. Kondo acknowledges only brings unhappiness, be sure to cherish what you love. Do this by taking each item in your hand and asking yourself “does this spark joy?” If yes, then it stays. If it does not spark joy, then throw it out. Note: You must touch every item so that your body can react. This is not supposed to be an intellectual process. It’s a “felt” physical sense that you can develop over time and which enables you to connect with your intuition.
- Tidy by category, not location. In most households, items that fall into the same category are stored in multiple places. If you are tackling your clothes, then you must get all the clothes out of every closet and drawer in every room first. Start with tops first, then bottoms, and work from there. She also instructs you in the fine art of folding, which frees up an enormous amount of closet space.
- Tidy in the right order. Ms. Kondo says that the following order is the way to tidy: Clothes, Books, Papers, and then Komono (miscellaneous.) She goes into great detail on how to separate and each category into sub-categories.
- Discard before you place things back. You must discard first. Don’t put anything away in a category until everything you are going to discard is removed.
One of the things I find fascinating about this is that it feels rather different to be tackling this in the context of marriage than it might if I were on my own. I know that RM and I have to be on the same page for this to work. It is amazing how much easier it is for me to declutter and divest at work than it is at home!
My next step is to reread the “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying up” again before handing it over to RM to read. The hope is that through this we will end up on the same page about whether this is an approach we want to apply to our lives and home.
Anna Blanch Rabe is an Australian-born writer and photographer. She currently works as an Executive Director for a non profit which serves children who have been abused and neglected. You can follow her adventures on Not A Pedestrian Life, or Facebook. More of her photography can be viewed here. For more take a look at Quotidian Home or her previous website, Goannatree.