Discarding

As I mentioned in my previous post, my mindset and my home have been transformed by applying the principles from the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.  It’s been amazing.  However, I cannot, in good conscience, wholeheartedly recommend it without giving a few disclaimers.

First, this is not a Christian book.  While there is no inappropriate language in it or anything like that, there are many spiritual overtones that relate to the author’s Shinto upbringing.  She mentions thanking items, greeting the house, and things like that.  Having listened to the book now several times, I don’t think she actually believes that objects can hear her or anything like that, but just know that the whole book has a bit of an animistic feel, especially toward the end.  Fellow believers, be on guard for this.  Don’t start thanking your stuff.  Instead, let the process remind you to thank the One who provided all of the stuff (and the people or places that it may represent) in the first place.

Second, this book won’t appeal to everyone.  It’s more emotion-driven than other decluttering books that I’ve read.  That’s one of the reasons that I avoided checking it out before, but it is precisely that difference that works best for me now.  In reading online reviews of the book, people seem to either love it or hate it.  No one seems to just think it’s so-so.

With that out of the way, let’s proceed.

There are only two steps involved in the KonMari (from the author’s name, Marie Kondo) method:

  1. Discard.
  2. Decide where to put the things that you want to keep.

OK, so there’s a little more to it that I’m about to explain, but really, you just repeat those two tasks.  The main thing to remember is this: discarding MUST come first.  Don’t decide where you’re going to put a group of items and then see how many will fit.  Go the other way around.  Get rid of stuff first, and then find a place for what remains.  And even in the discarding, think a bit backwards: instead of deciding what to get rid of, decide what to keep.

I’ve heard various rules for determining what to keep and what to toss.  “Keep only those things you believe to be beautiful or know to be useful.”  “Throw out anything you haven’t used in the past x years.”  “When in doubt, throw it out.”

This process involves picking up each item and asking one critical question: Does it spark joy?

My high school English teacher once described me as a romantic pragmatist, and no one since has ever so accurately diagnosed me.  In my mind is a near-constant battle between logic and emotion.  Logic has the louder voice and usually wins, but this often leaves Emotion feeling rather bitter and unappreciated.  When I first heard the question “Does it spark joy?” given as the yardstick for deciding what to keep and what to toss, Logic immediately scoffed, “Could it possibly be more vague?”  But Emotion jumped in with, “Now wait a minute.  We’ve never tried it this way before, and it makes sense to me.  Maybe it’s time for me to make some decisions for a change.”

Another appeal?  The book’s author promised that this would help me to become a better and more efficient decision-maker in general.  I figured it was worth a try even if that was all that got accomplished.  Getting Logic and Emotion to work together peacefully would be as life-changing as getting my children to work together peacefully!

There’s a time-frame to which you must adhere and an order that must be followed.   First, the time-frame:

“Start by discarding all at once – intensely and completely.”
“The key is to make the change so sudden that you experience a complete change of heart.  The same impact can never be achieved if the process is gradual.”  — Marie Kondo

If, like me, you’re thinking that you can’t possibly go through your entire house in a single day, don’t fret.  Her idea of “all at once” is to complete the process within about six months.  I’ve been working at this for about a month, and I’m down to mementos (see below).  The key is that you need to do all of one category at one time – not spread out over 15 minutes a day or something like that.  Finish one stage as quickly as your schedule will allow – all in one day if at all possible – and don’t go on to the next thing until the first is finished.

So what order is to be followed?

  1. Clothes
  2. Books
  3. Papers
  4. Komono (Miscellaneous)
    1. Office/Living Room items
    2. Kitchen (cookware, utensils, dishes, etc.)
    3. Pantry items
    4. Household supplies (cleaners, vacuums/mops/brooms, etc.)
    5. Tools
    6. Bathroom (towels, makeup, hair products, shampoo, soap, etc.)
    7. Furniture/Decor (lamps, chairs, non-sentimental pictures, bedding, etc.)
  5. Memorabilia

(For great visuals, see parts 1 and 2 on this website.)

It’s very important to “sort by category, not by location.”  Don’t start with a certain room or closet or drawer and move through the house.  Instead, go one category at a time.

To tidy a particular category, gather all items of that type from all over the house.  So for example with clothes, take everything out of the closet, get things out of drawers, look around the house for coats and shoes, and so forth.  (You can also break this down a little further – shirts, pants, dresses, underwear, etc. – if it’s too much all at once.)  Then pick up each item, and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?”  If the answer is “Yes!,” put it in the keep pile.  If the answer is anything else, put it in the garbage or donation bag.

If you feel guilty for not being able to wear it, toss it.  If you used to love it but now it just isn’t your style, let it go.  If it fits fine but you feel frumpy in it, hasta la vista.  If it was a gift from someone you love but you just don’t love the item, think of the person with fondness but send the gift off for someone else to really enjoy.

On the other hand, if you come across something you haven’t worn in a long time and it doesn’t fit but it brings a huge smile to your face, keep it.  I have a dress that I once wore walking along the Champs-Élysées in Paris over 20 years ago.  It doesn’t fit, and it’s out of style, but it makes my heart happy, so it’s still in my closet.

Once you’ve gone through your clothes in this way (which includes shoes, purses, and jewelry), move on to books, and do the same thing.  Get them all out onto a pile, pick up each one individually, and ask, “Does this spark joy?”  Again, if the answer is anything other than “Yes!,” let it go.  If you’ve been meaning to read it but never seem to get around to it, donate it.  If it’s so important that you are willing to buy it again, do so, but don’t hold on to it now because of what you “might” do in the future.

Once you get past books and into papers (which do not include memorabilia at this point) and the following categories, the concept of joy may seem a lot less applicable.  But there’s still joy to be found.  For example, a can of carrots in my pantry doesn’t bring me any particular happiness, but having an organized, uncluttered pantry and being able to find that can of carrots effortlessly does bring me a great deal of satisfaction.

There’s a certain genius in the order.  You begin with a category that may be large but for which joy – or lack thereof – can be determined with relative ease.  Books are similar.  Chances are, you’ll get rid of quite a lot in these categories, and that feeling of accomplishment is very motivating.  Looking at that clean closet and those organized drawers (more about those another time) and shelves helps to propel you through the less-glamorous but generally more lifestyle-affecting categories.  Finally, memorabilia is saved for the very end for two reasons: 1. It will likely take the largest amount of time and mental/emotional energy, so you don’t want to get bogged down early in the process; and 2. By the time you reach that category, your ability to discern what truly brings you joy has been honed.

Still not quite convinced?  I understand.  I’ll tell you more of what I have learned, especially what it has done for me on a deeper level, later….

Remember, you can actually listen to the book for free by signing up for a 30-day trial of Audible.com through Amazon.  You can then hear it either through the Audible app, by playing it on your computer, or by downloading it to iTunes.  Just click here.  Even if you cancel before the 30 days is up, the audiobook will still be yours.

(Full transparency: These are affiliate links.  I earn $5 when someone signs up for a free 30-day trial of Audible (even if you end up cancelling and never paying anything).  I actually earn quite a bit less if you buy the physical or Kindle book.  So you pay $0, and I get $5.  Win-win, right?  But I really do love the book.  I’ve been an Amazon affiliate for quite a while now.  Do y’all usually see me writing multiple posts about a book?)

(Also, I have no way of knowing who bought the book and who didn’t, so no worries about hurting my feelings or anything like that.  OK?  OK.)