I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up over two years ago, when my youngest was a newborn. I was in my first months as a stay-at-home mother and trying to figure out life with a second baby and feeling like, now that I was finally home full-time, my house should be perfectly neat all the time. I hadn’t started this blog yet and didn’t have any creative projects started to distract me from my messy house, so, for a time, all I could think about was the cleaning I needed to do. I felt like a cleaning robot and an inadequate one, at that. When I read about the KonMari Method, I immediately became obsessed with the concept. Now that I’ve finally finished the process, I thought I would share a few notes on what it accomplished for me and what it didn’t, for those who might have a similar obsession with tidying up their space.
I’ve always been a declutterer and I can recall two previous, memorable decluttering sessions in my life. The first was when I switched schools after ninth grade. I threw away all of the love notes and dried flowers from a certain someone and gave away all of the clothes that didn’t feel like me anymore. It felt very significant. The second was when I got married, at twenty-one, and my husband and I were packing to leave Denver for a second year of art school in Baltimore. I gave some artwork to friends and donated trinkets from high-school banquets and discarded old sweatshirts and multiples of things, so that everything we wanted to take to Baltimore fit in our hand-me-down Nissan Maxima. I bought six green, 18-gallon Rubbermaid containers (still employed on a rotating basis, in the attic) at Target and organized everything that didn’t fit in the car in those and left them in my parents’ basement, to be retrieved several years later (my youngest brother just got married and my poor mother is still trying to clear her home of the detritus left behind by her five children—I myself still have a very large canvas there that I haven’t managed to transport up the mountain to my home).
This time, when I began Tidying Up, with a capital T, I read the entirety of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (and then listened to parts of the audio book for encouragement, while sorting) and took the instructions quite literally (though, I didn’t get sincerely into the thank-the-item piece). I earnestly endeavored to take in hand every single item I owned to make a decision about whether it should stay or go. However, decision-making can be exhausting and, when I started, I was already exhausted with a new baby. Marie Kondo writes about tidying in one fell swoop, noting that that process may take several months. I figured that, with small children disrupting the process, it only made sense that it would take longer. Also, when you pull out a bucket of stuff, it attracts children like flies to honey. And then they start grabbing things and throwing them and hiding them in the closet and under their bed. I wished I had read the book before my children were born. For awhile, I had to set aside the “Tidy by Category” recommendation and just go through little piles of things, in small increments. I gave myself time and did not lose hope that I would complete the process.
I clung to the promise of perfect order.
About a year ago, I started to wonder if I would ever reach the illusive “click-point.” I finally have! There is simply nothing of my own left for me to sort or analyze.
I made a decision on every item in my kitchen.
Every item in my bathroom.
Every piece of artwork I made in college.
Every book I had ever purchased or been given.
Every piece of jewelry.
Every letter and scrap of paper.
Every sewing needle (I kept all of the sewing needles).
Because I took so long to complete the process, I did end up going through some things more than once, because I wasn’t sure I had finished before. Now, I truly have a sense of completion. This doesn’t mean that all of the things I still have are things I could never part with. I can imagine giving away more in order to live somewhere even smaller or to move overseas. It also doesn’t mean that I think that everything I kept is perfect and beautiful. In a Talks at Google with Marie Kondo, a graduate student asked her, “I have a lot of things that I need, but I don’t like, they don’t inspire joy…like GMAT study books, old kitchen utensils…” Marie Kondo replied, via translator, “If you judge those items are necessary for you right now, that means those items are making you happy. So even you’re not inspired by those items, but they’re necessary to you right now, you should keep them. One recommendation I can give you is that if the item doesn’t inspire you…try to tuck it into it, try to convince yourself that this is a good thing for you.” I’ve tucked joy into my ten-year-old bathroom towels (there are always more intriguing things to want than bath towels) and clothes that are useful, but aren’t my favorites, and my entire ugly kitchen and bathroom.
The sense of completion I’ve achieved means that I no longer have the excuse of sorting to distract me from accomplishing other things.
At the beginning of her book, Marie Kondo asserts, “Life truly begins only after you have put your house in order…Only when you know how to choose those things that spark joy can you attain your ideal lifestyle.” This may sound extreme, but, in a sense, I’ve found it to be true for my personality type and personal history. The idea of envisioning my ideal lifestyle really motivated me during the decision-making process. I wanted my house to be easier to clean and free of distractions so that I could pursue other creative endeavors and start a creative business. Now that I have finished tidying up and no longer use sorting to procrastinate, I’ve made a lot of progress on a project that I’ve been wanting to start for years (more on that soon!).
There are dreams I had when I started tidying that are not yet realized. I imagined that once I had attained perfect order, my house would always be perfectly neat. Yet, this is not the case, as I live with three other people! My two young daughters did go through almost all of their things, but most everything sparks joy for them. We made some progress by bribing them several times: if they got rid of a thirteen-gallon bag of toys, they got a movie. Really, they have a relatively manageable amount of stuff now, but there is still the daily, often-overwhelming work of laundry and dishes and cleaning up their many messes—there’s no escaping that, at this point. On most days, our house tends toward messy. And I make excuses for the disarray, mostly regarding the size and placement of our mini washing machine in the kitchen. And living with a two-year-old.
My husband started the process of KonMari, but got bogged down by things he wants to sell (most of my stuff that I no longer wanted I felt was the giving away kind, rather than the salable sort). So the 90 square foot office/bedroom is cluttered with those things right now and is not yet the sparse haven I long for.
Still, they’ve all made progress and it is easier to clean the house than it was before. My five-year-old loves the cute illustrations in the organizing sequel to The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up. She always asks to look at the book when she’s cleaning her room. She’s becoming an expert folder and she uses “spark joy” as a noun! “Let’s do ‘spark joy.'” When we’re cleaning, she calls me “Spark Joy Mama.” I asked her recently what “joy” meant and she said, “Um…being happy when you’re cleaning!” We’re working on that definition, but I am really thankful that she enjoys organizing and is learning to let go of things, as well. We plan to live in this 625 square foot space for at least several more years and maintaining some breathing room is essential for comfort and sanity.
Now that we’ve made decisions on most everything, there are a few organizational items I would like to purchase to keep things a little more ordered. The four of us share a clothes closet, in my daughters’ bedroom, which could benefit from some sort of drawers—at this point, we don’t own a dresser. Also, we currently use the small closet in our own bedroom as a book shelf and we’d love to free up that space by getting an actual bookshelf, but we’ve been indecisive about what kind to get and where we would fit it in the living/dining/sewing room.
At any rate, I’m so pleased with the progress we’ve made. Moreover, it feels wonderful to have reached that click-point with my own belongings. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that I was obsessed with KonMari for an extended period of time, so, really, it’s a relief to be done with it! I’m glad I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and I’m truly grateful for the improvements it’s bringing about in our little home.
What about you? Have you read the book? Did anyone else become obsessed?! Did the results make a significant impact on your lifestyle? I would love to hear in the comments below!