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Decluttering Your Life

Updated: Feb 1, 2019

"This looked like a good idea yesterday after watching "Tidying Up With Marie Kondo." But what now?"

Recently, my business partner Josh Hong told me about a new Netflix show, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, that has the whole nation scurrying around their houses and finding "sparks of joy." After watching just the first episode with my husband, we could see why - it got us all fired up to declutter our home!

Her book "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" published in 2014 has sold over 2 million copies in Japan, Europe and America and helped men and women declutter their homes and lives. In her TV show, Marie Kondo introduces the KonMari method - inspired by the Japanese philosophy of organizing and decluttering one's space and life - to US families. The Wall Street Journal even called her method "the cult of tidying up". 

Her favorite "sparks joy!" phrase often echoes in my head when I look at items I want to buy while shopping. She suggests that we discard all the items that do not bring us joy. And although we can't apply that logic to bills, vegetables, children, and pets, we can on clothing and household items!

Before she begins helping a family to declutter their home, she takes a moment to thank the home for keeping the family safe and for the many special moments the family has shared together there. This principle of gratitude seems ingrained in Japanese tradition, something we all could use more of. Then she looks around the house to get a sense of the place, and usually begins with tackling clothes first, which she also lists at the top of her categories:

1. Clothing 

2. Books

3. Paper

4. Komono (kitchen, bathroom, garage, miscellaneous)

5. Momentos (sentimental) 

She says to take all the items from the same category and place them in a pile to gain a new perspective and realize that you might not need 20 belts when you only wear 3. Then go through each item and decide if it sparks joy. Make sure everything you keep sparks joy! You should touch each item, and see if it sparks joy. If not, you should let it go, especially for items that bring you negative feelings. Unless something makes you happy in your life, why should you hold on to it. But before you discard an item, make sure you thank it for its service and for teaching you about what you like and what you don’t like. Once you've reduced your pile, place things back using these simple rules:

  • Finish discarding first.

  • Store items based on the frequency of use. Items used often should be placed where you can easily access them, and infrequently used items in harder to reach spots. 

  • Use the KonMari folding method. Fold everything so that it can stand on its own vertically, by creating a rectangle in the middle, folding in half or thirds, maybe twice depending on the size. Fold clothes with your family. 

  • Use clear boxes to store items that aren't accessed frequently. This way you know exactly what’s in them. Especially in the garage, attics, etc., store items vertically. 

  • Organize items by size and when possible in drawers.

  • Use tidy boxes. By using boxes you can compartmentalize the drawers neatly. 

  • Find good ways to store your sentiments. Store in a box that sparks joy. 

  • Organize shoes in a way that sparks joy.

  • Give every item a home. “A place for everything and everything in its place.” Utilize boxes. It will help you easily find things when you know where they belong in the first place. 

  • It will get worse before it gets better. Focus on the end result. Focus on one category at a time. 



With Marie Kondo

1. Commit yourself to tidying up.

2. Imagine your ideal lifestyle. 

3. Finish discarding first.

4. Tidy by category, not the location.

5. Follow the right order.

6. Ask yourself if it sparks joy. 

Although I am usually interested and inspired by such challenges, to my great surprise, my husband was also enthusiastic to begin. So, we started with our closets, which were so packed that you could not see the floor from the boxes shoved up under the hanging clothes. I could never find anything, and had no clear sense of where things should go. Most of my clothes were fancy dresses and suits I wore in my thirties when I was busy traveling and attending special events and humanitarian functions. And at least half my shoes were stilettos, and I have not been wearing such shoes for years! It's funny to see how our clothes reflect different phases of our lives and how our likes and dislikes change over time. Now I can't even see myself wearing 4 inch heels. In fact, I went to the other end of the spectrum by wearing only flat shoes, and I am not even talking about the athletic shoes with a cushion. I am talking about bare minimum, like no cushion at all! You can read my blog "The Benefits of a Single Workout" to find out why.

Oh boy, what have we gotten ourselves into!

After several hours of emptying our closet, we were surprised at the shear magnitude of clothes we had. How did it all fit in there? It felt so overwhelming that I could not even begin. And when the paralysis finally subsided and I reached for that first item, I had a really hard time deciding if it sparked joy or not. I was thinking, maybe. A little bit. Define joy, the researcher in me was now taking over. Oh boy, I thought. This reminds me of an old anecdote, if you want to make someone go crazy have them sort through potatoes and categorize them into three groups: small, medium and large. The process of deciding is so mentally draining, that it would have been easier to harvest and physically carry them than to group them. Just like decision making, clutter can be mentally draining.

My closet before applying the "Spark Joy" method!

Applying the "Spark Joy" method really sparks joy!

Before, overflowing with clothes!

So much better!

Remember the pink crops? They still spark joy and have a place now!

My clothes are folded vertically as Marie suggests so we can easily see what we have.

There is now scientific evidence that clutter causes anxiety and stress. But we don't need science to tell us this. Every time we pass by a sink full of dirty dishes, a broken cup or appliance, a pile of laundry, a stack of bills, scattered toys, packed closets, and cluttered desks, we feel the urge to breathe deeply, and are disappointed with ourselves for allowing it to accumulate, even if we don't realize it. Clutter triggers feelings of powerlessness, guilt and embarrassment. We avoid having people over because we don't want them to see how we really live.

My husband and I have moved about 20 times in our 20 year old marriage. And you would think that with each move we would get rid of stuff. But, no. We've accumulated more and more because the houses got bigger and bigger. But the truth is, we don't need even a fraction of things we have. I am often reminded of this when I visit apartments of my childhood friends back in Belgrade, Serbia, who live with their children in spaces smaller than my kitchen.

I now live in a house with 6 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms. And my family and I use only half of it on a regular basis. And even with so much space we seem to lack places to put everything, but this is an illusion. Our four car garage is filled with things... and so it's zero car garage. You can't even see the floor. I rarely go in there. It gives me such anxiety and triggers feelings of resentment towards my husband. It seems to get harder over time to let things go, and as they accumulate, they are harder to find, so we buy even more. That would not be such a problem if we had a designated spot for each item in our house, but that is about to change!

On Marie's show, it appears that it takes only a few days, but in actuality, several weeks passes during each episode, depending on how long it took the family to finish decluttering. Well, one thing is for sure, it certainly didn't happen by day 3! My husband and I slept on couches for three or four days because it took so long to get through the first pass! And just like Marie warned, it got worse before it got better! As the days have turned into weeks, I have become less emotionally attached to items. I found myself kissing and thanking more items than I was keeping. In the end, I got rid of over half of my clothes and most of my shoes, many brand new!

It's still a work in progress. We just finished our closet and are about to tackle the other categories Marie suggested. I will keep you posted on how the other categories go and share what I learn about myself and my life as a result of this tidying process.

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