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7 decluttering lessons, Konmari-style

My projects on deck got briefly sidetracked thanks to learning about Konmari, or, spring cleaning on steroids. Decluttering? Me, who just posted about tip shop trash treasures? Me, who’s making another pilgrimage to IKEA when I’m in Melbourne this week? Yeah, the one and the same.

Konmari talk is everywhere right now. I came across a few pieces on Marie Kondo and her cleaning methods, read the effusive praise from all quarters, and was curious enough to buy the Kindle version of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  At least the book itself would only be digital clutter.

To my surprise, I liked it. The book is a quick, light read. Her tone is gentle yet determined, and her enthusiasm for laying out her process managed to seep in. I was lying in bed, reading, and I suddenly wanted to dig around my closet. At midnight. A book about cleaning, much less one that I bought and I read, feels like the most trivial, privileged, housewifey thing to focus on… but so far I’m going along with it. It’s not for everybody, but most things aren’t.

Konmari 101: You determine whether or not an item sparks joy, purge the things that don’t, and then you organise what’s left, which is hopefully a collection of belongings that make you happy. There’s more to it than that, but that’s the most important tidbit.

Seven lessons I took away from this process:

Keep your dream interior in mind. Even just listing off adjectives is a good starting point: dreamy, feminine, modern, beachy, invigorating, et cetera. Having an image in mind helps you figure out what you need — and what you don’t — in order to make your space feel happier and more restful. Thanks, Pinterest boards! You totally delivered on the aspirational imagery.

Being able to see most of your options at once is key. One hallmark of the Konmari method is the way she folds clothingShe encourages vertical arrangements, so that you can see everything all at once in each drawer instead of digging through piles (and messing it all up). I use hanging cubbies for that exact same reason, because it’s handy to see what’s in your closet at a glance. Even if all my black flats and boots have migrated to the entryways.

Don’t make things complicated. No complex organization. No fancy storage systems, no going nuts with labelmakers. It’s important to discard the clutter first, or else it’s just being shifted out of sight. Our filing cabinet is staying, but there’s a bunch of papers in it that could really just be junked.

Don’t take the “does this object spark joy?” directive too literal. Like, I don’t feel joy from my pair of tweezers, but I do feel pleased when I don’t see my three recurring chin hairs in the mirror. Functionality is satisfying in itself.

Guilt is a large part of this and you learn how to process it. By discarding the things that don’t spark joy in yourself, you can get rid of the things you keep for other reasons: it cost so much, it’s in perfectly good condition, someone else gave it to me. Gift-guilt is addressed in the book; Kondo claims that the purpose of a gift is carried out once it’s received, which I thought was a great point. If you sell or donate something that doesn’t make you happy, it just might find its way to someone who will love it. I also felt that good old first-world guilt over my own materialism. How do I have so many clothes that I never wear? How do I have so much stuff — so much unused, unwanted stuff — that it fills up more bags than I would have anticipated? I’ll try to be more mindful of future purchases.

Cleaning house physically may help you clean house mentally. Going through old clothes, books and everything else made me reflect on who I was at certain points in time, or who I thought I wanted to be, and it felt good to let the trappings of those previous selves go. Listening to music during this process is not recommended in the book, and I’ll add a corollary onto that: ESPECIALLY do not listen to music that triggers strong memories. Like, having the Modern Lovers on makes me think of art school, which sparks a round of twenty questions that all take the format of “what if I had done ______ instead of _______,” which is not productive whatsoever. This process is about letting go.

IT’S FUN. Once you get started, it’s mildly addicting! The results are immediate, and it’s true, spaces stay cleaner when every item has a designated place. Also, when I went through the pile of toiletries under the sink, I found a bunch of goodies that I’d forgotten about. That was awesome.

So far, I’ve gone through my clothes, books, papers and toiletries, and have already dropped off several bags at the Salvos. I’m still eager about this process but I won’t obsess over every bit of clutter in our place, especially when I get to the garden shed. That one’s being saved for last. Right now I’d rather get lost in a forest than deal with our cache of tools and supplies. 

How’s your clutter situation? Does Konmari appeal to you at all? Contrary to the book title, I wouldn’t call it LIFE-CHANGING, but I did find it interesting and useful.

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