Can decluttering your home really change your life? That's the promise behind the international best-sellerÂ The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up ($10, amazon.com) by Japanese "organizational consultant" Marie Kondo. I first heard about this little book from my friend Amanda, a personal organizer here in New York City, but since then it's basically taken over the Internet, from the New York Times to the Huffington PostÂ to Real Simple.
Kondo promises that radically purging your stuff will not only make it easier to put together a decent outfit, it will actually transform your life. By clearing out objects that weigh you down mentally and emotionally, you'll make space for new people, things, and experiences. Kondo says that some of her clients have even lost weight or had their skin clear up, possibly due to the "detoxifying" effects of purging your home.
Sounds too good to be true? I tried her methodsÂ myself, and while I haven't experienced any miraculous effects (yet!), I can say that it has made me a whole lot happier in my home. Here's what I learned:
Keep only items that spark joy
This is Kondo's central guiding principle. Take everything you ownâevery sock, every shirt, every tube of toothpaste, every single book, everythingâinto your hand and ask yourself: Does this spark joy? If it does, keep it. If not, ditch it.
It's a surprisingly useful gauge. Using joy as a metric, I got rid of not only worn-out T-shirts and pants that haven't fit me in years, but perfectly good sweaters that I'm just "meh" about. It's amazing how different it feels opening my closet in the morning knowing that every single thing in it is something I'd be delighted to put on.
Do all your discarding at once
Most of us clean upÂ in dribs and drabsâtossing a few items of clothing when we switch over our winter to summer wardrobes, say, or suddenly getting the urge to reorganizeÂ the medicine cabinet once or twice a year. The problem with this, Kondo says, is that it's too easy to backslide.
"Tidying is a special event," Kondo writes. "Don't do it every day."Â Instead, she says, do all your throwing out at once, by category of stuff: Start with your clothes (the easiest category to purge), pilingÂ every item of clothing you own on the floor and going through them one by one. Then move on to books, then papers, then miscellaneous (DVDs, makeup, stationery, electronics, etc.), then finally mementos (the hardest category).
Once you're done, KondoÂ says, maintaining this "state of perfect order" will be a snap and you'll never have to purge again. In fact, she says she has had zero repeat clients.
If this sounds daunting, know that you're not doing itÂ all in one day! Kondo says that the whole process takes her clients around six months. I had to break down clothing alone into multiple subcategories and do it over the course of three weekends. At the end, I had nineÂ big bags of clothes to donate, probably amounting to more thanÂ half my wardrobe.
Photo: Jeannie Kim
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Don't let your possessions weigh you down
I have tons of things that IÂ hang onto mainlyÂ out of guilt (I spent too much money on that! It was a gift!). As the daughter of Korean War survivors who have turned frugality into a high art form, I especially have trouble getting rid of things that are "perfectly good" or "might be useful someday," even if they do nothing for me but take up space.
But Kondo writes, "When you come across something that you cannot part with, think carefully about its true purpose in your life. You'll be surprised at how many of the things you possess have already fulfilled their role." That necklace you loved in the store but never wear, for example, served its purpose of giving you a thrill when you bought it. The hideous vase your aunt gaveÂ you as a wedding gift has done the job of conveying your aunt's love and good wishes for you. It's okay to let it go now.
Store in rows, not piles
By now you've probably seen the YouTube videos of Kondo folding T-shirtsÂ and even socks and underwearÂ into perfect little rectangles that can stand up on edge. The idea here is that clothing actually gets less wrinkled when it's not piled up (think of that poor smushed sweater at the bottom of a tall teetering stack) and that everything is easier to access when it's "filed" vertically in drawers.
Kondo also talks about how folding clothingÂ properly transfers energy to the fabric, making it "stronger and more vibrant." I don't know about that; I just know I am so tickled by the sight of all my T-shirts lined up in perfect rows that I sometimes open my drawers just to admire them. I'm not the only one: Do a quick search for #KonMari (the name of Kondo's method) on Twitter or Instagram to see the legions of drawer "after" photos taken by proud tidiers.
Photos: Jeannie Kim
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Don't buy lots of storage items
When you decide to get organized, is your first stop to The Container Store to stock up on shelving units and fun little drawer dividers and cool nesting baskets? Stop right there.
"Putting things away creates the illusion that the clutter problem has been solved," Kondo writes. Get your belongings under control first, then figure out where to put it all. Once you've sorted through your stuff (and tossed most of it), you'll likely find you have all the space you need. (Still need to divide your sock drawer? Repurpose old shoe boxes, Kondo advises.)
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Store things where they're easy to put away
"Clutter is caused by a failure to return things to where they belong," Kondo writes. "Therefore, storage should reduce the effort needed to put things away, not the effort needed to get them out." I am not exaggerating when I say that this totally blew my mind.
The reason I let my papers and financial statements pile up all over my bedroom? My filing system wasÂ too complicated, making it cumbersome to file anything. Throw away as many papers as you can, Kondo advises, and sort the rest into just three files: needs attention now, needed for a limited amount of time, and must be kept indefinitely. On the rare occasion you need something from one of those files, you won't mind sorting through to find it. (And of course, file them vertically rather than stacking them in piles!)
I can't say that I've attained tidiness perfection yet (far from it, my family would probably say), but the pleasure I've already gained from Kondo's methods has made me a convert. I'm devoting a few months' worth of weekends more to "tidying," and looking forward to the total transformation when I'm done.
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