The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: How I KonMari’d My Butt Off

So have you tried the KonMari Method? I have. I still am. After having lunch with a friend who couldn’t stop gushing about it, I found the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing mysteriously downloaded onto my Kindle. Turns out I forgot it was in my e-library queue from a couple of months previously. Still, I took that as a sign from above to use the KonMari Method to clean the crap outta my house.

KonMari is a made-up word, a combination of the author’s name, Marie Kondo– like if I started calling something the AllLyn Method. (She’s sold two million copies of her book, so maybe I should get cracking on the AllLyn Method). The decluttering premise is simple and brilliant in its simplicity: hold every item in your home (yep, every item) and ask yourself, “does this spark joy within me?” If yes, keep it. If no, let it go.

You can read the book in one sitting, but really, that’s the whole premise right there. I do like how she gives you an order in which to do things (first sort clothes, then books, etc.) and also, how she tells you to thank each item out loud and treat inanimate objects like they’re sentient beings because, quite frankly, I like when someone is more eccentric than me. (I totally believe that, by the way. And since I already talk to pets, animals, trees, bushes, hey—why not add socks into my conversations?)

I agree with most of what she says, but it’s very clear that Ms. Kondo, 30, lives a markedly different life than I do. I don’t think she has kids and if she does, they’re still young enough where they haven’t become what we call “Bone Collectors”: strange, little hoarding fetishists. How else do you explain the six pair of scissors I found in my art project-obsessed daughter’s room one cleaning session? (I am not considering the idea that she was hoarding them for nefarious purposes, one for each of us. Yet.) Or, all those Lego mini-figures? Or the baseball cards and stuffed animals? Oh my stars, the stuffed animals.

I’m also guessing she doesn’t live with many people because of her suggestion to gather every single item of clothing, for every member of the family, from every room in the house— even the off-season winter coats stored up in the attic! —and put them into one big pile in the middle of a room. And then, go through them one item at a time, asking if it sparks joy.

Hahahahhah! <wipes tears of laughter off front of shirt> Can you imagine what that pile would look like for our family of six? Yeah, no, if I saw that, I would run screaming to my bedroom, pausing only to swipe a bottle of Vino Verde out of the fridge, slam and lock the door and stay inside forever, huddled in bed, drinking out of the bottle and, every so often, shrieking at the top of my lungs.

Instead, I took a page out of Frank Sinatra’s playbook and I did it my way: one room at a time, one person at a time, and one category at a time, one free afternoon at a time. I took all my clothes out of my drawers and dumped them in a pile. I touched them all to see if there was a spark; if yes, I KonMari’d them (a very special way to fold them, of course) and then I put them back. Everything else went to Goodwill or the garbage. Then I did the same thing to my closet.

I barely have any clothes left (for real) but what I do have, I love. My drawers are half empty—all except my sock drawer. I hoard socks (less sinister than scissors, right?) and can trace that right back to being the youngest of eight children and never having enough socks. But all of the many socks in that drawer now spark joy, so there is that.

I am so proud of myself that I’ve been inviting friends to come check out my handiwork: “hey, want to come upstairs so I can show you my drawers and my closet?” So far, no one has taken me up on this offer and it’s only when I just typed it “out loud” that I hear how Silence of the Lambs it sounds. (Note to self: explain to my daughter that she can’t ask people upstairs to see her scissors collection, or I will be getting phone calls.)

Some of the things that no longer sparked joy seemed too nice to just give away without knowing exactly who would be receiving them, so I set some items aside for friends. For example, a beautiful dress and heels that I paid full price for but have only worn once and never wore again, because that was the outfit I wore to my Mom’s wake. But it made me so happy to know someone else would get great use out of them, with no sad memory attached.

My husband was the next one to KonMari, although he wouldn’t play the “does it spark joy” game. He silently shook his head at me and said he didn’t need any of that to clean out his damn drawers. And no, he wouldn’t be thanking old pairs of underwear for their service, either. (Whatever–after he left the room, his old underwear and I talked some serious smack about him so burn.)

 I did the kids’ dressers and their closets and that sucked. There’s no way around it. It always sucks to clean out your kids’ drawers and closets, unless your name is Marie Kondo and it is your life’s calling. My name is definitely not Marie Kondo.

Plus, I’m scared of what I might find when I open the kids’ closets after what happened this past winter. I couldn’t find our dog, Blue, or our 4-year old anywhere in our house and they weren’t answering to my repeated calls. Finally, I opened a closet and there they both were, huddling in the corner, eating a box of Girl Scout cookies. “What?” she said, her mouth full and her face covered in crumbs as Blue licked his lips, “we’re sharing!” As if that made everything okay.

The problem was (well, actually, there were several problems there, but I’ll address just this one), those weren’t even our Girl scout cookies! The little one pilfered her big sister’s stash of cookies that were sitting in the corner of the dining room—the ones already sold for her troop but not yet delivered. We had to do some fancy footwork to cover those missing contraband boxes.

So, anyway, you can understand my trepidation for going in their closets? This time, I was worried that I’d find that really nice postman that the neighbors say got transferred to another route, but what if my children took him and have been keeping him as a pet all this time?

Next category up was books and this is where Ms. Kondo lost me. She doesn’t believe in keeping books around the house. What kind of sicko is she?? Truly, I would think you were less weird if I found out that you keep all your old pieces of chewed up gum in a special room, mounted on a special wall behind glass, with special recessed lighting to show them off than I would if I walked in your home and there were no books.

So I will not be getting rid of our books. But I did go through them and sort out the ones I would never read again, setting some aside for friends, and the rest in an enormous bag for Goodwill. Going through the children’s books makes you realize how truly awful some children’s books are: I can’t believe someone wrote that garbage and then they got actually an agent and a publisher? What am I doing wrong?

Yet it also makes you realize how dearly you love some of those books and know every single word in them because you’ve read them to your kids a million times. I kept all of those books– no way am I giving away something that conjures up a memory of sitting in our rocking chair, holding a calm, sweet-smelling, snuggly kid in my lap before bedtime, reading. Ms. Kondo can pry those books from my cold, dead hands.

We have made countless trips to Goodwill so far on this tidying up journey and we still have too much stuff. Where the hell did it all come from? I have such a clear memory of when we were looking at houses to buy in the suburbs: we would open closets and see them stuffed to the gills, every single closet in these homes just crammed full of stuff. We were smug and sanctimonious as we looked down our noses from our very orderly, no-storage-space, only-one-kid city life. We promised each other that we would never live that like. Can you even imagine, we sniffed.

Yeah, well, we’re living that like now. I think it’s like the Purse Phenomenon: however big your purse is, you will fill it to the max. If I’m carrying a big bag, I’ll put a bottle of water in there, my make-up bag, some nuts, you know, in case I get hungry? Also, three lipsticks, my phone and a charger, because it’s only at 46%.

But when I have a little purse with me? My phone, a lipstick and a credit card. Done.

I think that’s what we do with our homes. If there’s a closet, we can shove our crap in there instead of having to make a choice about if we really need or want it in the first place.

Then I had a thought about those choices we make: what if I KonMari’d my entire life, not just the stuff in it? What if I asked if everything in my life sparked joy, not just socks and towels? So I’ve been trying that, too: a part-time position that was taking up way more of my time and energy than expected? KonMari that puppy. A volunteer position that was a huge time-suck? KonMari that as soon as my term is up.

What about people? Can we KonMari people? Well, if someone doesn’t spark joy in your life, then yes, yes, YES. The people who drain you, add unnecessary drama, take but don’t give; the ones who aren’t there for you when times are hard or, equally as problematic, who can’t quite seem to cheer your successes. Give ‘em the KonMari Method.

It doesn’t mean you kick them to the curb with ill-will; it means you take them to the great Goodwill in your mind and you release them to someone else with whom they will have a better fit. Just like those old jeans you’ve been holding onto.

This is an overwhelming process and makes me want to take lots of naps, but I have to say, it’s working.

I have a vision of our home being a place so clutter-free, so minimalistic, so refreshing! Where I sit with friends on the floor (who even needs couches or chairs anyway!) and we sip cool mint cucumber water out of our cupped hands (glasses are just another form of clutter, their only purpose is to hold something else!) as we congratulate ourselves on our amazingly superior Japanese organizational skills.

Someday…

 

 

 

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