The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: Book Review & Minimalist Method
So you want to declutter, simplify, and minimize but don't know how to get started? You could certainly just start haphazardly emptying drawers and closets, but I'd highly recommend having a clear game plan. I've come to believe that organization is a learned skill, and if you're not one to whom organization comes as second nature, it can't hurt to call upon the help of a professional. The KonMari method is wildly popular in the minimalist community, so for my first post on how to become a minimalist, I give you a summary and book review of Marie Kondo's life changing method.
The first thing I've got to say is that it IS in fact, life changing! Coming from someone who was hopelessly disorganized for the first twenty-four years of my life, I can say that changing my ways, minimizing, and becoming an organized person is mind-blowingly game changing! I cannot overstate the difference that the application of these ideas have made in my life. Marie Kondo is a wonderfully quirky asian lady and some of her ideas are a little out there (like that you will offend and stress out your socks by balling them up) but I felt that only enhanced the book for me. Who better to learn this stuff from than a militantly clean, idiosyncratic Japanese woman who has been compulsively organizing since age five? She's got credibility.
She has you begin by visualizing your ideal lifestyle. This is one of my favorite parts of the book and I've grown to appreciate how important this step was for me, as it helped me get over a lot of the stumbling blocks of getting rid of stuff. You start by painting a picture in your mind of what it is you want your life to look like. What do you want your home to look like? Your room? Where do you want to spend your time? And what do you want or not want to be doing? I spent a lot of time visualizing, and then as I've gone through the decluttering process, whatever isn't helping me reach that ideal, I get rid of. Why hold onto it if it's not helping me reach my goals? I imagined getting dressed out of perfectly organized drawers and a closet that had few items, but that were all "my favorites." I imagined living in a house where I never spend time looking for things because every item has a place and it's kept there. I want things kept out of sight so that I have clear surfaces and minimal visual clutter. Most importantly, I aspire to spend as little time as humanely possible cleaning, while still living in a clean house! I want to spend my days outside with my kids, and working on meaningful projects, and less time shuffling piles back and forth across the house, sorting things and feeling like all I do is clean and the place is still a mess.
Once you've visualized, you must go through every single item in your home, and you must do it within a short period of time. As short as possible but no longer than 6 months. I wholeheartedly agree with this point because the idea is that the before and after contrast will be more noticeable and you'll be more likely to maintain it once you've experienced how amazing it is to live with less. If you go one drawer at a time, you will slowly declutter, but new clutter will have crept in before you've finished the process and you'll never have that feeling of everything being tidy at once. This may seem daunting, but I'm a believer and as I've KonMaried my way through my possessions, I've decided I want to do this every year. If I have so many things that I can't once a year touch every item and decide I still want it--I think that signals I have too many things.
So the actual meat of the thing--the tackling of the beast--is to go through your entire house categorically and decide what to keep and what to discard. I appreciate the emphasis she gives on what to keep, because before when I've decluttered, I have kept an item unless I had a good reason to get rid of it. This method has you discard an item unless you have a good reason to keep it. It's a subtle but important difference that can greatly reduce your "keep" pile. Kondo suggests you begin with clothes, then books, papers, komono (miscellaneous), and lastly sentimental items. This order is easiest to hardest. Don't start with photos and letters or you're just setting yourself up for failure! It is very important that when going through a category, you get every single thing out and in one place. That means getting every single item of clothing in your entire house in the same place. I did this! In the middle of my family room. I emptied the small closet I share with my husband, our dresser drawers, the kids dresser and closet, storage boxes of maternity clothes, seasonal clothes, swimsuits, snowpants, and clothes my kids had outgrown--everything. (And then I had and unexpected visitor who was a new friend and now things I'm a psycho hoarder! Truly.) The point here is that the sheer volume of all of your clothes in one place will likely shock you. It did for me and this was actually after about three different purging sessions that I did before we moved across the county eighteen months previous. The idea is that if you go through your drawers one by one, you may decide to discard a couple things out of each drawer by itself, but if you put every shirt you own in one pile and realize how many you actually have, you'll be inclined to get rid of more than you otherwise would. Evaluating one workout shirt on it's own, you may keep it, but when you see that you have twenty-five similar items and really only need four of them, you're more likely to part ways.
The big KonMari question is "Does this spark joy?" This is the method for deciding what goes and what stays and is my main qualm with the book. I take issue with it being a privileged question. There are many practical items I own that don't spark joy, but I need and use them. I may not love them, but they're fine and do their job. As poor students, we can't afford to be picky with all of our possessions--many are second hand or old, and that's okay. As an environmentalist, it's important to me to "fix it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without" to at least a certain extent. I feel the Kon Marie method would have you replace everything you don't love with something better, which I feel encourages unnecessary consumption. My version of minimalism takes into account environmental impact and I feel one could follow the KonMari method and still have a very consumerist, disposable lifestyle--maintaining a low number of possessions with a high turnover. What I'm striving for is a low number of possessions with a low turnover. That said, the point is to only keep the things you love or that you need. A tip I think about often is that for difficult items to get rid of, you should thank the item for the role it played in your life and then let it go. This is one of her quirky ideas, but is very effective. You've got a wedding gift from a relative that you don't like or use, but you love that person and can't bear to just toss it? Acknowledge that the purpose of the gift was for that relative to show love to you, and it has done that. Thank it and pass it on to someone who will use it.
Whether you use "Does it spark joy?" or use your own set of questions like I did, once you've gone through everything and discarded whatever didn't pass the test, you need to designate a place for everything. In your storage you should pursue ultimate simplicity. You don't want complicated systems that are difficult to maintain, and if you were completely honest and ruthless through your discarding process, you should be left with a small enough volume of possessions that keeping things organized shouldn't be a monumental chore anymore. You should be left in a tidy space full of things that serve you by bringing joy and value to your life.
Hopefully you can see that the reason this method is so popular among minimalists is because it argues that the best and easiest way to keep organized is to own few things. Kondo believes that "storage experts are hoarders" and no matter the cleverness of your storage contraptions, they are a waste of time if the stuff you are putting in them is unnecessary.
I've highlighted the process and specific tools that were most helpful for me, but I'd highly recommend giving this book a read if you're serious about simplifying and reducing your possessions. (The audio book is great and pretty short.) I'll leave you with one final thought from her book before you embark on your own decluttering:
“The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”
How do you want to live your life?