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Minimalism intrigues me. If you look at my Pinterest profile, it’s cluttered (ironically) with terms like minimal, simple, classic, declutter, simplify, organize and throw away.
But in everyday life I am anything but a minimalist. At this moment I am sitting at my dining room table in a sea of markers, crayons, coloring books, blocks, stuffed animals and half-finished homeschool assignments. Most of the time I just live with it because kid clutter is just part of life right now. Yet it bothers me.
I caught on to the minimalism trend a few years ago after reading a couple of books: Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire by William T. Cavanaugh and 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. I realized that, while material goods are not evil in and of themselves, they make life complicated. If we’re not careful, they consume us.
With newfound conviction I purged some of our belongings. And then we moved on with our lives. We had another kid. Our possessions reproduced like rabbits. And so here I sit.
I knew why I wanted to declutter but I didn’t know how to do it. There’s a problem with a lot of the decluttering advice out there. It says to purge your home but isn’t clear about what you should fill it up with. And so we get bulimic about our possessions; we purge and drop off a load at the thrift shop and then we binge whenever we find a “good deal”…until our closets are bursting again. It’s a discouraging and kind of gross cycle.
I asked for The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo for Christmas. This book has grown immensely popular in the U.S. over the past year. I read it from cover to cover and was convinced that this was the answer to my clutter dilemma. I dubbed 2016 the year of tidying up in the Poirier household.
There are about a million posts out there reviewing, analyzing, testing and critiquing the KonMari technique, so I’ll try not to be terribly repetitive. I’m going to share how it’s working (or not working) for us. Take it or leave it.
At the beginning of the book, Kondo encourages you to write down “why you want to be tidy” before you start implementing this system in your home. On December 27, 2015 I wrote:
I want to wake up each morning and go to bed each night peacefully, so I can focus on God and my family instead of my life’s distractions.
Simple, right? The hope is that by tidying up my life I can also tidy up my thoughts (and that should flow into my prayer life, which I wrote about here!).
Kondo says that to do this properly, you have to have a “tidying marathon”: going through your house category by category. You keep the items that “spark joy” and discard the rest.
The phrase “tidying marathon” sounds about as fun to me as swimming in ice water. It might be refreshing but you’re going to have to give me a good reason why I need to torture myself. Doing it in small doses is more appealing.
I’ve concluded that for us, taking a few days to go through our entire house all at once isn’t going to work. And the more closely I read, I think there is a misconception about what Kondo recommends. She says that the average person takes about six months to thoroughly tidy their home (p. 35). And she primarily works with people in tiny Tokyo apartments, so for us it could take even longer.
My method is to spend a couple of hours each weekend focusing on one category of possessions in our home. I (and when applicable, we) will methodically sort through each item in a category, discard what doesn’t “spark joy,” and put away what does spark joy in an orderly fashion. I hope to be done by summer, but I’m not stressed about the deadline. We’ll be done when we’re done.
The first category Kondo recommends to tidy up is clothing. I just finished going through my clothes, my kids’ clothes and our linens (my husband is on his own 😉 ). This process took about six weeks. And we are easily discarding most of the clothes we own.
If you’re unfamiliar with the method, it involves taking every scrap of clothing in your house and piling it all in the same place. You then handle each item individually and test how you feel about it. You keep it if you love it and you trash it if you don’t. Then you fold most of it up and stack it in your drawers vertically. What you decide to hang in the closet should be minimal and rises from left to right.
I did it with my own clothes first and then together with my boys (my daughter is too young). Kids’ clothes are daunting because if you’re like me you not only have their current sets of clothes, but also the stuff they’ve grown out of and the stuff they have yet to grow into. We tackled it all.
So far, I’ve been extremely pleased with the results. Here is what I’ve observed from the experience:
- Tidying is contagious. I’ve been talking enthusiastically about my tidying up with my friends and family. While my husband isn’t following the method exactly, he got inspired to clean up his “man cave” area in the basement. He’s very happy with it. Other friends have bought the book themselves and have started sorting their clothes. Some people have teased me about it (there’s a mystical aspect to the book that feels silly), but it hasn’t bothered me.
- I have a strange attachment to my possessions that I wasn’t aware of. Why is it so hard to throw out something that you haven’t worn in five years? Kondo says on p. 181 that you’re either holding on too much to the past (the outfit from that special event), or you’re anxious about the future (I’ll keep it just in case I need it). If it has served you well, even if it made you happy for a brief moment, be thankful and let it go.
- I don’t miss the things I discarded. I’d forgotten that I even owned most of them anyway. If I really feel like I need something that I threw out, I can go get another one. This hasn’t happened yet.
- My dresser drawers really make me happy. I’ve shown them off on more than one occasion. Super weird.
- I can find anything I need in a snap. I can also tell if something is missing because if it’s not in its designated spot, it’s not in the house.
- I have all that I need. I have less than half the clothes that I used to, but I find that it is easier to get dressed in the morning because whatever I spot in the drawer is something I like. I will occasionally need to update my wardrobe, but this is much easier now that I have a full picture of what I actually need to feel stylish and comfortable day to day.
- Kids can be tidy. All of my kids’ drawers used to be a mess. I’ve tested my boys (ages five and six) for a couple of weeks now, and they are perfectly capable of putting folded clothes away properly and selecting their favorite outfits without pulling everything out. They like everything they own because they helped me sort it. The key is having drawers that aren’t overstuffed, with clothes that are easy to find. One of the doubts I had about KonMari was if the method would work for families. She has had many clients who are parents, and she simply says that kids as young as three can be taught how to be tidy. She goes into this in more detail in her second book, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up.
- I don’t need to keep everything given to us. I have an awesome friend with two older boys who has given us all of their old clothes, many of which my kids have yet to grow into. These clothes are generally in great condition. I decided to go through them and pick out the best of the selection and then get rid of the rest. What used to be a huge mess at the back of the closet is now a much smaller volume of apparel that is strategically organized by size. Now when my oldest moves up a size, I can pull out a full wardrobe for him, ready to go. I’m donating the rest.
- It’s easier to be generous. The day after I finished sorting all of the kids’ past, present and future clothes, I had a friend come over with her kids. They wanted to play in the snow but her oldest son didn’t have snow pants. I happened to know that I had a pair his size that my kids hadn’t grown into yet, so he borrowed them. While I was thinking about it, I gave her a big pile of clothes in sizes too big for my boys—the ones that would have been sitting uselessly in the closet and probably wouldn’t have been worn.
- I have a garage sale ready to go. I took all of the clothes we didn’t want and sorted through them. The ones in poor condition were donated to a recycling bin managed by a local shelter, while the ones in good condition were sorted by size and put in bins. Now they’re ready to go for the garage sale I plan on having after this little adventure is over (to fundraise for our adoption!). They are also easily accessible for friends and family whom I’d like to donate our old clothes to as needed.
- Tidying the KonMari way is all or nothing. One of the unique qualities of this method is that you do it by category. What that means is that some of my storage space is only half organized right now. The top shelf of my closet has odd little knickknacks; there is unused space is the kids’ closet that I eventually want to use for toys; the bathroom closet has nicely folded linens and disastrously cluttered baskets of toiletries and medicine. If I am going to feel excited about my whole house, I’ve got finish what I started.
- Storage methods can be trial and error. One of the things I initially didn’t like about Kondo’s first book was that it left a lot of room for interpretation when it comes to how to organize your belongings. I think she did this because your method largely depends on what your personal belongings are like and what type of storage space you have. I’m currently reading Spark Joy, which is like an organizational encyclopedia and is quite helpful. But there is flexibility even within that. I’ve rearranged my closet a couple of times ever since I first went through it, and it has gotten better—but I’ve needed to figure out how to make it work.
It’s hard to believe that this is only the beginning of my tidying expedition. We’ve accomplished so much, but there is a lot more to go. Staying true to the method, the next category to tackle is books. This is dizzying, as we are bibliophiles with mountains of toddler books and homeschooling materials (many of which we aren’t using). I’m writing this in part to keep myself accountable! I’ll keep you posted throughout the rest of our tidying journey (don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss a post!). In the meantime, I hope that you’re inspired. If I can tidy up my house, so can you. Have you tried the KonMari method? What has your experience been like?
Update: now you can read Part 2: 10 Lessons Decluttering Books The KonMari Way and Part 3: How We’re Banishing Toy Clutter, for Good.
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