You wouldn’t believe how long I’ve been meaning to write this post – I haven’t added anything to the “organization” side of the blog in forever! Since I had too many links, I broke it down into three parts – you can read the first one, about clutter in general, here, and I’ll try to post the third one in the coming days.
It took me a while to read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, but I did get around to it almost a year ago (so it took me a while to write about it, too!). I was interested as soon as it came out, but was waiting to whittle things down in my nightstand pile of books to read (and I say this with no irony whatsoever). What seemed interesting to me about her approach is that she seems to say the opposite of what I am used to hearing from professional organizers. For example, they’ll usually say “Just declutter one room at a time, do as much as you can in one sitting and keep doing it until you finish that room.” But Marie Kondo says that it must all be done in one go, and not room by room, but theme by theme (all the clothes, then all the books, the papers, miscellaneous items and, finally, sentimental items). This does have the advantage of letting you see just how much stuff you have in total, instead of only getting a piecemeal view. Organizers usually say not to physically handle any object about which you’re on the fence, because the act of handling it will cause you to form a deeper attachment to it and then you’ll keep it; Marie Kondo says you must in fact handle everything, because only then can you truly decide to let it go and make your peace with it. I actually like that, because I couldn’t bear to throw out a whole armload of things without looking at each one individually to make sure I’m not accidentally disposing of something irreplaceable! Organizers say to only keep what is useful, but Marie Kondo says to only keep what sparks joy – and this is surprisingly helpful in whittling down your possessions, even though she sometimes takes it too far (I’ll get back to that). There’s a great article here that explores similarities and differences between the KonMari approach and that of most North American professional organizers.
Another example of the difference between Marie Kondo’s approach and that of an organizer like Peter Walsh would be that she would say that if you have 10 gold necklaces and they truly spark joy, you should keep all 10, but Peter Walsh might instead say to keep only your 5 favorite. I’d fall somewhere in the middle: keep them as long as you have space to store them (or display them) properly. If they’re in the bottom of a drawer, tangled up and tarnished and never get worn, either get rid of them or keep them but store them in a more appropriate way (which, granted, may mean getting rid of necklaces that you actually don’t like as much as the gold ones in order to make room for them).
Marie Kondo and Peter Walsh appeared together on Rachael Ray’s show to discuss folding and storing clothes and accessories. Their approach wasn’t very different, really, but it was interesting to note that even though she had an interpreter to translate what she said, Marie Kondo didn’t have the benefit of having what Peter Walsh said translated back to her. This is probably due to the format of the show and the short time allotted for the segment, but she had no opportunity to comment on what Peter Walsh said at all, while he commented on her methods. And on the subject of language, I might as well say it now: I disagree with the word “tidying” in the way that it is used in the translation of Marie Kondo’s book. I obviously can’t compare it to the original Japanese, but to me, tidying is something you do before someone comes over to your house; it’s a task that always or periodically needs doing, though it’s more like straightening up than cleaning. But the way she uses it, it means a once-in-a-lifetime major purging of your possessions so as to declutter your life once and for all. Admittedly, “purging” might sound too brutal for a book title, but you see what I mean!
If you want just a taste of her book, try 7 life-changing organizing lessons we learned from Marie Kondo or read an excerpt here. On that note, here’s how one person applied the KonMari philosophy to her kitchen (with a follow-up here). Forbes also had a great interview with her; here are parts 1 and 2. Plus, how one woman used the KonMari method to let go of her late mother’s things. (Spoiler: “There is a noticeable lightness to my apartment now and extra space in my closet. But it’s not the absences I notice most; it’s the sense of fullness imbued in each object I’ve chosen to keep, objects I hadn’t fully appreciated until I undertook Kondo’s project to face each individually.”) And this article is about a reporter using the KonMari method on her closet, then expanding to other areas in her home. Finally, here’s a podcast where the hosts question the KonMari method.
As I was telling a friend earlier this year, my main criticisms of Marie Kondo’s book are that a) she advocates a much more radical philosophy than I am willing to executes at this point, and b) some of it is woo. What I mean by the latter is that she’ll say something like (I’m paraphrasing), “If you keep your socks balled up in your drawer, I can see that they are sad even when you wear them.” That’s a bit too animistic for my taste, though obviously she has a different background than I do. That being said, I kept reading and understood what she meant to say, which is roughly that storing clothes improperly can damage the fibers of their fabric, so that they won’t look as good when you do wear them and won’t last as long as they could otherwise. It is better to take proper care of your belongings, and to appreciate the ones you keep, which happens almost naturally if you have fewer. Another way to phrase it would be to let go of things that no longer serve you, so that you more fully appreciate the things you have left.
As for keeping only things that spark joy, Marie Kondo takes it too far in my opinion. She has said that she has gotten rid of things like her screwdriver because it did not spark joy. But on the day that she needed a screwdriver, she used a plastic ruler instead (luckily for her it was a flathead screw!), but broke the ruler and was then sad because the ruler had truly sparked joy for her. So my philosophy would be closer to the quote by William Morris, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” I’d also be afraid of getting rid of too many things, like this woman whose purging brought more sadness than relief.
A corollary to only keeping things that make you happy is that you ideally end up having only things you love, and then it’s always a pleasure to open a closet or drawer and see those things – or wear them! It’s the basic principle of the capsule wardrobe. (For more on the latter, see this awesome explanation, as well as parts 1, 2, and 3 of this Apartment Therapy post.) Most people who have capsule wardrobes report that not only is it easier to get dressed in the morning, but because they only have things that they love and that look great on them, they get more compliments (or at least, more compliments like “You look good” instead of “Nice shoes”).
So, I didn’t get rid of all my clothes that don’t spark joy yet, but I’ve made some great progress. I’ve let go of things I had been hanging on to for years for all the wrong reasons and to which I had grown very attached (there are still some that I haven’t let go yet, but past experience has shown me that if I revisit them in a year or two, I’ll be more open to getting rid of them). Basically, I let go of some things that sparked more guilt that joy. Guilt because they were expensive, guilt because they no longer fit me, guilt because someone else had given them to me, guilt because I no longer wear them (I no longer like them, they no longer fit my lifestyle, etc.). And I must admit that it’s really satisfying to look into a sparser closet and see fewer guilt-inducing clothes!
Selling what I could has helped me let go of certain things, mainly because I feel like then they are not wasted. I mean, obviously donating them isn’t necessarily wasting them, but when you drop off clothing at a second-hand store, you never know if it’s going to be bought by someone or if the store will end up having them recycled – or worse, throw them away – because turnover is too slow. When you sell an item, though, you know it’s going to someone who will love that piece more than you do. (For this reason, I also love what I call targeted donating – donating business attire to an organization like Dress for Success, for example.) Some stores, like H&M, will also let you bring in used clothes (any brand) for an in-store discount. Here’s an easy chart to help you figure out what to do with old clothes. And on the plus side, of course, you make a bit of money that can help you buy pieces that are more appropriate for your taste. (Because that can be an issue for many: at this point, I am hanging on to some pieces not just because I am still too attached to them, but because of the sunk cost fallacy OR because I would have literally nothing with which to replace them right now and I can’t afford to rebuild my entire wardrobe all at once. It’s a work in progress.)
My two favorite places to sell gently used clothing (both women’s and children’s clothing) are Vinted and ThredUp. On Vinted, you create a user profile and upload pictures of your clothes, for which you write a description and set a price. Users can then buy directly from you, with or without bargaining, and pay you for clothing and shipping through the website. Vinted takes a cut of the profits. (And obviously, this can be a good place to score some deals yourself!) As for ThredUp, it’s easier in the sense that you just mail your clothes to them (for free, with the bag they will send you upon request), and they give you a cut of the profits. But that means you don’t set the price yourself, and since they only take certain brands, they might not accept all your clothes, even if those in great condition – which, obviously, they insist upon. (BUT, that works in your favor if you’re buying from ThredUp, because you know each piece has been inspected and fits their criteria. If you’re interested in buying from ThredUp to find pieces that work with your new vision for your wardrobe, click on this affiliate link to get $10 off your first order – I’ve made two orders so far and I love it!)
If you need help getting started on decluttering your closet, here are 9 simple tips to help you thin out your closet (with another KonMari source here as well), plus an article titled How to (finally) streamline your closet.
Of course, you can only do this process for your own belongings, not anyone else’s! On that note, here’s why the KonMari method doesn’t work for parents (I can certainly relate, and it’ll be interesting to hear what Marie Kondo herself thinks once her new baby is a toddler), as well as some tips on dealing with a messy partner. That being said, I believe that I am organized enough that my items are already grouped by theme. By which I mean, all my clothes are in the same place: my bedroom (be it my dresser or my closet). The only clothes I have elsewhere are outerwear, which I keep in the closet near the front door, because that is where they will be most useful. I know some people have clothes in various rooms of their house, but the clothes I wear really are all in one room. (Full disclosure: I have old clothes of mine in the sewing room, and those are earmarked for some sewing projects, for example reusing them to make a shirt for the Little Prince or a dress for Dear Niece. I sometimes go through all of them to prune the pile, but I don’t count them as part of my wardrobe because I know I’ll never wear them again.) One thing I did change after reading Marie Kondo’s book, though, is that I now fold the clothes differently in my dresser and store them upright in my drawers – that way, they are all visible at a glance. I had seen this advice online before reading the book, and I hadn’t applied it because I thought my shirts wouldn’t possibly stay upright if I put them that way, but it turns out they do. Also, doing this has allowed me to see how monochromatic and dark my palette had become, so that’s something I’m working on. For the visual learners out there, or those who are just curious, here is a video guide on Marie Kondo’s method of folding clothes. Also, her latest book apparently explains it in much more detail.
The most important point, here, is that once you’ve done this exercise of decluttering, you have a much clearer vision of what you want for yourself. You tend to reduce the amount of useless stuff that comes into your home, and you are pickier about what does come in. This strategy can be applied to rebuilding your wardrobe. On that note, I came across a really great worksheet titled Never buy the wrong thing again. It’s designed to “help you pinpoint your shopping likes, dislikes and needs”, by asking questions such as finding common threads (sorry!) between your favorite items – color, shape, fabric, image they project, comfort, etc. – and between those you dislike in a way that helps you analyze those likes and dislikes. Once you have a clear idea of everything, you’ll be better at buying clothes that work for you and at avoiding those that don’t. If you have time for a longer exercise, there’s the Wardrobe Architect series that is a wonderful tool as well.
Real Simple magazine had a series of articles on that topic recently. One was titled The Closet Audit (written by Sarah Stebbins for the January 2016 issue, though it only appears in part online). The two most useful parts, in my opinion, were how to decide whether to keep an item or get rid of it (using more practical criteria than the KonMari method, but honestly, it might be just different ways of coming to the same conclusion), as well as the easy chart to which I linked earlier, to help you figure out what to do with old clothes. And for a great example with practical solutions, here is a a beautiful closet makeover, worth a look both for the physical closet and for its contents.
I also enjoyed an article titled On the heartbreaking difficulty of getting rid of books, because I could absolutely relate. Let me quote some of it here: “It occurred to me that part of the reason why tackling the ‘books’ stage of the Full Kondo seems so daunting is that to many of us our books don’t really belong in the category she has assigned. They are not impersonal units of knowledge, interchangeable and replaceable, but rather receptacles for the moments of our lives, whose pages have sopped up morning hopes and late-night sorrows, carried in honeymoon suitcases or clutched to broken hearts. They are mementos, which she cautions readers not to even attempt to contemplate getting rid of until the very last.” It is true that the books Marie Kondo named as examples were all of the academic/educational variety, not meaningful novels or memoirs or poetry collections. And also this: “Kondo argues emphatically and in bolded text that the right time to read a book is when it first comes into your possession. But throwing out every unread book on your bookshelf just because you’re not reading it right now makes about as much sense as throwing away all the perfectly good food in your refrigerator and pantry just because you don’t plan on eating it for your next meal. Only you can gauge your appetite.” I couldn’t agree more with that!
Books are one of the only categories of items that I intentionally don’t keep all in the same spot, which Marie Kondo wouldn’t like, but it’s what makes sense to me. The Engineer and I have a big built-in bookcase in which we keep the vast majority of our books. I also have a small bookcase near my desk for reference books, and a bookcase in the kitchen for cookbooks. As for unread books, they reside on my nightstand, and the pile waxes and wanes according to what I read and purchase. Only once I’ve read a book does it earn a place in our big bookcase, and I periodically weed out old books to make room for the new ones. I do notice, however, that there are some books that I was adamant about keeping years ago that I am now ready to let go, so this method really works well for me at this point (keep in mind that I had already done a big purge when we had said bookcase built).
I’m going to follow up this post with one about fashion recommendations, for those of you who were inspired (or who are in the process of pruning your wardrobe) and who could now use a few pointers in rebuilding it.